Llanfoist Fawr Primary School, in Abergavenny is situated in the beautiful surrounding hills. Carys Thomas went to visit how the setting lends itself to the children's learning.

“LLANFOIST Fawr is an outdoors school,” says Jon Murphy, head teacher at the primary who is now in his second year as head.

On our visit the children are all outside involved in different activities, from making artwork with conkers to learning about the Diwali festival.

The children are often taught outside even in winter with the help of a newly erected outside classroom, which is made of wood and has shutters which can be pulled down.

Mr Murphy said: “You will notice there haven’t been many children stuck in a classroom with a pen and paper.

“The daily experience of playing and learning outdoors benefits the children tremendously.

“We want the children to learn through doing and that’s exactly what we do here. We try and get the children outside as much as possible.”

The school has just built a wooden stage outdoors and are hoping to put on plays in the summer months such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The primary also has an indoor /outdoor play area attached to the main building, which can either be enclosed or open with the adjustment of shutters.

Helen Sansom, Year 2 teacher and foundation phase level leader, said: “All the children bring wellies to school. We are a forest school as well.

“This area is mainly used by the reception class who have free flow to this area where we have lots of different themed sections. There is an investigation area which is a science based – this week’s theme is insects.

“We have different charts so the children can identify which is which. It is all to do with inciting their curiosity.”

Sport is an integral part of the school with the primary ranking high in the recent Sport Wales school survey. Matt Davies, Year 6 teacher and the school’s PE coordinator has been honoured as an outstanding teacher and outstanding leader for PE from education services in Gwent.

He has set up a sports programme with the Newport Gwent Dragons to help train the pupils at the school.

He said: “The project is aimed at children who don’t take part in after school sport clubs.

“We are trying to build their confidence through sport.

“We will have balancing skills, skipping and catching rugby balls.”

Parents are extremely active within the school with the family learning programme in which parents come in to the school to work with their own children.

The initiative is a Welsh Government scheme which is implemented throughout the local authority to help children with literacy and numeracy skills.

Mr Murphy said: “It provides an opportunity for parents to learn new methods of teaching. Teaching is not the same as when they were in school.

“It benefits every one – the parents can understand what we are trying to do so that the children can learn at home.”

The school has an active PTA with parents funding the outdoor classroom. Mr Murphy is hoping to expand the garden with the help of parents, who have donated trees to the cause.

The pupils of the Eco Counsel were involved in a promotional video for the Welsh Government when they were interviewed about the benefits of locally sourced food.

Llanfoist Fawr has vastly changed since it opened in 1993. It has moved from the original Victorian building to the modern space it has occupied since September 2008.

The number of pupils has doubled since moving to the new premises.

Mr Murphy said: “This is a special place to be a part of and a privilege to be the head teacher. They are great children and any head teacher would be proud to be their leader.”

The head explains that he aims to bring different agencies into the school.

He said: “The children are so used to visitors because we want to incorporate different outside companies and organisations into the school.

“The children are very welcoming they want to show everyone what they are doing. The amount of cost I rack up in stickers is unbelievable.”

The pupils have learnt to cook with the help of the Welsh Assembly cooking bus, which was stationed at the school for a week in November.

All the children from reception to Year 6 took part in learning how to produce healthier meals including cous cous, bread making and vegetable samosas.

Mr Murphy said: “All the staff had training on the bus so hopefully we can sustain learning at the school to keep teaching the children about cooking.

“We hope to get more portable cookers than the ones that we have at the moment.”

The children have been learning about the Second World War with Mr Davies, Year 6 teacher, who has been working the air raid siren for the children to gain a better understanding of the war.

Mr Murphy said: “The children have built a shelter with sandbags whenever the siren goes they all have to hide under the tables. We like to learn history through activities here at Llanfoist Fawr.”

“We encourage individuals at this school. There is a wonderful empathy with each other no matter with the difference of ability or age.

“We don’t separate yards for infants and juniors. The older children look after the younger ones.”

The school has an independent working area near the staff room where the children can sit and use the space for group discussions.

Mr Murphy said: “People think this is for adults but this is used by the pupils for reading books. The Year 6 children buddy up with younger pupils to help them out with work.

“The aim is to develop independence in children – independent learning does work.”

He added: “It’s a hard place to work for members of staff.

“The work is demanding and you have to be active but it is such a rewarding place to work.”

Fact File

Pupils: 203

Largest Class: 29 pupils

Motto: Value nurture and motivate

Head Teacher: Jon Murphy

Head of Governors: David Best

Ages: four to eleven

Estyn Report May 2012

Current performance: Good

Prospect's for improvement: Good

The care, support and guidance are thorough and effective and the school is highly inclusive.

The strategic leadership and management are good and improving.

Partnerships with other schools, the local authority and the community are beneficial and worthwhile.

The Year 6 playground buddies are caring and helpful with younger pupils, who express appreciation for this support.