Principal’s Speech Open Morning
Ladies, gentlemen and children, boys and girls, it gives me very great pleasure to welcome you to Aquinas Diocesan Grammar school on this our Open Morning. Today has been specially designed for all of you to see at first hand what we as a school are about. It is a chance for you all to sample Aquinas, the community, the family and above all the learning and teaching school, which is now known as a centre with high expectations, high standards and high achievements.
So let me tell you about us, about what we do, what we believe in and what we value. Above all else, we are about children and young people, their learning, their needs and even their problems. We are about the whole child. We are a school which is child centred, and so all our efforts, our work and our endeavours revolve around the achievement of each student’s potential, academically, socially and emotionally. We have the highest expectations for each young person in our care and, as such, it is our responsibility to do our utmost to ensure that that is exactly what each of them realises.
So how do we do this? Our staff is committed, caring and professional in all that they do as teachers and as tutors. We have a pastoral care system which is strong and focused on our children, with strong emphasis on clear and open communication with parents and carers. We never lose sight of the fact that our children belong first and foremost to our parents, and so, in practice, we operate an open door policy of communication whereby if there is an urgent need to talk to a staff member, then so be it. We cannot guarantee to resolve every difficulty but we will put our utmost into doing so. We are flexible and understanding, promising to work around difficulties which may arise in the lives of our young charges, because as we adults know, life is not all plain sailing and things happen, or as our young people say, stuff happens. We therefore work very hard to ensure that our school is indeed a safe space and as far as possible, a happy place for each child. This is so important because the happy child is the child who learns and succeeds best.
Each pupil within the Aquinas community is in the care of a tutor who in turn is guided by the Year Head. Tutors and Year Heads meet on a frequent and regular basis or as the need arises to report, advise and talk. Years 8-12 are in the care of Mr Paul Devlin, their Senior Teacher while Years 13 and 14 are in the care of Mrs Julia Dolan, both of whom oversee not only the pastoral care of pupils, but also the curricular needs and development of those in their care. Our pastoral care is second to none.
But do not simply take my word for this. Let me introduce one of our past pupils Rachel Bergin who is currently in her final year of a Law degree at QUB and I am going to ask Rachel to tell you about her experience here.
Thanks to Rachel for sharing her Aquinas experience with us all.
Let me tell you now about our academic workings. Every pupil is expected to work hard and where this is not happening, it is investigated and the pupil supported to get back on track. In Year 8 we use as our baseline information for each child their GL score and each class teacher sets targets accordingly for their pupils. We now have in place a data tracking system in Years 8, 11 and 13 whereby we can assess the progress of each of the pupils in those year groups. Common assessment tasks are taken by pupils in first, fourth and Year 13 and each teacher can then ascertain whether a pupil is progressing satisfactorily, or whether a young person requires some extra support or monitoring. We know from experience that pupils buy into this very easily and quickly. We organise induction meetings for parents at the beginning of each Key Stage. Support for, not only our students but also parents and carers, is vital, for we believe in the education of our pupils as a three sided equation: parents children and ourselves as practitioners. That way success lies when we all work together to guide and educate and foster our children in all they undertake. Studies have shown that the most successful students are those who have good familial support as well as school support throughout their time in school.
Let me give you some clear evidence of our high academic successes. Last year 4 of our Year 14 students were accepted into Oxbridge as were two others from the previous year. They are currently studying medicine, mathematics, English, Arabic and Law. This year we have three pupils who have been accepted to study Modern and Medieval languages, Mandarin Chinese and Mathematics; two in Cambridge and one in Oxford. We are very proud of them all but we are also bursting with pride over other of our pupils…. of the 99.4% who achieved 7 A*-C GCSE’s last year and those 80% who achieved A*-C grades at A level. We learned in October that one of our pupils from last year’s Year 14 was first in NI GCE in German and French. Jennifer was also the recipient of the prestigious All Ireland JP McManus 3 year bursary for exceptional performance in final year. She was also winner of the MLANI Weil Award for A level performance in languages. Also at A level we had three students who were top in NI A level Art and Design. In GCSE One of our students was top in NI in German and another third in the same subject, also in GCSE. One of our past pupils was QUB Student of the year and runner up in the UK with his outstanding design of an ANECO wood burning patio heater, which he is now developing with a business partner. Another of our past pupils, now a young undergraduate of QUB, was top in oral Spanish and yet another won a prestigious prize for being top auditing student in her year. Here in school 55% of our A level entries were awarded the new A* grade. As a consequence of this we were visited and congratulated by Ms A M Duffy of CCEA on the morning of the publication of A level results. These are superb achievements but we also celebrate other successes on our two Celebration Days when we recognise the many other significant things which our students have done, from survival cookery courses to gold fainne, to external competition wins in art, in poetry and in the Bar Mock Trial. The list is vast and testament to the talents and confidence of our young people.
