Crest on the chest instils pride

12th June 2009 at 01:00
They might seem old-fashioned, but school mottoes can spur pupils on to greater success

More schools are updating their mottoes - and then acting on them - to raise pupils' aspirations and even results, TES Cymru has learnt.

Heads of schools with some of the most quirky and innovative mottoes in Wales reported that the slogans were important in raising the confidence of staff and pupils - and that they had even led to better exam results.

Gillian Coleman, head of Williamstown Primary in Rhondda Cynon Taf, believes the school's relatively new motto - "No Lids On Kids" - dramatically changed pupils' and teachers' attitudes towards what could be achieved.

In fact, she said it had spurred some of her brightest Year 5 and 6 pupils to take their GCSE in maths five or six years early, with some gaining C grades.

"The motto really made a difference to the culture of the school," Ms Coleman said. "We realised we were putting artificial boundaries on children with our expectations of them before."

Inspectors believe the best mottoes summarise the aims of a school and often reveal its quirky character. But many schools now see some traditional mottoes as "old hat".

Most fall into one of three categories: aspirational (for example, Cardiff High School's Tua'r Goleuni: "Towards the light"); religious (for example, Dysgu `n Gilydd Yng Nghrist: "Learning together in Christ" from St Richard Gwyn RC High School in Flint); or advocate hard graft (for example, Pontypridd High School's Ymdrech a Lwydda: "Perseverance brings success").

Others are wistfully poetic (for example, Ni Ddychwel Doe: "Yesterday never returns" from Lewis School Pengam in Bargoed, Caerphilly) or hark back to great works of literature (for example, "Great Expectations" from Penyrenglyn Community Primary in Treorchy).

Many schools - both English and Welsh-medium - use mottoes in the Welsh language, but a minority have opted not to change the Latin mottoes that generations of their pupils have had to learn.

Staff at Ysgol Caergeiliog in Anglesey are as proud of their school's Latin motto as they are of its long history. But their slogan - Persto et praesto: "I persist and excel" - was chosen just 16 years ago when the school became the first to be awarded grant-maintained status in Wales.

Richard Williams, the school's head since 1982, said he had been accused of being old-fashioned, but he believes the motto helps instil a positive attitude in pupils.

"I wanted to take us back to the cradle of learning - to Greek philosophy and the wonderful Latin language that we sadly do not learn any more," he said.

The words are displayed on walls inside the building alongside the distinctive school colours and strict uniform code.

"All these things give pupils a sense of belonging and I do believe it has an impact on standards of behaviour and attitudes," Mr Williams said. "These things should be available to all children in every school."

According to Estyn, many schools refer to their mottoes during inspections. A spokeswoman for the Welsh inspectorate said they were useful for summarising a school's ethos in a memorable way.

"Schools that are effective at developing positive values in young people provide them with a clear sense of direction about the values they want to foster," she said.

But others are less certain about their place in modern schools. One deputy head, who wished to remain anonymous, said mottoes and mission statements were meaningless.

"They are a sad attempt by schools to make themselves feel modern and cutting edge by copying the idiocies of the corporate world," he said.

Of the more quirky mottoes, Richard Jones, head of Malpas Junior School in Newport, said his school's maxim - "Free range chickens, not battery hens" - was not an official motto at all, although inspectors cited it in a report last year.

"The phrase actually came out of wanting to give pupils free rein to use computers when and where they wanted," he said. "I wanted them to be `free range' and not have to book time in a computer suite."

Nevertheless, he said the odd motto did reflect his school's ethos.

And so say all of us

  • Ynyswen Infants, Treorchy "Many hearts make a school"
  • Cefn Saeson High School, Neath Port Talbot - A fo ben bid bont: "He who wishes to be a leader must be a bridge."
  • Oldcastle Juniors, Bridgend - "Success lies upstream; you cannot drift there."
  • Glenboi Primary, Rhondda Cynon Taf - "Smiling faces make a happy school."
  • Bro Myrddin Comprehensive, Carmarthenshire - Heb ddysg heb ddeall: "Without teaching there is no understanding."
  • Ysgol y Lawnt, Caerphilly - Wyf Gymro. Mynnaf fy iaith yn ol: "I'm Welsh. I insist on regaining my language."
  • Coed Glas Primary, Cardiff - "Roots to grow, wings to fly."
  • Aberdare Girls' School, Rhondda Cynon Taf - Oni heuir, ni fedir: "You cannot reap unless you sow."

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