ST JOSEPH’s Primary School is a Roman Catholic school on Sully Road in Penarth.

Built across seven and a half acres of land, St Joseph’s Primary is an expansive site which includes a playing field, wildflower meadow, pond, forest, and orchard.

It has also benefitted from recent construction work, including the refurbishment of all classrooms, alterations of the Foundation Phase learning spaces, and a newly built, state-of-the-art nursery.

The school endeavours to provide a virtue-driven education with Gospel values at its heart.

“We want our virtues to become a part of our children, so that they become compassionate, loving, and intentional in how they act,” said head teacher Gareth Rein.

“We want them to become discerning in their lives so that they make good decisions. The aim is that these virtues help to form them.”

With such a vast space at its disposal, the school ensures that children are given a rich and versatile experience.

In the orchard, pupils pick fruit from pear, apple, plum, and damson trees which they use in cooking lessons during the autumn.

They also grow 25 different kinds of fruit, salad, and vegetables in a polytunnel.

Earlier this year, St Joseph’s Primary was awarded a gold award in the UNICEF Rights Respecting School programme.

The award is granted to schools which show a commitment to promoting children’s rights and raising awareness of these amongst young people.

It recognises efforts to place the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at the heart of a school’s policies and practice.

“Alongside our work on rights is the fact that we want our children to be aware of their responsibilities,” said Mr Rein.

“Yes, they have rights to be heard, but they also have a responsibility to listen to others.”

St Joseph’s was the first school in Wales to develop a pupil parliament.

Every child is a member of the parliament, and elected representatives from eight student groups form a cabinet which has decision-making powers.

“The school parliament is a vehicle for the pupils to have a voice, so they can decide how the school can be a better place, how the local community can improve, and how we can help the UN to achieve their global goals,” continued Mr Rein.

“So the children are looking inward – at themselves and how the school environment can improve – and looking outward at how we can develop better links with the parishes and the areas of Penarth and Dinas Powys.

“Our Eco Ministry has been involved in a project to tidy beaches and pick up plastic, and our Healthy Schools and School Mission team have given food to local foodbanks.”

St Joseph’s Primary is one of 16 innovation schools which have been chosen to contribute to the Welsh Government’s new curriculum framework, which will be rolled out to every school in Wales by 2022. As part of the new framework, schools are required to design their own curriculum based upon the needs of specific learners, rather than adhering to a national learning program.

St Joseph’s curriculum is ‘research-led’, meaning it is based on findings in child development and cognitive science.

Teachers have undertaken training on how children’s bodies and minds develop, and lessons have been designed to enhance pupils’ personal, social, and physical development.

Mr Rein said: “We want our children to develop physically in terms of their gross motor skills, their fine motor skills, and their locomotion skills.

“We have apparatus on which they can hang, climb, and swing, to build up their core strength.”

Mr Rein called the school’s curriculum ‘really ambitions.’

“We are one of sixteen innovation schools in Wales helping to implement the new curriculum and develop special projects to do with the curriculum,” he said.

“We have taken that on by focusing on a knowledge-rich curriculum, so that we develop children’s knowledge, skills, and give them fantastic experiences.

“We have taken good, rich materials from lots of different places, and developed some of our own, which we have implemented to a high standard.

“Behaviour in the school is exemplary partly because we have spent a long time asking what good teachers do.

“We practice together as staff, so our teachers are working at a high level using a very well-researched curriculum.”

In last year’s maths reasoning test, 29 per cent of pupils at St Joseph’s scored higher than the national average, and 27 per cent of pupils scored above average in the National Reading Test

“We’re extremely proud of our achievements at St Joseph’s,” said Mr Rein.

“Everything we do is based on the best available research and is designed to help each individual child thrive.”

The school’s curriculum has recently been praised by cabinet member for education and regeneration, Councillor Lis Burnett, who said St Joseph’s had done a ‘brilliant job.’

She said: “The new Curriculum for Wales is inspiring schools to take a more holistic approach toward learning.

“It encourages them to focus more on how and why the curriculum is being delivered, rather than delivering specific content and academic results.

“St Joseph’s have done a brilliant job in helping craft this approach, and in turn have seen their own curriculum and learning practices blossom.”