Schools, though, are about more than statistics; they are about the development of the whole child, and so, through a lively range of extra-curricular activities, we aim to advance the maturation of our students. We offer many sports, with many successful netball finals,including second place in a prestigious netball final in Málaga last October. Basketball teams in Aquinas have consistently won Ulster titles and again are competing in three Ulster Finals this year. In Gaelic Football, Aquinas teams have won a number of Ulster Finals and, just last Tuesday, won the Father Faul Year 12 title, beating St Joseph’s Donaghmore. In soccer our Year 8 team has just reached the quarter final of the Northern Ireland Cup. A huge success! We are currently also developing hurling with the support of Bredagh GAC and Carryduff, and we are working closely with Ulster Rugby and Malone to develop our rugby skills.
I now want to present Julie to you. Julie, our Head Girl, is an outstanding role model for all our pupils. Julie is going to tell you about her sporting career in our school.
For the musically talented we boast four different choirs, our school orchestra, traditional group and folk group, with one to one tuition in a number of instruments as well as Voice. Our students enjoy the Science Club, the Technology Club, Drama and Lunch-time clubs as well as Warhammers. Duke of Edinburgh is offered at Bronze, Silver and Gold award levels as are the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals for the John Paul II Awards in Years 13 and 14.
We believe there is something for everyone here, but we also lay a large emphasis on student initiative, and so if the club or society does not already exist we will look at the possibility of creating the conditions for it to grow. Service to the school and its surrounding community, as well as the development of our students as global Citizens, is high on our list of priorities and for this reason our fundraising teacher, Mrs McCrossan, organises many fundraising campaigns for many local national and international causes. We support Macmillan Nurses and Trocaire imaginatively, with great emphasis on facilitating the young peoples’ understanding of the causes of poverty and deprivation.
For our senior pupils the opportunity to serve the community is in the form of our Community Link Programme, whereby students support local primary schools in reading programmes; Glenveagh Special School; local charity shops and Nazareth Care Village. Peer mentors are recruited from amongst Year 13s to support Junior school children should problems arise . All our peer and subject mentors receive accredited training in confidentiality and child protection. There is also the opportunity to serve on an international level. Saphara is ‘journey with purpose’, an inter school’s scheme whereby last summer, a number of our Yr 13 pupils travelled to India to teach in a number of different educational settings.
At this juncture I want to hand over to John, our Head Boy, who will allow you a much better insight into this than I ever could.
Thank you to our Headboy for that.
Ladies, gentlemen, P7’s I have given you , I hope, at least a flavour of life in Aquinas; a small sense of our ethos, values, aims and objectives.
But don’t just take my word about our school.
Niamh is one of our current Year 8 students and I want Niamh to give her account of starting in Aquinas just last September.
My thanks to a very brave young lady who has told us her experience of being a first year in our school.
Allow me to talk briefly on Admissions. We have 110 places available. It is impossible to predict what will happen regarding admissions and grades required this year. As you are aware Aquinas will admit applicants in order of the GL Assessment grade which they obtain. This unregulated system is not in anyone’s interest but until the process of transfer from Primary to Post Primary is adjusted to suit the common good the procedure used this year will probably continue. The Minister refers to the fact that children’s needs must be at the centre of the educational debate – not institutions. Let me state clearly – the children’s needs are at the centre of the Aquinas vision, nothing else. But please discuss your preferences with your Primary Principal, read carefully the detail in the Transfer Booklet and include all the necessary information on the transfer form. This includes: if your child took part in the GL Assessment; if there is a brother or sister at the school or your child is the eldest etc; if your child is in receipt of free school meals; if your child attends one of our feeder schools. It is essential to read the details in the Transfer book. We intend to remain an academic school and envisage that our future intake will consist of the pupils obtaining the equivalent of an A or B grade. Our Governors believe absolutely that this school