AS a haven for young people with severe learning difficulties, Cwmbran's Crownbridge School has built a unrivalled reputation for giving its pupils the best start in life.

Serving children and young people in the age ranges of 2-19 years, the school is split into two sites, with a main hub in Croesyceiliog, Cwmbran and a primary site within Penygarn Primary in the Pontypool area.

With inclusivity at its core, the school is divided into four main areas — primary, secondary and tertiary departments and specialist class bases — and benefits from health and medical services.

These include a purpose-built hydrotherapy pool, a dedicated space for physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and a team of NHS nurses who work with pupils.

The school primarily accepts Torfaen youngsters but also teaches some pupils from Monmouthshire and other local authority areas.

For deputy head, Richard Drew, provision is based around a “person-centred thinking approach” that aims to encourage independent living and community awareness.

“This requires us to gather information from a wide range of people including pupils, families and professionals about pupils' strengths and challenges and what is important to them,” he said.

“This allows us to build school, department, class and individual timetables around this information.

"Whether (their) interests are in caring for animals, drama, business enterprise, gardening - pupils can interact with the wider community in real life scenarios."

One example of this approach is a system for school leavers which sees pupils aged 14 and above (and their parents) meeting with Careers Wales and Social Services to prepare for leaving the school at the age of 19.

From Coleg Gwent and specialist residential college supported living to employment and/or day care services, all pupils leave schools with “accredited qualifications and key skills” and options for their future, tailored to their individual needs.

With a ranging curriculum, pupils are encouraged to discover the skills and interests that will “allow them to move into adult life”.

This message is engrained within all school’s activities, with regular work experience opportunities and community trips giving pupils the chance to develop independent travel experience and money management.

Students also have the chance to staff a public cafe — open every Friday — which builds money skills, communication and invaluable real-life work experience.

Mr Drew added the school aims to ensure that "enhanced opportunities and ‘memorable moments’ for pupils offer engaging experiences to the full range of pupils."

From the Duke of Edinburgh Award and weekly horse-riding sessions with the Riding for the Disabled Association to swimming galas, rugby tournaments and the school’s annual music productions and choir, the opportunities are endless.

Hydrotherapy in the school's specialist pool and ‘rebound therapy’ on trampolines also provides opportunities for pupils to develop their physical and communication skills alongside their learning.

With Welsh Sports Association for People with Learning Difficulties affiliation, several pupils from the school have the chance to represent Wales in the future in their chosen sport.

School leaders also stress that pupil ‘success’ is measured in terms of “progress and a holistic view of the child and what is important to them and their future” .

This is part of a “pastoral system” that aims to help pupils feel safe, secure and happy with support readily available and a school curriculum emphasising individual achievements to make sure “every child is able to experience success”.

With a school motto of “Bridges to Success”, Crownbridge also promotes teamwork between pupils, parents and teachers to help deliver the best results.

From catering staff working with students to help them develop independence to feed themselves to teachers and assistants using their knowledge of autism awareness and sign language, everyone plays a part.

Staff expertise in special needs provision also reaches beyond the school walls with a strong ‘outreach service’ providing guidance, support and expertise to pupils with additional needs at mainstream schools.

Head teacher Lesley Bush considers her staff as the school’s "greatest resource” due to their skill and motivation to “help pupils achieve what is important to them”.

She also credited the school's “strong and effective” governing body, noting their support and “crucial element of challenge” to “hold us to our commitment to constant improvement”.

Since the school’s “excellent” rating by Estyn inspectors in 2014 — the highest rating a school can receive — the school has sought to maintain its high standards by investing into facilities.

Fundraising support from the school’s Parents and Friends Association has helped the school build a new sensory garden, replace and expand its fleet of minibuses and improve its ICT facilities — with new iPads, laptops and sensory lighting equipment.

With Pioneer School status as part of the Wales-wide Successful Futures Curriculum, an increasing pupil-base and large demand for services, the future of Crownbridge School is looking bright.

Head teacher Mrs Bush added: “We’re very proud of our schools achievements and its relentless commitment to improvement and achievement for all.

“The key to our success is that we all enjoy working together to provide the best provision possible for Torfaen pupils who have additional needs.

“It’s a privilege and a great pleasure.”

Fact File

Head – Lesley Bush

Deputy – Richard Drew

Pupils –107

Age range of pupils– 2-19

Number of Staff – 91

Motto –Bridges to Success

Chair of Governors –Clare Coff

Date of last inspection –March 2014