A SCHOOL is a community is a common saying, but nowhere is that more apparent than Headlands.

Headlands School is an independent special school, offering day and residential placements for pupils aged 7 to 19.

The schools caters to pupils who have difficulty learning as a result of early trauma, complex emotional and social issues, Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and Asperger’s Syndrome.

As the Penarth Times previously reported, Estyn, office of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, recognised Headlands School for their excellence in wellbeing and attitudes to learning; care support and guidance; and leadership and management.

The glowing report was thoroughly well-deserved.

Sian Wood, the school’s business support officer, took me on a tour of the school site. It boasts a unique approach to teaching vocational skills, as well as academic and sports facilities.

In particular, one alleyway on the school site had seen sheds transformed into small businesses, which the pupils ran - earning qualifications and gathering valuable work experience, with staff and students hoping to open it up to the public soon.

“It’s a bit like Diagon Alley, isn’t it?” said Ms Wood. Here the school hosts its own bike repair shop, in the form of Spokes, a cafe, its own radio station - The Voice - and plans for a zero-waste food shop are well under way.

Robin Hackett, head of KS4, showed me around some of the buildings.

“The cafe opened to our students around July time, and was fully operational and officially in September, for the new academic year,” he said.

“It opened at the same time as our radio station, with money generously donated from the Postcode Community Trust.

“Next on the agenda is our plan to open a fully zero-waste food shop. We’ve been having talks with other similar shops around Cardiff and here in Penarth, like Foxy’s, about how to do it.

“The idea is that, because we’re a residential school, it will give our pupils a place to shop for things like cereal, fruit, biscuits and so on without plastic wrappers or other waste.

“Our initial, short-term plan is to reduce our own, internal impact on the environment, but if we can get it up and running to the extent we want, we may as well open it to the local community. Imagine - popping over to the school, grab a tea or a coffee, do your food shop and get your bike serviced, all by our pupils.”

The pupils I spoke to were enthusiastic about opening their school to the community, and plenty of them had applied for shifts in the shop and cafe.

One proudly told me he had secured shifts in the cafe, and while we peered through the window into the future site of the zero-waste shop, he made sure I noticed the poster for the Lego club. He was the president of it.

“We’re hoping to open the shop in January,” said Mr Hackett. “We’re just waiting on the builders now.

“A lot of kids here struggle in academic settings, so this is all building good skills for the future. Our philosophy is, one percent change at a time adds up to a lot.”

We moved across the alleyway to the school’s music room.

It was well-stocked with plenty of high-tech equipment, from first-class amplifiers to cutting-edge keyboards. Excitingly, the school also has a state-of-the-art soundbooth on the way from Germany.

“We’re looking to rent it out to local bands and others as a rehearsal and recording space, once we’ve built it up to the second floor,” said Mr Hackett. “We’re investing in better equipment, and we’ll be holding radio production workshops with the local primaries, like Victoria Road.”

The school doesn’t just offer vocational opportunities, either.

“Recently a lot of pupils went to Belgium, to Ypres,” said principal Matthew Burns. “The best part is they cycled most of the way there!

“Over five days, they would cycle a huge distance, and then ride a coach or the Eurostar partway. That way, they got all the way to Ypres, to hear the Last Post and lay a wreath.

“We also put a lot of emphasis on sport, with a state of the art Astroturf we rent out to the community, and a great football team - we recently attended a tournament at Heronsbridge and only narrowly lost to the overall winners.

“Outside of that, our KS3 group are putting together a foodbox raiser for Christmas for those in need, and we’ve just had our drama and music department invited to put on a production for the Senedd.”

With IT suites, science labs and gymnasiums, this barely scratched the surface of what the school had to offer. It’s no surprise the school has been so successful, with such close attention from its staff. As a school focussing on children with learning difficulties, the pupil number is kept low, with around 70 pupils attending at any one time. The largest class has eight pupils, with most having fewer.

“We have around 55 day pupils and 16 at the moment in residential, staying in one of our four homes on and off the site,” said Ms Wood. “For those children, we offer a 52 week-a-year provision.

“The houses are lovely - we really want it to feel like their own home, their own bedroom, with their belongings.

“It forms part of our relational approach - how we talk to our children and how we talk to each other. If we have a new pupil arrive here, the first thing to focus on is building a positive relationship with them.

“The conversations are all about recognising what’s going on and supporting them, in their own time.”

Judging by the smiles on the faces of staff and students alike, it’s an approach to be emulated the world over.