Inclusive attitude proves a winning formula
A multh-faith secondary school in Wales has won high praise from Estyn for bridging the religious divide. It is also well above Welsh national averages in achievement.
St Joseph's Catholic and Anglican High School in Wrexham has become so popular that it has had to turn pupils away.
Headteacher John Kenworthy said the 598-pupil school's success - it scored seven straight 1s in its Estyn report - was down to hard work and a special ethos.
"It's fantastic but we don't do anything magical," he said. "It's a small school with excellent teachers. But, above all, it's a faith school."
In 2006, the original Catholic school on the site was re-opened as a joint Catholic and Anglican venture, and the only Welsh school to have combined the two religions.
The Anglican diocese had approached the school because its pupils had nowhere to go after primary age.
"When children take part in daily prayer and worship, it gives them an opportunity to reflect on why they're here - that has a big impact on them," said Mr Kenworthy, whose leadership was highly praised in the report.
Although the Christian message is strongly stressed in services and assemblies, pupils from other faiths are also welcomed into the school. Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children attend, and two years ago the head boy was a devout Muslim.
Specific religious needs, such as fasting during Ramadan, are accommodated, and pupils are encouraged to pray in their own way. The school has extensive worship facilities.
"Some people think church schools are divisive, but inclusion is important to us. We have children from different faiths and with all abilities," said Mr Kenworthy.
Special needs provision is an important part of St Joseph's, and pupils with severe physical and sensory needs are well provided for. Inspectors said the way these pupils were integrated into the whole life of the school was outstanding, along with its academic standards.
Inspectors found 98 per cent of 119 lessons at key stages 2 and 3 were grade 3 or better - the Assembly government's target for 2010. The percentage gaining GCSE grades A*-C last year was also 22 points higher than the Welsh average. But the school does have low free school meal entitlement at just 12 per cent.
One of its important features, according to Estyn, was "togetherness". At lunchtimes the pupils sit down and eat as an extended family. Behaviour was "exemplary", and Estyn described the respect between pupils and staff as a major strength.