A large crowd packed into the main hall in Blackwater Intergrated College to listen to the Principal’s address during the annual open night. With a catchement area covering the wider Downpatrick area, the school has a strong integrated community ethos and with the full development of the pupil at its heart.
Speaking to an enthusiastic audience at Blackwater Integrated College, Principal Dr Olwyn Griffin, who is on secondment to the Northern ireland Council for Integrated Education, said: “I genuinely appreciate that selecting a second level school for your child is a very difficult decision to make. As caring parents, you want to ensure that every imaginable opportunity is given to your child.
“Blackwater Integrated College is an integrated, all-ability and co-educational college. Integrated education can best be described as the bringing together in one school of pupils, staff and governors from both Protestant and Catholic traditions and from other religions, or none. It is about cultivating the individual’s self-respect and therefore respect for other people and other cultures. Integrated Education means bringing children up to live as adults in a pluralist society, recognising what they hold in common as well as what separates them, and accepting both.
“The integrated school is essentially Christian in character; democratic and open in procedures and promotes the worth and self-esteem of all individuals within the school community. Its core aim is to provide the young person with a caring, self-fulfilling, educational experience which will enable him or her to become a fulfilled and caring adult.
“By all-ability we mean accepting pupils of all academic abilities, irrespective of whether they sat the GL or AQE test, or what their result was, and educating them together to their full academic potential.
“We have a child-centred ethos which includes the celebration of each child’s personal best, putting children first in decision-making and working with individual students who have barriers to learning. This involves:
* Promoting mutual respect daily
* Creating a safe, secure learning environment
* An active, structured reward system that is particularly successful with our younger students
* Staff who will ‘go the extra mile’, combining compassion with expertise.
“By co-educational we mean boys and girls together. In all, this means that children from one family can be educated together in the same post-primary school, irrespective of gender or previous academic attainment.”
Dr Griffin described the College as a college of Partnerships:
* Partnership between the teaching staff and the students, thus ensuring the needs and aspirations of our students form the basis of our academic policy;
* Partnership between the parents and the College, to ensure that together we work for the benefit of the child, towards the child’s complete education;
* Partnership between the College and the community – allowing the College to serve and make a significant contribution to the community in which it exists, and:
* Partnership between the College and the churches – to make certain that no child feels alienated from their religious or cultural background.
She said: “The partnership between the parents and the College is one of the most important in our educational philosophy. Parents are actively encouraged to participate in their child’s education.
“In an integrated school we not only encourage the young people to use their abilities and to achieve their potential but also assist them in developing the social skills to grow as people and not as labels.
My overriding vision for Blackwater Integrated College is that of a school that is outstanding for learning and teaching, in which the curriculum is underpinned by a strong pastoral care system; an excellent school that gives children every opportunity to strive for success. In this environment all students are given the opportunity to grow personally, socially and academically, and the students enjoy their experiences.”
During a visit by the inspectors in October 2012, Dr Griffin noted that the school was addressing the key issues for continual improvement. She added: “We have comprehensive arrangements in place for child protection and safeguarding. All lessons observed were satisfactory with 90% of lessons deemed to be good or better, and some were outstanding.
“The College provides a stimulating learning environment, which maximises individual potential and ensures students of all ability levels are well equipped to meet the challenges of education, work and life.”
Dr Griffin highlighted that in August 2012 the College has experienced another significant improvement in its GCSE results. Over the last four years Blackwater has gone from 33% to 43% to 53% and in June 2012 62% of the students attained five or more GCSE passes at grades A* – C. In addition to this, the percentage of students attaining five or more GCSE passes at grades A* – C, including English and mathematics, rose from 29% to 37% – above the Northern Ireland average.
“Pupils are on a journey of continual development and there are two questions that each parent wants to know the answer to”, explained Dr Griffin.
“Will my child be happy and supported? And will my child achieve their full potential?”
At this point pupils Amy Curran (Y8) and Grace Stewart (Y9) spoke of their experiences in the school and they were joined by past 2012 pupil, Dean Kane.
Dr Griffin added: “We want to ensure the excitement and thrill they feel on day one of their new life at second level school is never lost and that the happy child who arrives in Year 8 leaves a happy, confident young adult with the appropriate qualifications to take them to further education or into working life.
“During the first term, usually early October, you will be invited to the College to meet with your child’s form tutor. This will be an opportunity for you to find out how well your child has settled into the College and to discuss with his or her form tutor any concerns you might have. There will also be a parental consultation in the second term to discuss academic progress.
“Small class sizes and the relationship with the form tutor allow each child to receive the care and attention they need to enable them to achieve their best throughout their time in the College.”
Great emphasis on the pastoral care of our students was also a very important feature in the college explained Dr Griffin. “The Pastoral system operates under the direction of the Pastoral coordinator, working in close consultation with Key Stage coordinators, SENCo and Form Tutors. We want our students to be at ease right from the first day, free from worries and concerns, feeling safe and secure in their environment and growing in confidence.
