It may have only been running for two years but Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary School is already a major part of the community and is enjoying success as JOHN PHILLIPS finds out.
AFTER opening in 2012, the £13million Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary School is celebrating after receiving positive reports from the Church in Wales and Estyn.
The school was hailed as a “good school” with “good prospects for improvement” by Wales’ education inspectorate this month and inspectors from the Church in Wales praised the primary for having an “inspirational” and “dynamic” Christian vision and leadership.
Management at the school are especially pleased as this positive assessment comes in the first ever Estyn report produced for the school.
Children in the town previously attended three separate schools, St Peter’s Primary and Hillside Primary and Hillside Nursery, but it was decided to close them and open a modern new school in Middle Coed Cae Road, which came with a £13m price tag.
Being taken on a tour of the school, I discovered it was a wonderful learning environment with a dedicated gym, TV studios and spiritual garden.
The school also has an indoor play area called the ‘Jungle Gym’.
Situated within a wide corridor separating classrooms, deputy headteacher Jane Howells told me it is used to engage pupils with school activities like numeracy and literacy.
Mrs Howells, 52, said: “Children are moving rather than sitting at a desk. They are physically active while they are learning. It keeps them motivated. Physically, it helps with the brain function.”
The TV studios featuring modern equipment give the primary pupils an early exposure into the workings of the media.
Children get to learn video production skills, improve their literacy and even work on their acting skills.
Their video projects end up on the school’s website thereby becoming accessible to their families.
During the visit, technician Justin West indicated the studio assignments could help to give pupils new career paths.
Mr West, 44, said: “It gives them a good grounding in IT.
“They get a lot out of it and it helps to develop their careers.”
I watched with interest as Year 6 pupils worked in the studio on a script they had written in Welsh.
Eve Rothwell, 10, said: “I like the performing part of it.”
Rebecca Keeling, 10, added: “It’s fun because when they record, you have to start and then stop. You can make your own project. We film around the school.”
The primary school uses the latest technology to help children including television screens and tablets.
But, the strength of the school does not simply lie in the equipment it has to offer but also in the quality of its teaching.
Maths coordinator, Heidi Wilson said the approach taken by the school to drive up performance in numeracy is quite novel.
Staff aim to put some emphasis on interaction using “talk partners” who discuss how they solve maths problems.
This can also help children with reasoning tests as well as develop their literacy when dealing with complex word problems.
Miss Wilson, 29, added: “We started a new scheme of work.
“Maths is more practical and visual.”
The school also puts great emphasis on sport and has a hall dedicated to Blaenavon sporting hero Ken Jones.
A replica statue of Jones has been placed at the entrance of the hall.
Mrs Howells said two pupils are currently training with the Cardiff City football academy and the school also has a kickboxing champion in Year 6 pupil Laura Davey.
The school also has two sporty schoolboys who play rugby for the Torfaen district.
Hooker Cameron Dyte, 11, said: “I play rugby up to four times a week. I like attacking.”
Daniel Clint, nine, added: “It’s good for your legs.”
Pupils also work on their fitness at the school’s dedicated gym.
During the visit, Year 5 teacher, Charlie Booth, put pupils through their paces in the gym, which is also used by members of the public.
The former personal trainer tells me this setting not only helps to improve pupils’ fitness but also gives them a valuable insight into sports science.
He said: “They are learning all about the science behind the body.
“This is another way to instil a healthy lifestyle so this can start to become the norm.
“The fitness side of it is just wonderful.”
The Church in Wales school also has a strong spiritual dimension.
Special assemblies are held where pupils invite fellow students to pray and the school also has the spiritual garden outside.
The former Bishop of MonmouthDominic Walker also attended Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary to mark the opening of the school.
The Church in Wales is full of praise for the primary and its report published after an inspection in March stated that the pupils enjoyed collective worship and noted their enthusiastic singing.
In its report, the Church in Wales heaped praise on the primary for its variety of styles and leadership of collective worship, as well as its sharing and continual reinforcement of Christian values.
The Church in Wales also praised staff for giving pupils “exceptional pastoral care and support” as well as the leadership of the headteacher Deb Woodward, her leadership team and governors.
This view was echoed by Estyn inspectors, who felt that prospects for improvements at the school were good as the headteacher had a clear vision and strategy to raise pupils’ standards and achievements.
The education inspectorate added that the performance management for all staff was clearly linked to raising pupils’ standards of achievement.
Mrs Woodward, 40, said: “We have just come to our second anniversary in the new building.
“Our numbers have been growing steadily – there is no other school in the town.
“For three schools to come together and have one identity in such a short period of time was a positive element highlighted in the Estyn report. It is an important hub for the community.
“Children are making good progress in literacy, in numeracy and IT was described as very good.
“The wellbeing, behaviour and attendance and teaching were all highlighted as good features of the school.”
Teaching assistant, Michaela Page, has taught at the new school and St Peter’s Primary for the past nine years. She explained the merged school had helped to bring the small community of Blaenavon even closer together by reuniting friends and relatives who would have previously been taught at the town’s separate schools.
She said: “The learning environment is absolutely amazing. It is amazing how we have all gelled.
“They children get all their friends and family around them together.
“Blaenavon is a small community. It is lovely to see them all come together as one.”
Number of pupils on roll: 540
Headteacher: Deb Woodward
Chairman of governors: Eunice Jones
School Motto: Opening the door to your future
In its report released this month, Estyn found that the school’s performance is good because:
• Most pupils make progress in developing good skills in literacy, particularly in speaking, listening and reading
• Most pupils make good progress in developing numeracy skills and very good skills in information and communication technology
• Many pupils with additional learning needs attain their targets
• Most pupils work well independently and with each other
• Most pupils engage well with more demanding activities, such as problem-solving and research work
• Pupils’ wellbeing, including behaviour and attendance, is good
• The overall quality of teaching is good.