News from St. Bernard's

News from St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School 2013-2014

Warmest greetings to all Former Students, Staff and Friends of St Bernard’s!  This year, the Newsletter has passed into ‘fresh hands’ as our former editor, Mrs. Rosalind Nockles, took the plunge and retired from 40+ plus years of dedication and hard work at school.  We thank her profusely and wish her a happy and healthy ‘new era’!

The Staff at St Bernard’s are unique: not only does the very important teaching of curriculum take place, but also much of their own time is given up to run lunchtime and after-school clubs and activities.  The last 12 months have seen an even greater range and number of opportunities for students to participate in something – too many to mention, but surely there cannot be many areas left untouched and an interest there for everyone!

Music is always well represented with Choirs, Ensembles and Bands.  This year’s activities have included the Young Musician of the Year competition, Music Master Classes with visiting establishments, including the Academy of Music of St Martin-in-the Field; Year 10 visited the Royal Festival Hall, the Choir sang Christmas Carols to the residents of Croft House, an ensemble played at Windsor Parish Church, the now annual Piano Day was held at Langley Grammar School with other local musicians and students and Year 7 enjoyed a Gamelan Day.  Recently students from Years 11 – 13 were asked to perform at Slough Library for one of their free lunchtime concert sessions.


English and Drama have crammed in theatre visits, including Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre, London.  The Senior School production of To Kill a Mocking Bird was performed with sensitivity and maturity by the students and was highly acclaimed by all who attended.  The content and theme of the play is so relevant to our school Mission Statement ‘to be of service to others and uphold the Christian values of love, forgiveness and compassion that Jesus taught us’.  Authors have visited the Juniors, Shakespeare in Schools visited in the Summer, the Year 8 Poetry Festival produced their annual anthology with Wexham School (which can be seen on the school website and the Junior Book Club attended the launch of the Berkshire Book Awards.  The Year 9 and 12 and Mock Trial team events are as popular as ever with Year 9 reaching the National Finals in Nottingham in June.  A Year 11 Public Speaking team also did well at an event at Dartmouth House in March and the School Magazine is still produced by students twice a year. Year 8 participated in the BBC School Report Day which is broadcast nationally.  In fact, many of our students continue to pursue their creative interests outside of school, be it at Pinewood Studios as actors or with the local Taplow Choirs conducted by Gillian Dibden, a former St Bernard’s Head of Music.


History: visits to the Black Country Museum, Warwick Castle, the Imperial War Museum, Ypres (particularly relevant this centenary year of the Great War) are now well-established as is the visit to Auschwitz every year by two Sixth-Form students.  They always return to lead a moving and heart-felt Holocaust Assembly, ‘lest we forget’.

Geography: field visits to Wales, the River Chess, and Henley Rowing Museum have all thankfully managed to avoid this year’s floods, not true of many of our students and staff.

 The spiritual life of St Bernard’s is so imbedded in daily school life, it is difficult to separate out these activities.  We start and end each term with a whole school celebration, reflecting our Catholic traditions and seasons.  These are led by Father Kevin O’Driscoll of the Holy Family, Langley.  Advent and Lent also allow the opportunity to attend early morning Mass in the Chapel – popular with the local community.  Every class enjoys an annual ‘Away Day’ or a Retreat and there will be a whole school Retreat on Ash Wednesday 2014, led by the staff and Sixth-Form.  Seasons have their themes: CAFOD Family Fast Day is linked to the Dining Hall for a bread and soup lunch, the One World Group work hard to support the ‘Love-in-a-Box’ Christmas charity every year as well as holding an Easter Egg Hunt in our beautiful grounds.  We are a Fairtrade School and regularly hold sales of Fairtrade items at break-times as well as holding coffee, tea and hot chocolate events.  Mass is offered at 1.00pm every Thursday and is open to anyone who wishes to attend.  You are most welcome to join us!


It is hard to know where to begin with Sporting successes!  Our trophy cabinet is positively groaning with the weight of cups, medals and accolades.  A few notable mentions: the First XI Football team, coached by Mr. Mike Tomlinson (Acting Deputy Head) reached the final of the County Cup for the second successive season; Senior Rugby is growing in popularity, Year 9 were winners of the County Cup Football Final.  Athletics achievements across all Years broke many previous school records and a new activity – Indoor Rowing – is growing in popularity with an annual competition held at the Langley Academy.  Another new event last year was the Year 7 Zumba workout which crossed the Spanish and PE areas of curriculum.  Sports Day, held in the latter half of the Summer Term, pulls all the year’s achievements together in a fun-filled whole school event at Thames Valley Athletics Centre in Eton. 


