Rathfriland High School celebrates 60 wonderful years

Rathfriland High School celebrates its 60th Anniversary this year.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 11:06 am
Chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr Ian McConnell, current Principal Mr Ian Matthews, former Principal Mrs Amanda McCullough and Vice Principal Mrs Ruth Chalmers join staff and governors to mark the anniversary of the school’s opening

The school first opened as ‘Rathfriland Intermediate School’ on 4th September 1961, catering for 269 pupils in its first year. The start of term was not without problems, as many of the classrooms were still being completed and teachers were in short supply, as described by one of the school’s early pupils.

The school name was later changed to Rathfriland High School and the school population has grown significantly in recent years to a current enrolment of 362 pupils. The school, which is situated centrally within the town, has served the young people of Rathfriland and the surrounding area faithfully since 1961. In fact, many parents and members of staff are former pupils of the school.

As Becky Bell, a Year 12 pupil, highlighted. Her grandmother and her father were both prefects in the school and this is a tradition she hopes to continue in her final year in Rathfriland High. “The school is so close knit, that you build very close relationships with each other. I, like many others, have got to know my teachers so well that I find I can talk to them easily whenever I need help.

Mr Robinson (Senior Teacher and Year 8 Tutor) with some of the new Year 8 pupils outside the school building

Current Principal, Mr Ian Matthews commented, “As a school we describe ourselves as ‘Big enough to deliver, small enough to care’ and that captures the essence of the school very well. As a non-selective school we cater for pupils of all abilities and are understandably proud of our excellent performance in public examinations, recording results which were on average 13% above the Northern Ireland average, during the four years (2016-19). This maintains our position as one of the top performing schools of our type. I have no doubt that this is due primarily to the hard work of our students and the dedication and professionalism of our staff. Key Stage 4 pupils are provided with a diverse curriculum, with over 30 GCSE and BTEC courses on offer. In addition to subjects delivered in house, this is achieved through excellent partnerships with other schools in the Banbridge Area Learning Community and our colleagues at Southern Regional College. The school has a very caring atmosphere, our size means staff quickly get to know our pupils and many teach them for the majority of their time at school. There is very much a ‘family’ feel to the school with strong support from governors, parents and the local community.”

William Weir a Year 12 pupil highlighted the extent to which supporting worthy causes and charities is a feature of school life. “Just this week all pupils walked a mile around the sports pitches in order to raise money for the Cancer Fund for Children. We also support Children in Need, the annual Shoebox Appeal, the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance and a host of other charities each year”.

The school facilities have been expanded and developed throughout its history and many members of the local community make use of the excellent 3G pitch, which is a joint venture between Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council and the school.

Local Councillor Jill Macauley commented “As a proud past pupil of Rathfriland High School, I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and have no doubt that it positively helped shape me into the person I am today. Now as an elected representative for the area, I know I speak on behalf of our local community to congratulate the school on reaching this special 60thAnniversary, and I would like to pay tribute to both past and present Principals, Teachers, Staff, Board of Governors and pupils who through hard work and dedication have allowed it to continue to be the great school it is today.

Year 9 pupils join Lord Mayor, Alderman Glenn Barr, Councillor Jill Macauley and Principal Ian Matthews to wish Rory Best well in his fundraising walk in aid of the Cancer Fund for Children

This milestone offers a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the history of the school and the important contributions it has made to the personal and academic development of so many students, past and present. As a small rural school Rathfriland High undoubtedly punches above its weight in the academic league tables, and as it marks sixty years of success, we all have every reason to be proud of the school’s past and excited about its future. I am certain that Rathfriland High School will continue its vocation of preparing young students to engage successfully with the world for many years to come, and I wish it every best wish for the years ahead.”

The school continues to expand, with building work currently underway to provide a new Science laboratory and additional toilet facilities. The work is scheduled for completion in January 2022.

The school is marking their anniversary with a gala dinner for staff, former staff, governors and guests with further events planned later in the year.

Mrs Ruth Chalmers, Vice Principal at the school, has been a member of staff for the last 37 years. She commented, “It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve the school community for nearly 4 decades. Much has changed since my appointment in 1984. The significant increase in the use of computers, the development of the Internet and use of online technologies probably being the most noteworthy. My time in Rathfriland has also meant many changes for me too, taking on a more pastoral role and that of curriculum development both of which are challenging but always rewarding. I am fiercely proud of the achievements of all those that have passed through the school gates and always enjoy meeting past pupils, many now parents of those currently enrolled at Rathfriland High School, and hearing how well they have done. It has been an honour to serve the local community and I know the school will continue to go from strength to strength.”

Year 9 pupils ready for bouldering during their recent visit to Shannaghmore Outdoor Education Centre

The school has recently invested in state of the art interactive touch panels to ensure that teaching staff have access to the best resources to contribute to the ongoing development of learning and teaching across the school. Gone are the days of pupils getting 5 minutes outside to clean the duster!

Mr Ian McConnell, Chairman of the Board of Governors commented. “Rathfriland High School has been at the centre of this community over the last 60 years. Supporting our young people to develop skills to pursue their career dreams and ambitions, helping shape their values, and enabling them to have confidence in who they each are. The school and its contribution is a reflection of its staff and indeed pupils. We have been blessed with incredibly committed and capable staff both past and present. A team of both teaching and non-teaching staff that care and give of their all to support the pupils.

And of course parents and the wider community have played their part, and the school is indebted to all of them.

We can look forward with confidence to the role of the school in the future. The results being achieved by our pupils speak for themselves, we currently have record enrolment numbers, we have secured investment with work ongoing to the school building and I could go on.

The Board of Governors, Mr Matthews and the current RHS team are committed to laying the foundations for the school to continue to excel over the next 60 years.”