THE first things new visitors would notice around Llanmartin Primary School is how colourful it is and its location on the border of Monmouthshire and Newport.
Based in Underwood, Llanmartin, it is about five miles from Newport.
It is included in the Newport City Council authority area – just – and is the last school on its eastern border with Monmouthshire.
Its playing fields look onto rolling fields and the school’s head teacher, Victoria Curtis, was keen to show off the scenic quality.
She said: “When I came for my interview I came out here and I thought ‘this is wonderful’. When you get a good sunset it’s absolutely beautiful.”
The school has not been able to put its outdoor facilities to much use over the last few months with all the wet weather but at the start of this academic year a new Timber Trail was installed. It cost £5,000 and will no doubt be used well in months to come.
The school’s population has increased since its last Estyn inspection in 2009, and it has 191 pupils.
It is an inclusive school that tries to take part in as many activities as possible.
It’s an officially recognised Healthy School and was recently awarded its platinum award for being an Eco-School in Wales.
And it won Newport City Council’s schools’ prize for Newport In Bloom – along with £50 worth of vouchers – for its junior vegetable garden, which was coordinated by the school’s higher level teaching assistants.
Batik classes, where children are taught how to layer wax on material and use special paints to colour around it, are held in Year 4’s classroom. They are required to make their own designs and transfer it onto the material themselves, with supervision.
And art hangs from every possible space. There are even washing lines across the room so work can be displayed from them.
At the same time, Year 5 pupils were taking part in a music lesson and learning about different African rhythms.
The lesson was led by Llanmartin Primary’s deputy head teacher, Ross Williams, who drummed out the beat on the floor with wooden sticks as the pupils followed with theirs.
The school is, in a way, becoming more democratic. Previously members of the student council used to be picked by their class teachers. Now they have to justify why they should be on the committee and then their class votes for the best candidates.
Head girl, Hannah McDonnell, and head boy, Brandon Powell, both in Year 6, are part of the school council. They have tried to improve the school but have had to be economical about it because, as Hannah said: “We haven’t got much space”.
Council members put together a fundraising appeal for a teacher who recently died, Mrs Waters, and also worked to implement a way in which football in the playground wouldn’t be as much of a problem.
Pupils from reception to Year 4 take part in a programme, Read Write Inc, which is unusual for Newport schools. Mrs Curtis said it is one of the few schools in the authority that takes part in the strategy, which is based on phonetics to improve reading skills.
Pupils are asked to participate in the strategy and then praise each other in groups.
Mrs Curtis said the plan was implemented when teachers “realised (reading skills) were an issue and we levelled it up. Standards in reading have improved.”
To help pupils, there are phonic-based charts all around the school, which encourage them to break up words and use different sayings for different blends.
Similarly, the school has its own learning centre for five students who attend and have learning difficulties. But they are included with other classes at different times and are not excluded from working with other children.
Mrs Curtis said: “This is their base but we integrate them with other classes as well.”
Mr Williams, who runs the learning centre, said the way the centre works with children is akin to “cross pollination”.
Most of the children who leave the school in Year 6 attend Llanwern and Caldicot Comprehensive Schools because of Llanmartin’s location “right in the middle” of the two, Mrs Curtis said.
At the other end of the scale, reception and nursery pupils, who are between three and five years old, play in their classroom which has its own versions of Llanmartin Post Office, a sandpit and a construction area where they can play.
Mrs Curtis tries to involve herself as much as possible in the teaching at the school.
She said: “I think it’s fundamental that I’m asking teachers to do things that I would be able to do. And it’s been absolutely lovely to watch (the pupils). I can play with them and do the extra things because I’m only here for a bit.”
It is based in a building that opened six years ago, which opens onto the rest of the school, its playing fields and views of the countryside.
There are plans for the school to get its own nursery, but there is a private one based next door. Babes in the Wood shares a healthy relationship with it and close links.
Chaos reigns in Year 1’s role-play area, which is darkened by black pieces of paper on the windows and lit up with fairy lights. At the back of the room, a gigantic tin foil ‘shower’ has been built for the children as they rush in and out of the room.
They are looking at space this term and assortments of stones were moon rocks; children walked around in space equipment and particularly original space helmets.
Next door, Year 2 was focusing on the Aztecs, Mexico and sombreros. Mexican pesos were on a desk at the back of their classroom, brought back by a pupil’s grandmother, when she had been there on holiday.
The school also takes trainee teachers from surrounding colleges. Emma Shepherd, from Caerleon College, is fulfilling her training by working with Year 6.
And it welcomes heroes from Newport. Last year, Bassaleg’s Auschwitz prisoner of war goalkeeper, Ron Jones, visited Year 6 and their work marking his visit and his experiences in the Second World War is on display on one of the school’s walls.
Head teacher: Victoria Curtis
Head of governors: Cllr Martyn Kellaway
Pupils on roll: 191
Age range: three to 11-years-old
Motto: Together we can achieve
Last Inspection: March 2009
The school was rated as 'good' and the inspection noted standards in England and communications were 'good in speaking, listening and reading. In the early years reading skills are very well developed.'
Pupils' creative skills were also said to be good: 'They experiment freely with a wide range of material and media.'
Recommendations included raising standards in pupils' writing skills in English and across the curriculum, raising standards in pupils' application of their ICT skills and problem-solving, and making them more aware of the steps required to improve their own learning.