IN our regular School of the Week feature we visit a primary or secondary school in Gwent to showcase the work they are doing.

Today in the wake of the launch of our Gwent Schools Awards Chris Binding visits a 'school' for the next generation of teachers right here in Newport.

TOWERING over the banks of the River Usk with a stylish modern design, Newport’s multi-million pound University of South Wales (USW) campus is no stranger to making headlines.

Since opening its doors in 2011, students have flocked to the site to sample its professional courses as well as teacher training, social work and counselling with a strong vocational edge.

However, the next generation of teachers training at the campus can expect a slightly surreal approach to learning due to the schools newly-developed ‘simulation’ classrooms.

From walls adorned with colourful finger paintings and group seating to a functioning school-style science lab and textiles area, classrooms are designed to ‘simulate’ and enhance on-the-job practice.

Head of the School of Education, Early Years and Social Work, Jamie James, believes marrying real-life scenarios with theory and practice, will help develop “excellent student practitioners in the workplace”.

The teacher of 12 years, who joined USW last month, said: “As we know, what happens in the classroom can literally change lives and we can bring a new dimension to teacher education.

“The onward impact is that the pupils in the classrooms and communities we serve will benefit hugely from those techniques.

“For students who are new to educational practice, it is a place to try out new ideas and that’s not just ideas they have picked up through evidence-based study and research but also ideas of their own.

“These spaces offer them an opportunity to trial those ideas in a way that is safe and low risk in terms of their confidence levels.”

He added: “What we want to do is create confident practitioners who are embedded in the forms of knowledge that they come into contact with during lectures but also able to think for themselves.

“Simulation is a big part what we deliver as a faculty — police studies and health care studies – and this is just another part of that bigger jigsaw in terms of our approach to professional learning.”

Classrooms are used for ‘micro teach sessions’ involving both evidence-based learning but also role plays, where teachers will practice with students playing the role of pupils.

Through this process, students can simulate a broad spectrum of future challenges — from pupils with higher learning abilities to those with learning difficulties.

Second year teaching student Daniel Davies, 19, welcomed the simulation aspects of the course and stated it adds to the “realism of the classroom”.

“We have such a modern campus and I think it’s only getting better since the closing of Caerleon. We also have a knowledge pool of all lecturers in the teaching course in one central area,” he said.

“Our library is now more extensive, we have two primary classrooms which are fully working when we only used to have one and now we’re making use of facilities like the drama studios.”

“I think Newport City Campus is really going places,” he added.

Rhiannon Baker, 20, from Lincolnshire, is training to teach science and maths in secondary schools and is looking forward to the ‘micro teach’ sessions in the lab classroom.

“Even when we’re not using the lab equipment everyone is sat around in their little groups around desks and you can walk from one desk to another making sure everyone gets what you are doing,” she said.

First year student Nia Court, 18, of Cardiff added: “It makes the experience so much better and you can visualise what you’re going to be doing. It’s so much easier.

“I can’t imagine not being in the rooms now I think I would find it a bit boring”.

In partnership with colleges, schools and local councils, USW’s teacher training unit also aims to give students valuable work experience including an extended work placement in a school environment.

For mature students looking for a career change, the vocational experience and insight is a key strength of USW’s teaching provision.

Student Rhiannon Apps, of Devon,“can’t wait to get out on placement and actually start to teach”.

The 31-year-old former carer and horse riding instructor is training to be a secondary school Design Technology teacher.

“I came back into education as I always wanted to be a teacher. I never thought I could do it and someone turned around to me and said, ‘you’re 30, just do it already’,”

“The biggest change here is that we’re now partnered with Llanwern High School and we use their D.T facilities there including the workshop and kitchens.”

Mature student, Scott Hann, 29, also left a 12-year career in retail to re-enter full-time education and has described USW’s facilities as “fantastic”.

“Staff are personable and talk to you with respect as adults and the provision is great with classrooms set up in the style of a classroom,” he said.

“Through this you can really start to feel the environment you will be working in in the future and certainly when we go on placement you already know what to expect.”

Although classrooms provide important preparation for students with theory, evidence-based study and hands on practice, passion is still a driving force for many students.

Student Rebecca Postle, 18, of Cwmbran said: “In the classrooms you're automatically in the zone of teaching and if it’s what you want to do as a career it’s absolutely fantastic.

“I think the environment we’re in brings it all together and it melds really nicely. I have only been here one week but it feels like a bit of a community already.”

She added: “I want to be part of one focused community that has the child’s best interests at heart and bring that to future generations.

“To not have the right education is neglect in my eyes and I want to be able to show these children and guide them in a way that’s going to help them to be part of society.”

Education head Mr James said: “I’m really excited about the prospects of future development here.

“We have great students, great facilities and great staff who are all willing to do the absolute maximum to guarantee the success of students and ultimately, support the driving up of standards across Gwent.

“As a local Newport boy myself, I’m immensely excited about it and it will be great to be part of that development.”

USW and its further education partner Coleg Gwent, are also in advanced discussions to develop new facilities in Newport City Centre.

A senior level group from both organisations are currently exploring options to build a new ‘Knowledge Quarter’, using the Newport City Campus site as an anchor.

The recent launch of a ‘National Cyber Security Academy’ in partnership with Welsh Government also put the campus at the heart of the digital age in developing new generations of cyber security experts

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Do you know a star teacher in Gwent? Nominate them here for the Gwent Schools Awards and fill out the form. Entry is free.

South Wales Argus: Teachers Awards montage