“The students at the College, both in class and through the Student Council, are encouraged to confidently express their feelings and beliefs, without fear or prejudice.
“As part of our induction programme for our new intake, we invite the new students to the College for an evening in June and the first day of school in September is set aside for year 8 only. This allows the children to settle and to form relationships with their teachers and their peers. They will spend the entire first day with their tutor group and Form Tutor and spend lots of time exploring their new surroundings.
“The induction process continues through the early weeks of your child’s time at the College through our Personal Development programme and is reinforced by the year 8 residential for three days at Ardnabannon OEC, Castlewellan.
“We appreciate that no two children are exactly the same. They have different social and academic needs and aspirations. Yet we must always expect the best from everyone. We would be failing you, the parents, and the children if we didn’t always expect the very best. Part of our ethos, therefore, is to always encourage the children to try their hardest and to enjoy the rewards of their successes.
“Our curriculum is geared to ensure each and every child is stretched to his or her academic limit and achieves their full potential. The College offers an excellent and still improving curriculum with a broad range of traditional academic GCSE courses and an increasing range of vocational courses such as BTEC, Essential Skills, Key skills and Occupational Studies. Continual improvement is at the heart of all decision making and all developments are based on the needs of our students.
“In Blackwater the curriculum is delivered through a wide range of active learning strategies, using modern technology to support the development of thinking skills, literacy and numeracy. We have interactive boards in almost every classroom.”
The teacher-pupil relationship was also touch on and Dr Griffin explained: “Teachers enjoy excellent relationships with their students and ensure that they thrive in a well organised and encouraging learning environment. Planning is very effective with clear learning intentions and resources that are carefully matched to students’ needs. We use the data from online tests and other assessments to identify each individual students areas of strength, areas for development, how they learn most effectively and to identify the nature of the intervention to be put in place when required.
“This includes individual support in literacy and Numeracy using Reading Partnership and other programmes tailored to the needs of the individual student. I am delighted to report to you that as recently as today we have had confirmation of more funding to promote Literacy development and some of this will be used to aid the transition between primary and second level school. New resources have also been received to refresh and supplement those currently available for the Reading Partnership scheme.
“The students are assessed six times per year and the results of these assessments are tracked so that underachievement and underperformance can be identified early and appropriate support put in place. Parents will receive two reports each year: a progress report in January and a full report in June.
“The enrichment of the whole child continues outside of formal academic lessons. The curriculum is enhanced with extra-curricular activities, the variety of which depends on the interests of the children. The extra-curricular activities usually take place after school although every other Wednesday during last 2 periods a wide variety of activities are organized for students such as Duke of Edinburgh, Glee, Armchair sports, arts and crafts, tasty treats to name but a few.
“Class sizes are small, each consisting of approximately 20 students. Each class has a form tutor – a teacher who takes full responsibility for the academic and pastoral welfare of each pupil in their care. The form group meets with their form tutor every morning at registration and the form tutor will report to you, the parents, on the progress of your children throughout their schooling. The student planner is an excellent means of communication between home and school. Students use their planners to record homeworks, personal targets (both academic and pastoral) and to record the results of assessments. The student planner is carefully monitored by the form tutor and we encourage parents to check the planner on a weekly basis.
“Positive behaviour is encouraged through the use of the credit system where students gain credits for attendance, uniform and good effort (amongst other things) Credits can be exchanged on a regular basis in the credit shop and certificates are awarded when various targets are met.
“Form tutors track student behaviour daily through the college’s IT system. This allows all issues to be dealt with promptly. This ensures that a positive learning environment is maintained at all times. Students are reminded of the high standard of behaviour expected of them at Blackwater through the Personal Development programme.
“The form tutor has the responsibility of ensuring that your child is happy and content at Blackwater Integrated College and that he or she is being stretched to their full academic potential.
“It is this view which is at the heart of the school. We believe that every child is special and unique, and that those special talents and the uniqueness we each have is what enables us to thrive as an inclusive community based on equality. Just as in the wider world where all must mix together, we seek in Blackwater not to divide, separate or segregate by academic selection or rejection, religion or gender. It is through learning and growing through education every day together that we strive to build a better, more inclusive, more peaceful future for our society
“Blackwater is fortunate to have partnerships with Lagan College and Shimna Integrated College. These partnerships provide pathways to sixth form for our students who attain the necessary grades at GCSE; students will be able to continue to study within the integrated sector and will have access to A-level and other post 16 courses.
“Tomorrow’s citizens will have to be able to survive in a much more challenging and fast paced environment. At Blackwater Integrated College we want every one of our students not only to survive but to flourish in meeting these challenges.
The College has an active Parents’ Council which contributes to the strategic development of the College. Some members of Parents’ Council are providing tea and coffee in the canteen; please call in and take the opportunity to chat with them.”
Also speaking at the public address, Acting Principal Alan Hutchinson said: “Pupils are on a journey of continual improvement at Blackwater, and our staff are fully dedicated to this task.”
Visiting families circulated around the various classrooms and enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere in the school.