The new school year is under way, and there’s lots going on at Griffithstown Primary School in Pontypool. THOMAS MOODY popped in for a visit

SITUATED at the end of narrow terraced street, it’s hard to believe there’s room for Griffithstown Primary School, let alone space for the outdoor projects that headteacher Nick Blackburn is overseeing.

But after being guided through the school, the countryside opens up. A large field backs onto a hedgerow in one direction, and continues down to the canal in another. It is here where this different, more practical approach to learning is set to take place.

The grounds are currently undergoing a transformation after the school received a £10,000 Postcode Lottery grant.

The grant has allowed a pond to be dug, the creation of a wildflower area and a tunnel which has been topped with the earth from digging out the pond, allowing insects and worms to thrive.

Mr Blackburn said: “The pond is going to be really useful for science activities, all sorts of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) work really. As well as that we’ve also developed the wild flower area on the bank, which again is a STEM initiative to develop wildlife in the area, such as butterflies and insects.”

The school are also building a pontoon area on the canal.

Mr Blackburn said: “It’s a great link to the community. Yes, we can do science activities there, but we can also access the route and take things up and down the canal to various different places.”

Deputy head Cerian Pugh said: “The idea was that we open up the route between the hospital and the school to bring the patients and children together, and it’s about being able to transport the produce.

“It’s also bringing in the community of Griffithstown as well. Many of these projects have aspects that happen after school and on weekends, and we’re getting more and more parents involved with the school.”

The school hope that they will be able develop a small farm on the school grounds over the course of the year, which will include an orchard, a vineyard, a polytunnel, and also a chicken coop.

This investment in to the school encourages a different style of learning, one that takes the children out of the classroom.

Mr Blackburn said: “It’s good for their wellbeing, it’s good to be learning in a different context to within the walls of a classroom. It’s developing their creativity, it’s developing their social skills, and it’s developing their resilience.

“It’s paying dividends. Results are strong here. What the children are achieving in their day-to-day work but also in their tests, it’s having an impact.

Recently a group of pupils were taken down to the Emirates Stadium in London to take place in a design and creative learning competition.

Mr Blackburn said: “The children had to design a building that was fit for purpose in the future, but with a particular focus. It could have been leisure or education. They built the building from junk.

“A lot of them had buildings on stilts, buildings with beehives, buildings with crops, because they realise that in the future climate change may have caused things to flood, food may be scarce, or insects may be dying off.”

“Interestingly one of the buildings was made dementia friendly,” added Mrs Pugh. “This meant that they had utilised all of their knowledge from their training and just made connections, so they are applying it intuitively.”

“It’s making them really adaptable, creative learners.”

“They are seeing subjects going across each other, they’re not seeing subjects in isolation.”

Staff at Griffithstown Primary School are encouraged to lead new initiatives and to look to teach in different ways, and Mr Blackburn believes that this can only have a positive effect on the children.

He said: “It’s giving teachers ownership of so many things. Being creative, I think that’s the key thing. What I’m looking for is teachers that are creative and want to think of things differently.

“We are very lucky, I think the teachers that we have got here are teachers that want to do that.

“They are the kind of people that want to just explore and develop and challenge themselves.We are very fortunate because they’ve bought in to it. I think they feel more empowered, more creative, they thoroughly enjoy coming to school and that makes the kids enjoy being here.”

In March, Griffithstown Primary School picked up the South Wales Argus Primary School of the Year award because of the work that they have done raising awareness of dementia. The school is a part of the ‘Ffrind i Mi’ initiative, which aims to support people who feel lonely or isolated.

Mr Blackburn explained: “We’ve got years four, five and six linked with various different groups and residences to support people as they deal with old age, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“A group of maybe 15 to 20 year sixes walk over and they sit on the ward with the patients every week.

“The year four and five children also write letters to residents of Woffington House. It helps them learn as well as helping the community.”

Mrs Pugh added: “They are reading first-hand experiences of the older generation, such as during war time, which links to their topics in school as well.”