1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

Talk By Miss Rita McLaughlin, Head Teacher, St Patrick’s School, Corsham

“Pupils are happy, well rounded, caring individuals who are extremely proud to belong to this exceptional Catholic community where ‘All Are Welcome’”.
That quote is taken from the Diocesan Inspection report which we received in the Summer. In the sweltering final weeks of last July, the staff and pupils were inspected for 2 days, and we are thrilled with the result.
However, an OUTSTANDING judgement is not a novelty to Saint Patrick’s Catholic Primary – this most recent inspection is the fourth time we have been judged as OUTSTANDING.
That’s over a decade of Outstanding Catholic education provided in your parish school.
Rightly, the exceptionally talented, committed and immensely special staff have been recognised in their excellent work. More impressive, perhaps, is that most of our teachers and staff are not Catholic. However, committed to the Catholic ethos they are, and as one parent told the inspector –
“The teachers go over and above and the children follow their lead.”
Saying that, at present, less than half of the population of the pupils and families in our community are Catholic. We have Christian, Muslim, lapsed, curious or families with no faith background at all. To paraphrase the hymn – ‘All Are Welcome in Our Place”!
Many of our families walk or drive past some pretty great local primaries to come to Saint Patrick’s; as they identify with something that they want for their child. It may be good behaviour…high expectations…a small, family feel…traditional values…ethos or Mission Statement that attracts – whatever it is, our families are united in their commitment to our school community, and our endeavour to enable….every….single…child to flourish.
Our children are our joy and delight. Coming from a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, personal circumstances, life experiences and family aspirations. The report states –
“Behaviour is exemplary across the school, with pupils having a strong respect for themselves and others, saying their favourite thing about school is ‘belonging to a family.’”

Our curriculum is one of high expectations where results are repeatedly in line with or above national expectations. However, we do not hothouse our children.
Our curriculum is broad, enriching, diverse, creative, energising and investigative – and just great fun!
We like to dabble in fencing, ballroom dancing, orienteering, climbing, dressing up as Vikings, making dens, playing the ukulele, modelling with willow, balloons, rubbish and even plants. We like to ‘go large’ at every opportunity and our smashing PTFA can pull amazing Christmas Fairs, Spring Flings and Summer Jamborees out of the hat.
We recently celebrated the Golden Anniversary of the school with a year of celebrations, not least a whole school trip – 236 adults and pupils to the woods in the Forest of Dean. I’ll leave you to imagine how many risk assessment forms I had to complete for that one!

In these days where we hear almost daily of the challenges our young people face with social media and mental health issues, as well as the Catholic church under relentless scrutiny and criticism, at Saint Patrick’s it is our privilege to nurture and grow your children – holistically.
This year’s school priority is to focus on the national and local drive to ensure good mental health for children and young people. Even in our own little school, we see an increasing number of children joining us with emotional vulnerabilities. For this year, we have devised a series of initiatives so that our children (and staff) can GROW HAPPY…..STAY HAPPY……and SHARE HAPPY.

The motto of our school is –
‘Live, Love and Learn Like Jesus’
A couple of years ago, we held a whole school ‘Big Me Week’ – on the face of it, a unique Careers Week for younger children – and indeed we had some great parents and professionals share their awe inspiring jobs –
Air traffic controllers…farmers…dentists…fire fighters…artists…scientists…actors…inventor …chaplains…lawyers…and even a rock star!
More importantly, echoing Pope Benedict’s words from his visit to the UK in 2010, we challenged our children to think – not only what they wanted to DO when they grew up, but what kind of person they wanted to BE.
Answers to this question ranged from the expected – train driver / nurse / footballer / dancer
To the more unusual – tooth fairy / Santa helper / unicorn groomer / Harry Potter.
However, children will always ground us and remind us what we are really about. Another popular answer to the question – ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ was ‘KIND’.
We like to nurture this spiritual element of our school, and have a team of chaplains called ‘The Sunshine Saints’ – so called as their mission is spread a little sunshine amongst the school. All children are on a unique school designed initiative called ‘Footsteps in Faith’ and in recent years, we have embarked on Corsham Caminos – collecting stamps for our passports as we pilgrimage around Corsham between each local place of worship.
As part of the Year of Prayer, we will be doing another Corsham Camino – perhaps you could join us….

I am grateful to Fr. John for allowing me to share our good news with you. Saint Patrick’s Catholic Primary, after all, is YOUR school and we hope you are proud of us.
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and I have two favours to ask of you…
Firstly, we continue to battle the common misconception that a Catholic school is only for Catholic families. This is obviously not the case. We all know that ‘catholic’ with a small ‘c’ means universal. Please help us to spread the message – that we offer a specific, values based curriculum to ANYONE who wants it.
Secondly, I would appeal to you to consider becoming a Foundation Governor for our school. We really do need you. As Foundation Governor, you represent the Bishop’s interest in the running of the school. At present, Mary Ellis is our Chair and represents Saint Patrick’s parish, and I know that she is happy to talk to anyone who is interested or curious.
Please do think about it….
Before I finish, I’d like to pay tribute to Fr. John. Certainly, in the 14 years we’ve worked together, he has been an inspiring model of Gospel Values and Christ’s teaching. He is a true friend of our school, and staff and pupils find him cheerful, amenable, supportive and interested, whilst also having the highest of expectations of us. In no small part, the outcomes of our inspection report can be attributed to his influence.
Thank you Fr. John, and thank YOU for listening to me this evening / this morning.

To everyone here today, know that you are always welcome to come and see your school in action at any time. Perhaps you may wish to come and join our seasonal celebrations.
I wish you all a happy and stress free Advent and Christmas.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Rita E.McLoughlin – Executive Headteacher: Saint Patrick’s Corsham and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary, Kingswood (interim)