Cross Ash Primary School aims to help children gain their independence as CARYS THOMAS finds out.

THE 190-pupil Cross Ash Primary School is situated in the small village of Cross Ash, between Abergavenny and Monmouth.

It is surrounded by woodlands and fields which lends itself to the gardening club and outdoor activities and the children are predominantly from farming and backgrounds and travel between eight and 13 miles to the school from Skenfrith and Grosmont.

Marilyn Balkwill, head teacher at the primary school for the past six years, said: “The children love being outdoors, we have a great location here with a large field and a forest at our disposal.

“They are rural children – they love to be outdoors, moving about and doing sports.

“Cross Ash doesn’t have any shy children here.”

The school has a variety of clubs including cookery club, gardening club, dance club, chess club and cycling club.

Mrs Balkwill said: “All the children are incredibly keen to get involved and be a part of different activities. There are definitely no timid children here.

“We have a child that was transferred here from another school. She was quite shy but she has completely settled in and has gained so much confidence here.”

The pupils write to Mrs Balkwill at the start of each year to ask permission to start a particular club. The year six pupils are leaders and run the clubs by themselves.

She said: “It teaches them about responsibility and gives them independence.

“They are great with looking after the little ones, I think building independent children is one of the main ethos of the school.”

The school will stage a production of Oliver! at the end of term.

This follows previous productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and The Jungle Book.

The school is split into houses which represent castles in the area – Skenfrith, White Castle and Grosmont – each is led by prefects.

A group of pupils make up a news crew and create the quarterly school newspaper.

Hywel Williams, ten, a year six pupil, said: “I really enjoy being part of the news team.

“Each of us becomes the editor and this changes every term so that everyone has the chance to be in that role.

“My favourite thing I have done with the club is interviewing [Wales rugby international] Hallam Amos, he was a past pupil here. I really enjoyed asking him questions about what sports he preferred when he was younger.”

The dance and singing club is made up of year two pupils with two year six pupils as choreographers. The group of eight pupils are currently learning a routine based on the Disney film Frozen.

Grace Fitton-Assinder, 11, is joint leader of the dance and singing group with fellow year six pupil Molly Harris.

Molly said: “We both do street dance so we usually take a routine that we’ve learnt outside of school and teach it to the younger pupils. We do tap, jazz and dance blast.

“We really enjoy the teaching aspect of the dance group, it’s a big responsibility.”

Grace said: “It’s a real reward to see the dance at the end and the progress that the year two pupils make.”

The children also participate in sports club, two pupils have become sports ambassadors and recently visited Monmouthshire Comprehensive to learn what it means to become an ambassador.

Poppy Brook, 11, year six pupil, said: “I went with Luke to learn how to become a sports ambassador.

“We learnt about PACE which is Participation, Area, Co-ordination and Equipment.

“I helped to start up a sports club, our job is trying to encourage others to take up sports. It’s really important that we take part in sports.”

The school has three libraries – two for the juniors and one for the infants – where children can take part in independent research.

The primary school also has laptops but is currently in the process of investing in tablets for the children.

The school has achieved its second green flag and has an eco council.

The school council is made up of representatives from each class, each member is elected by their peers who can write on the council whiteboard to voice their concerns.

In June 2009, the school was the second primary school in Wales to achieve the National Association of Able Children in Education (NACE) Challenge Award in recognition of its provision for more able and talented pupils.

Mrs Balkwill said: “It was quite an honour to receive the award. We had to present evidence on ten different categories which included pastoral care, education and challenges.

“If I were to sum up the school I would say it was safe, welcoming and an inspirational place to work.”

The school has a very active parent and teachers friends association which helps to organise activities in the school such as the Cross Ash X Factor.

Mrs Balkwill said: “The parents do so much for the school on an educational and social basis.

“The school is the hub of the community, the community are vital and we work together in this.”

The school's last Estyn Report was in November 2009.

The primary received six grade ones, the highest grade awarded, and one grade two.

The report said pupils's personal, social, moral, spiritual and cultural development is good with outstanding features and there are excellent working relationships between pupils, teachers and support staff.

There is also a highly skilled use of drama as a teaching technique to promote pupils' speaking and listening, personal, social and thinking skills.


Headteacher: Marilyn Balkwill

Chairman of governors: Martin Davies

Number of pupils: 190

Age of pupils: four to 11-years-old