Using an enrichment programme to improve skills

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pupils to developing life skills

Staff at Bishop Hedley Catholic High School created an enrichment programme called ‘Opening Minds’. The programme helps pupils to develop important life skills and supports the introduction of the new curriculum. Pupils are encouraged to engage in activities that they have not done before. These activities help pupils to challenge their thinking and develop a greater understanding of diversity and respecting others. The programme has allowed learners to take ownership of their development and has improved wellbeing and attitudes to learning.

Number of pupils: 520
Age range: 11-16
Date of inspection: November 2018
Information about the school

Bishop Hedley Catholic High School is an 11-16 comprehensive school in Merthyr Tydfil.  There are 519 pupils on roll.  These figures are slightly lower than at the time of the previous core inspection, as the school no longer has a sixth form.  The school receives pupils mostly from seven associated Catholic primary schools.  These schools cover a wide area including Merthyr Tydfil, Merthyr Vale, Gurnos, Hirwaun, Aberdare, Ebbw Vale, Brynmawr, Tredegar and Rhymney.  The school welcomes pupils of all faiths and those with no faith background.  The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals is 20.6%, which is above the national average of 16.4% for secondary schools.  The school has about 26% of pupils on the special educational needs register, which is higher than the national average of 22.9% for secondary schools.  About 1% of pupils have a statement of special educational needs, which is lower than the national average of 2.2%.  Around 29% of pupils come from minority ethnic groups and about 27% of pupils come from homes where English is not the first language.  Almost no pupils speak Welsh at home.  The interim headteacher took up post in 2018.  There is an interim deputy headteacher, and three assistant headteachers.  The school is currently a curriculum pioneer school and is working with the Welsh Government and other schools to take forward developments relating to curriculum reform.

Context and background to the effective or innovative practice

As a Pioneer Curriculum School, Bishop Hedley took the opportunity to innovate and take managed risks.  It believed that pupils were not thinking holistically as they were unable to transfer skills routinely and many were not willing to take a risk, not only in their learning, but in day-to-day living.  The ‘Enrichment programme’, named ‘Opening Minds’, was born from a desire to address these issues, and was loosely modelled on both the Welsh and International Baccalaureate.

As the school began to think about the New Curriculum and adapt its approach, it became apparent very quickly that pupils needed to adapt their approach too.  The school was mindful of making the curriculum relevant for learners who would be leaving to make their way in a world that does not exist yet.  Significant planning and preparation time was allocated in the summer term of 2017, allowing for the ‘Opening Minds’ launch in September 2017.  This programme was developed by the ‘Pioneer Team’, led by the subject leader for geography in 2017, and further enhanced in 2018.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The challenges of the previous curriculum highlighted the need to improve the enrichment opportunities available for pupils, in particular for pupils to have meaningful opportunities to consider and gain expertise in the skills and attributes that they will need and want to possess as they embarked on the next stage in their journey of life. 

The innovative Enrichment programme addresses the development of these important life skills and supports the introduction of the new curriculum for Wales through a whole-school experience for the school’s pupils.   It is an annual two-week programme that provides pupils with opportunities to explore and develop their individual skills and interests.

The programme includes seven key areas, all of which support the philosophy of ‘Successful Futures’ (Donaldson 2015) and are built around addressing the four core purposes.  Through exploring each of these key areas, pupils also develop the essential ‘Habits of Mind’ (Costa and Kallick 2008) that underpin the programme areas:

  • Mission
  • Life skills
  • Growth mindset
  • Critical thinking
  • Community service
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Creativity

The programme offers pupils a variety of opportunities, both in school and in the community, with workshops led by staff and external providers.  Pupils are encouraged to engage in activities that they have not done before or fine tune a skill that they are not proficient at, with the aim of developing resilience and independence.  For example, they can attend literacy workshops, an international language and cultural awareness day, outdoor pursuit activities and local and London theatre events.  The community service element is particularly impactful, where the school encourages pupils to participate in schemes both within and beyond school such as beach litter picking.  These activities help pupils to develop their social skills by challenging their thinking and developing greater understanding of the importance of tolerance, respect for others and celebrating diversity.  The fortnight is also an opportunity for key stage 4 learners to address some of the demands of the Welsh Baccalaureate.  An addition to the programme for 2018 was recognition for undertaking leadership roles under a ‘Hedley Pledge’ scheme, and the involvement of key stage 2 pupils in several activities to strengthen transition arrangements.


Donaldson, G. (2015) Successful Futures: Independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from:

Costa, A. and Kallick, B. (2008) Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. ACSD, Virginia, U.S.A.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

Since its introduction, ‘Opening Minds’ has eased transition and enabled pupils to secure a sense of success in many new areas.  A notable benefit of the programme is further strengthening the caring and inclusive Christian ethos of the school, with recognition of and provision for pupils’ wider skills, as learners take successful ownership of their development.  Other benefits include:

  • improved wellbeing and attitudes to learning, with pupils’ routine use of multiple skills outside of and across curriculum areas
  • increased and improved work with outside agencies to widen pupils’ experiences, further engage and motivate them
  • at key stage 4, improved outcomes in the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification

How have you shared your good practice?

As a Pioneer School, Bishop Hedley has hosted many visits from other schools and interested parties.  The school has also participated in a number of national and local conferences, and presented to the Welsh Government and local consortium.  The school also shares the Pioneer work amongst the consortium School Improvement Group.