Science, Art and Technology have enjoyed a wealth of trips to Marwell Zoo (Year 13 Biology), Year 9 Engineering and Mechanics Careers’ visits, Sixth-Form study visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Saatchi Gallery, a Sixth-Form Product Design Conference Day and Year 10 Textiles visit to the Gala Fashion Show.  At last  the Year 12 Young Enterprise team achieved a deserved success when they won the coveted County Area Final in April after coming close in the preceding few years.


The Duke of Edinburgh Scheme is very popular with students from Year 9 upwards.  This year, Year 12 students are ‘going for gold’ in Snowdonia!  Other local schools have noted our successes and have introduced this area to their school life.  It is a huge commitment for many staff which involves giving up lots of evenings and weekends and even experiencing a little bit of unpredictability, with some expeditions being called off part-way through due to adverse weather conditions.


Another ‘first’ for St Bernard’s was achieved at the end of the Summer Term with first prize in their class awarded to two Year 9 IT students for their short animation film Shadow at the National Animation Competition in Manchester. The whole school enjoyed the film on Guardian Angels’ Day (yes, we still uphold this great St Bernard’s tradition!).  Doesn’t this just prove that this school moves easily with the times?


The link with our partner school Sinethemba High School in Cape Town, South Africa flourishes, with the next cohort of students due to visit in Autumn 2015/ Spring 2016.  This is such an important facet of our extra-curricular life and a life-changing experience for all who have the opportunity to visit.


Languages have the best trips (so I am told!) – the bi-annual visit to the Bay of Naples took place last year with places allocated within hours and a waiting-list of 15+ students; Year 7 visited Le Touquet for a (long) day last Summer; ‘Homestays’ in Spain and exchanges with Germany take place in Spring and Autumn.  Japanese grows in popularity after a brief hiatus and the lunch-time club is well-attended by Juniors looking to investigate this option before deciding on the GCSE option.  Latin is enjoying a surge in popularity – bucking against the local schools’ trend where we know numbers have fatally declined.  Both French and Spanish have enjoyed visits from Interactive Theatre Groups – a new resource for teaching and most enjoyable for the students.


Our year is always closely linked to that of the Sisters and it was with great shock and sadness that we learnt of the deaths of Sister Mary Anthony, our former Headmistress and then shortly after, Sister Mary John, a founder member of the Hyning Community.  A Thanksgiving Mass for Sister Mary Anthony was held in the Chapel on a beautiful warm and sunny May evening, led by her dear friend Magister Paul Hypher and attended by many Former Students and Staff. 

Sadly, just as the Summer holidays began, the school also learned of the murder of one of our Former Students, Sean Noctor, as he was celebrating his sister’s 21st birthday in Windsor.  The shock-waves still rebound and your prayers are asked for his family at this time of great distress.

In the Summer Term the school also began to say its goodbyes and thank you to our retiring Headteacher, John McAteer, after 23 years of loyal service and dedication.  He is only the fifth Headteacher of this school, which is testament to the ‘St Bernard’s effect’ – we do not experience the ‘churn’ of staff that some other schools do.  The last half term of the year was incredibly busy – some of the tributes included an evening concert, ‘A Night at the Musicals’, with both Current and Former Students and Staff joining together to perform some of John’s favourite songs and music from past school productions. It was a joyous evening and lovely to meet afterwards with many old friends.  This was followed a few evenings later with a Mass celebrating John’s Headship led by Bishop Peter Doyle and attended by a huge crowd of Friends, many of the Sisters and nearly all of John’s family.  Both evenings proved what an impact this school has on us all in terms of love and loyalty and the atmosphere was ‘charged’!  John is succeeded by Mr. Michael Stimpson, Acting Headteacher, who has started the year very well, maintaining our unique traditions and reaffirming our close ties with the Bernardine Community.

Results: in August our Press Releases stated: The percentage of students achieving 10 or more [GCSE] A*/A grades exceeded last year’s results, which had already broken previous records.” and  “This year’s outstanding ‘A’ Level results at St Bernard’s include the highest ever percentage of grades at A*/A (42.4%) and the highest ever overall pass rate (99.7%).”  What else is there to say?!

So, as this Newsletter draws to a close, we thank you all for your support and we keep you in our prayers.  It is after all our continuously growing community that makes our school so special, not the buildings (although the beauty of our grounds does always help!).  Times are very challenging for all schools and particularly for ones like ours: a Faith and Grammar school.  As well as supporting the annual Reunions, are you able to help in any other way?  Can you give any of your time, effort, experience or financial donations?  Please do get in touch and always be assured of a warm welcome and hospitality, just as our Sisters have taught us.  ‘A child of St Bernard’s is known everywhere’.  Call us!






Pina Danagher (Iacobucci, left 1981, currently employed at St Bernard’s)

February 2014

Posted on March 21, 2014 .