St Benedict’s hosts a visit from Baroness Barran

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St Benedict’s hosts a visit from Baroness Barran

St Benedict’s Upper School in Bury St Edmunds recently had the unusual distinction of a visit from Baroness Diana Barran from the Department of Education.

On Friday December 10, Baroness Barran, who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education, spent two hours touring the school and meeting staff and students.

She was joined by Sue Baldwin, the Regional Schools Commissioner, who among other duties oversees the formation of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). St Benedict’s is currently preparing to join the Our Lady of Walsingham MAT.

Flavio Vettese, CEO of the Walsingham MAT, welcomed Baroness Barran to the school and introduced her to the headteacher, Imogen Senior, to trustees and to fellow CEOs who joined the visit.

Despite pandemic-related restrictions, the school is taking some bold steps to restore extra-curricular activities which include planned trips for students to New York and Paris. On a more local level there are now a range of clubs including cookery, chess, knitting, table tennis, fitness, philosophy and English literature.

Alongside the National Curriculum, St Benedict’s is running an ‘enriched curriculum’ which covers Classics, Latin, first aid, conservation, diversity studies, debating and the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Two Year 11 students gave the Baroness a tour of the school which took in lessons in music, RE and art. There was also a break for Christmas bakes in the cookery department.

In the library Mrs Oakes, Head of English, explained how St Benedict’s organises diagnostic tests to ascertain reading levels and then guides students to an appropriate choice of books. This forms an important part in identifying students who are off benchmark and remedying gaps which may have appeared during the pandemic. The school is above average in the way is has brought students back up to desired levels in Maths after the disruptions of lockdown.

Matthew Spiller, Chaplaincy Co-ordinator at St Benedict’s, guided a group discussion in the chapel where a group of students shared with the Baroness their impressions of the school. Baroness Barran, who herself went to a Catholic primary school, said she was interested to know how students evaluated a faith school, since she received much correspondence from the Humanist Society appealing to her to abolish both faith schools and assemblies in state schools.

The students said that they appreciated the fact that, in contrast to a state a school, they could approach any teacher to talk about their faith and felt that St Benedict’s had a strong sense of community and a culture of respect. They emphasised the way which the school contributed to the wider community through supporting a range of charities, notably The Gatehouse, which acts as a foodbank in the town, and a homelessness charity, for which students are planning a sleepout.

In answer to the Baroness’ questions, Matthew said that between 70% and 80% of students in the school were Catholics, and around 10% were practising their faith by attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis. The school itself provides regular opportunities to take part in Mass and to attend the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Pictured above are (left to right) Andrew Herlihy (Chair of Governors), Baroness Barran, Imogen Senior (Headteacher), Sue Baldwin (Regional Schools Commissioner), Jim Adams (CEO, Clarion Trust), Flavio Vettese (CEO, Our Lady of Walsingham MAT), Jeremy Rowe (CEO, Waveney Valley Trust).