St Benedict’s Catholic High School is an 11-18 school, with a current roll of 1074 students and a well-established Sixth Form (the West Cumbria Sixth Form), incorporating post-16 students from St Benedict’s School, St Joseph’s School in Workington, and also schools in the surrounding area.
The school’s last Ofsted inspection took place in December 2019 and was judged to be ‘good’. The school serves a wide catchment area in West Cumbria. It is a true comprehensive school with students of all abilities and diverse backgrounds. The school is open to all, is inclusive, recognises its faith mission and welcomes students who are not Catholic.
In January 2019 we moved to our new £33m school, which was individually designed (not an ‘off-the-shelf’ model!) and we have state of the art facilities including a full size, floodlit 4G astroturf pitch, sportshall, activity studio, pool, new grass pitches and tennis courts.
The Georgian port of Whitehaven is situated on the Irish Sea coast a few miles away from the western boundary of the Lake District National Park. The school is in the Hensingham area of Whitehaven, which is the principal town of Copeland, with a population of approximately 25,500. Local housing in the town and the attractive surrounding countryside is generally affordable. The school serves an economically deprived area but nearly all students who join the school in Year 7 remain with us until at least Year 11 and often into the Sixth Form. The vast majority of, and often all, students leave for Higher or Further education, apprenticeships or employment.
As a Catholic school we have a strong sense of faith and seek to nurture the God-given gifts in our staff and our students through encouraging a sense of self-awareness, self-worth, and self-fulfilment, so that our students have every opportunity to flourish spiritually and become highly employable individuals ready to take their place as tomorrow’s role models in society.
School and the Community
St Benedict’s School regards itself as a learning community and understands the importance of its place in Whitehaven and the surrounding area. Under the recently re-formed school leadership and governance arrangements, the school has taken the opportunity to critically review and realign its strategic objectives and the part it wants to play in people’s stories.
Although an economically deprived area, the town has a relatively small number of major nuclear related industries. The Sellafield nuclear plant is located approximately 8 miles from the school. Historically speaking, the school has sought to specialise in engineering, but the opening of a university technical college nearby has enabled St Benedict’s to re-define its areas of excellence. Post-16 courses are academic and the emphasis in the sixth form is on high academic provision and achievement. The school is aware of its context within Britain’s Energy Coast and has been developing relationships with a number of large and medium-sized industry and business providers. The school seeks to specialise in academic provision recognising the highly technological context it finds itself in.
The school has explored the relationship between its curriculum offer and the leading edge technology and industry surrounding it and work has begun on re-focussing provision to ensure that students emerging from St Benedict’s have the essential skills and qualities to succeed in higher education and employment. This is a geographical area, globally recognised as one of energy excellence, and the school seeks to match this with educational excellence. The new Toshiba nuclear plant at Moorside will be constructed close to the school, which is designed to address the country’s energy shortfall (creating 5,000 jobs during the construction phase and 600 jobs when operational). The students in the school are being encouraged to look at renewable energy, low carbon technologies, advanced fuel development and robotics. The students at the school are quite likely to provide the future workforce for the decommissioning process at Sellafield and the proposed nuclear plant at Moorside. The school is aware of the opportunities presented in the future if a nuclear geological disposal facility is created in the area. The school already has strong relationships with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Nuclear Management partners, James Fisher Nuclear, Atkins, and the National Nuclear Laboratory’s Dalton Institute.
Current and Future Developments
Most recently, St Benedict’s School has become a strategic partner in a number of teaching school alliances and is currently working towards providing leadership support for a number of schools in conjunction with the Local Authority and the National College for Teaching and Leadership. The school is also playing a very significant part in system leadership within and beyond Cumbria, and is helping to develop a strategic approach to school improvement through the development of the Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders (CASL) and, more locally, an alliance of West Coast based system leaders (LASL).
The school has also recently been represented at the Centre of Nuclear Excellence (CoNE) Skills Summit to work with a range of employers and educational establishments to develop high quality employment opportunities for Cumbrian residents. It is recognised that without the right skills, training and workforce development, these opportunities cannot be realised. Therefore work to develop opportunities within the nuclear sector, advanced manufacturing, life science and the digital industries will play an important role in this initiative.
What We Want for Our Students as part of the ‘Campus Whitehaven’ project. In a word – excellence.
A set of the widest possible curriculum experiences, which result in students leaving the school eminently employable, responsible and civic young people, who are confident and aspirational individuals. We want to create a set of experiences that recognise that our students are 21st century learners. We want to place strong emphasis on creating tomorrow’s workforce by helping to supply academically able young people ready to take up employment opportunities in energy generation, and particularly high technology, low carbon and renewable energy. We want to create high-tech engineers, but the engineers for tomorrow who are inherently artistic and creative, as well as technological. Our learners need to develop problem-solving abilities, flexibility, the ability to access, select and analyse information from appropriate sources, write accurately and well, be numerate, be able to present and communicate effectively orally, demonstrate independence of thought, the ability to assess risk and make well-informed decisions, co-operate as part of a team, be adventurous, have a sense of responsibility and self-discipline, prepared to challenge stereotyping and negative thinkers, be critical thinkers in a range of contexts, able to demonstrate initiative, and ethical decision-making processes, and to have high levels of technological literacy. Taken overall, we aspire to a sense of “ganas”.
Our curriculum needs breadth, depth and challenge, and to contain a totality of experiences which are coherent, enriched, and flexible with well-paced progression. This provision will result in excellent academic outcomes. As a faith school, we will also produce well-rounded individuals with a sense, not just of faith, but of civic responsibility/education. Our students will develop knowledge, skills, but above all, a positive attitude to learning and life. The experiences we seek to provide whilst academic, will also be personalised and inclusive, and involve significant learning outside the classroom.
The essential attributes our students will be given are an enthusiasm and motivation to learn, a determination to achieve a high standard of education, but equally importantly, be open to new ideas, be resilient and enterprising, and blessed with self-respect, respect for others, and a deep sense of well-being and personal fulfilment.