Mental health and inclusivity have become focal points for one thriving comprehensive school. ELIZABETH BIRT returned to her old school almost a decade after leaving to see what has changed.

RISCA Community Comprehensive School has taken on a pupil-led, forward-thinking approach to many things including mental health.

Head teacher John Kendall has made a policy of having pupil input on school decisions - with almost 700 pupils, this may seem tricky, but the focus on pupil-led groups has helped to ensure that pupils have their say on what matters to them.


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Risca Community Comprehensive School headteacher John Kendall. Picture:

One of the pupils’ main concerns is mental health, and this has led to a group of mental health ambassadors who are there for the pupils to talk to and can help them get in touch with services who may be able to help them.

Mr Kendall said: “Some students came to me and wanted to set up a group to do with mental health.

“That’s how our mental health ambassadors formed. They are there for the students and can listen and pass concerns on. They aren’t trained so can’t give advice but can point students in the right direction.”

Kasey Partridge, 15, has recently taken over as the lead mental health ambassador from Mitchell Boon, who created the idea and has stepped away to focus on his GCSEs.

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Kasey Partridge, 15, Risca Community Comprehensive School's Mental Health Ambassador Lead. Picture:

Kasey said: “We have 30 pupils and staff ambassadors and we aim to support and help pupils who are distressed and need someone to talk to.

“We don’t give advice, but we can signpost pupils to different organisations who are able to professionally help.

“The aim we have is to promote being as open about mental health as people would be about physical health. People are quick to talk when they are suffering with a leg injury for example, but not about mental illness.”

The pupil ambassadors are also working with the PE department and have started doing 2km walks, where pupils can join the walk with some of the ambassadors and staff members and they can talk while walking along the canal.

“Exercise can help with mental health but not everybody wants to or can play sports, so these walks aim to give exercise while being able to talk and be outside in the fresh air,” said Kasey.

They have also begun a staff wellbeing hub to also look after the staff.

Risca also has one of the most inclusive ASD centres in South Wales. The centre is for pupils who are on the autism spectrum and it functions as a safe space for them during their time in school.

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Ben Reeves, Deacon Ives and Ryan Thompson doing some flour sifting to create pictures in the ASD Centre. Picture:

Deb Howells who runs the ASD Centre said: “The pupils follow normal mainstream lessons but have individual timetables to allow them to have time in the ASD centre.

“It helps them with their emotion, social interaction and engages and helps them focus.

“We are trying to help them develop independent skills that will transfer over when they leave us and move on.

“Soon we will be teaching the pupils in the ASD centre how to catch a bus as part of their independent living skills.”

In the ASD centre, pupils can create arts and crafts and have a kitchen. They can make stencil designs using flour and more. They also have a sensory garden for the 108 students to use.

“We are very proud of the ASD centre as it and the pupils are fully integrated into the school system,” said Mr Kendall.

The school also bring fun learning to pupils with the introduction of Minecraft Education Edition.

“We are one of five schools who are leading on the Minecraft Education programme,” said Mr Kendall.

“We are a training school for the programme and it is sponsored by the Welsh Government.”

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The Minecraft club L-R Evie Denmead, Leshon Hart-Davies, Destiny Green and Charlie Wiltshire at Risca Comp who are school of the week. Picture:

Welsh teacher Barri Mock runs the Minecraft project in the school. He said: “The Welsh Government made a substantial investment into their Hwb platform and through this have got licensing for Minecraft Education edition and Office 365. This allows the pupils free access to these products.

“Minecraft is a very popular game for adults and children and we’ve been blown away by the response from the pupils.

“We have two clubs for Minecraft – they run on a Wednesday and Thursday, this is because it is so popular and so that the pupils who also do sport on a Wednesday won’t miss out.”

Risca Comprehensive are the only comprehensive school in South Wales to be in the training schools. They create a challenge a term and lesson plans to be part of the national materials.

“We create challenges for the pupils that are related to school and they have to answer them using Minecraft,” said Mr Mock.

“The other week they had to demonstrate the four functions of mathematics. One pupil created numbers in the sky, another created a pen of four pigs and then another pen of four pigs to make eight pigs.

“We even had one pupil cross over into chemistry by combining lava and water to create obsidian.

“On another challenge, they had to create a Welsh garden, one of the pupils went and took pictures of the school from multiple angles and recreated it in Minecraft.”


The pupils are currently being tasked to build a Minecraft Christmas tree and have had some interesting ideas. On one tree there is a giant Jesus in a crib, and another is a giant tree made of glowstone blocks and a secret lever nearby which opens a small door into the tree, and you can find a full Santa’s grotto inside.

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A rugby training session at Risca Community Comprehensive School. Picture:

“The pupils can be world builders on the game, and we are using this to help develop their literacy skills. They can create and spawn non-playable characters in and have conversations with them. I’ve seen some of the pupils come alive in the Minecraft sessions and it helps to articulate things in lessons. Its also interesting to learn from the pupils on things they are able to do,” said Mr Mock.

The school are also pioneering science with their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and Lego clubs.

The STEM club were one of the only Welsh schools to take part in last year’s UK Youth Rocketry Competition. Their team has also grown in size, having doubled in the last year.

Teacher Sarah Baskerville-Jones said: “The pupils design and build rockets. We use pre-packaged motors to launch them and the rockets have to reach a height of 800ft, stay in the air for eight seconds and carry a raw egg which must land fully intact to be successful in the competition.”

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Mr Williams' Year 9 science lesson. Picture:

On the STEM theme, the school are working towards the Space Education Quality Mark, which is awarded to schools that have a space theme in their lessons. The school held a space week where lessons were themed around space.

“It is important to learn about space. Even though the moon landings were a long time ago now, we have made a lot of progress in space and on space expeditions,” said Mrs Baskerville-Jones.

Jarrod Hare runs the Lego club which is one of the most popular clubs in the school. “We recently won the Lego Challenge,” he said.

“The pupils have to design a robot to do challenges in three minutes. We decided to look at how the pupils would like to change the school and they came up with some interesting ideas.

“The competition is more about teamwork than winning, and the judges look for the teams who can work well together.

The school are also more environmentally conscious – with the introduction of online notices rather than the traditional newsletters. They were one of the first schools to use Twitter as a platform for communicating with parents, staff and other academics and now they also have a regular online blog that is also put online with pupils having an input too.

Risca Community Comprehensive School has a friendly and community feel to it and the staff put the welfare of the pupils before anything else.