Education Secretary Opens New Willows High Learning Lounge

​​​16/06/2016

(L to R): Lisa Garfield; Community Liaison Manager at Willmott Dixon, Willows student Kian, Steve Birchenough; Building Manager at Willmott Dixon, Sarah McCall; Founder of Ongl Design+Make, Willows student Seren, Annie Davies; First Campus Mentoring Programme Leader/ Cardiff Metropolitan University, Chris Norman; Acting Head Teacher at Willows High School, Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams.​

Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams has officially opened Willows High Learning Lounge – a project between Reaching Wider First Campus Programme and Willows High School in Cardiff with the generous support of local industry and businesses.

Led by Cardiff Met graduate Sarah McCall, Founder and Interior Architectural Designer of Ongl design+make, Willows High School pupils and their families were invited to take part in a project to re-design the Learning Centre at Willows High.  The brief was to design an area that would be conducive to learning and a welcoming space for members of the community.  Thanks to the generosity of the numerous contributors the virtual design became a reality.

The Willows High Learning Lounge is a sustainable outcome from a project developed with STEM Pathways funding for the 'Learning in Action Programme,' designed to address key feedback from mentoring evaluation, which highlighted the importance of pupils understanding why they study certain GCSE subjects and how these subjects will be of use in their future education and career by applying their skills and knowledge in practical workshops.

The First Campus co-ordinators based at Cardiff Metropolitan University helped realise this project by running a series of workshops for the school's students and their families which included industry and HE visits and user group sessions.  By combining the expertise of Further Education (FE), Higher Education (HE) and insights into apprenticeship and career pathways from the contributors, the project highlighted to learners taking part the developmental opportunities and progression pathways available to them, while increasing self-esteem and confidence in their abilities.

Annie Davies, First Campus Mentoring Programme Leader, designed the project after realising that school students don't always recognise the relevance of certain core GCSE subjects.  Annie said "GCSEs are the foundation of a student's future and it is so important the learner feels engaged with the subjects.   That is why it was important that the project was led by an art & design graduate. Sarah was able to demonstrate effectively how important it is not just to be a talented artist but how it is vital for her to combine her knowledge of STEM subjects in order to make her business a success. 

"Thanks to the willingness and generosity of the contributors, the school now has a sustainable outcome and we are looking forward to building upon these outcomes and working with Willows High to support their students and families engage in their future education choices."

Reinforcing the ethos of the project, an element of learning and knowledge from the number of businesses who also ran workshops and helped with the redevelopment, enriched the project and highlighted how school subjects link into the working world.

These contributors included Willmott Dixon, TWL Voice and Data Ltd, Semaphore Cardiff Ltd, Momentum Cardiff, Abbey Glass, Forbo Flooring UK, Encon Insulation & Nevill Long Cardiff, FabLab Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Ongl Design+Make, Home by Kirsty, Puma Floors Ltd, Towy Works, Thornhill Plumbing, Lloyds Contracts Ltd, Allermuir and J&B Plastering.

Speaking about the new centre, ​Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, said: "It is great to see successful collaborative approaches like this, bringing together expertise from the world of education, as well as the best from the local community. This is a serious investment in future generations of learners and I am sure this facility will provide the right sort of environment to help them shape their future prospects"

Christopher Norman, Acting Head Teacher at Willows High said: "The support that we have received from First Campus to complete this project has been second to none and we are very thankful to all the local businesses that have contributed to help the Learning Lounge come to life.​

"It is great to be able to engage students and their families and to allow all of them to witness the potential progression options into further or higher education."

Two students who took part in developing the lounge were year 8 pupil Seren Heath and Kian Thomas, a Year 10 pupil. Both students are part of the 'Action in Learning' programme, which focusses on the application of essential skills and enhancements of the GCSE curriculum.

Seren has a keen interest in art and design and felt the project helped her understand the different opportunities she has at school. Her mother Glayne said: "It is good to see Seren take a keen interest in things further on in her life and for her to think about the possibilities of what she can achieve after school.

"She is now considering roles in interiors, design and architecture. Six months ago that didn't happen, so there has definitely been an improvement in her outlook."

Kian has had an interest in building and decorating for a while and the project helped him broaden his skills and learn new skills. Kian enjoyed working with his parents and said: "My mum has learned more from this project and so have I. It was great as my mum now knows more about what I like."

Reaching Wider First Campus is a HEFCW funded programme established in 2003.  It is a partnership between education institutions that help raise aspirations amongst students in South East Wales. The programme runs a number of activities that raise awareness of progression routes into Higher Education.​

For more information about First Campus and other projects they run, please visit: http://www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/partnerships/wideningaccess/Pages/First-Campus.aspx