A Welsh head teacher has beaten thousands of others to be named the best in the UK.
Rhian Morgan Ellis, head of Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhondda in Porth, was named Head teacher of the Year in a Secondary School at the Pearson National Teaching Awards which is considered the “Oscars” of the teaching profession.
“I’m chuffed to bits,” she said. “I’m so pleased for the school and the children and staff and parents who are so supportive.”
Handing her the award at a ceremony in London, the Pearson National Teaching Awards said Rhian had transformed what had been a “struggling school”.
This year the 750-pupil Welsh medium school was ranked green – the highest category – in the Welsh Government’s latest colour categorisation.
The organiser of the awards said: “Not only has the school been successful, but Rhian has ensured that it is rooted in the community and maintains a strong sense of Welsh identity for their pupils.
“She is a principled, inspirational and extremely effective head teacher, who has built a thriving, inclusive community.”
Starting her career as a Welsh teacher aged 22 at Ysgol Llanhari i n 1984 Rhian, 57, moved to the then Ysgol Cymer,now Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhondda, in 1989 and became head teacher there in 2010.
She said the best thing about her job is providing opportunities for pupils, the school and local community.
“It’s down to making every member of the community feel valued and that they have a role. Parents, locals, everyone employed here, need to feel they belong.
“Rhondda children deserve the best and we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best.
“We make sure if parents are struggling we engage, we visit them at home and ask them into school. We treat people with respect.”
A passionate advocate for the Welsh language and culture, Rhian did not grow up in a Welsh speaking home, but her parents sent her to one of the first Welsh medium secondary schools.
Having witnessed the demise of the coal industry and the resulting economic problems, she said education was more important than ever.
“It’s about showing pupils it’s a deprived area but they can do anything they want.
“Welsh language is central to everything we do as well as traditions and culture. It’s a window on the world.
“Raising aspirations is vital, especially in an area like this. When I grew up here there was plenty of work, but now children are experiencing second and third generations of people out of work or in low paid employment.
“Raising aspirations is about making these children believe they can do it.”
Rhian said she has no children of her own and considers her 750 pupils “my children”.
“I know all their names and families,” she said.
Rhian keeps the school open for free holiday activities for pupils in the summer holidays and is determined that all children and staff get the support they need.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams was among those sending congratulations. She said: “To be named the head teacher of the year, in a pool of thousands of nominations, is an outstanding accomplishment and goes to show what a truly inspirational leader she is.”
Rhian’s staff were also full of praise.
Learning support assistant Amelia Davies, 19, said: “As a head teacher Rhian was always approachable and was easy to talk to, and now as a member of staff this is still very true.”