In a modern purpose-built building is a school that teaches children to live fulfilling lives as responsible members of their communities. ANGHARAD WILLIAMS takes a tour of the outstandingly happy Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg.

IN THE heart of a community is a school which attracts children from across the county to learn through the medium of Welsh.

Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg opened in 2010 to replace the old Ysgol Gymraeg Brynmawr, which closed that year. Situated near the village of Blaina in Blaenau Gwent, pupils that travel from across the county for their education.

“We are the only Welsh–medium primary in Blaenau Gwent,” head teacher Ann Bellis said.

“We have children who travel from Tredegar, Ebbw Vale, Cwm and Llanhilleth to name a few.

“They have a diverse range of backgrounds and I think that is very healthy because children need to mix and understand the social spectrum.”

Ms Bellis says more families are choosing to send their children to the Welsh school because they value bilingualism and the skills it offers.

“More and more people are realising that Welsh is something is worth having,” she said, “especially when it comes to their working lives.

“We try to mix the modern and traditional Welsh, so the children will compete in the Eisteddfod and we have children who are into modern Welsh music. We are very proud of that.”

Although Welsh can be heard spoken in every corner of the school, 98 per cent of parents who have children at the school don’t speak Welsh. For those who would like to learn the language Welsh lessons for adults are on offer at the school and staff are always ready to answer questions any prospective parents may have.

Walking into the modern building there is a warm and friendly atmosphere and it is clear that it is a calm but creative learning environment.

Ms Bellis said: “We believe in using creative learning and using the arts to promote literacy and numeracy. We saw the impact of that last year in their self-confidence in oracy and their ICT skills.

“Relationships in the school are excellent. The children respect each other and they respect the staff and we are proud of their good behaviour, people will often comment on that. We try to ensure that everyone is ready to learn when they are in school.”

A proud moment came last term when the school was the first school in Wales to receive the “outstandingly happy” accolade under the UK-wide Brilliant Schools initiative.

As part of the scheme, pupils are challenged to focus on how they can improve their own happiness and learning, and improve the wellbeing of their school.

Ms Bellis said: “Our emphasis on wellbeing means that we know that children need to be happy and settled at home and at school before they are ready to learn, and that is about working in partnership with parents and giving children the opportunity to be heard.”

Working with families is important too as Ms Bellis explained: “Families work well with us and we encourage them to come in to the school to do activities. We have a Together Enhancing Development (TED) programme where we induct them into the school, so the whole family are all part of the education journey.”

The school staff make the most of the outdoor space and the parent-teacher association has focused on resourcing the area,

“We are very fortunate. The play equipment, literacy and numeracy shed, the mud kitchens were all funded by them. The sheds are new this year but it means staff don’t have to bring things in and out and it makes things more accessible.

“The children take part in Urdd activities and Blaenau Gwent activities, whether that’s cricket, rugby or football.

“We have lots of children here who thoroughly enjoy sports and have done amazingly in martial arts and some are British champions.”

After their time at Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg is done the children move on to Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Pontypool, the school where Ms Bellis began her career.

She taught English at the school and then became head teacher of Ysgol Gymraeg Y Fenni and was there for five years. She started teaching in Blaina in 2012 and in the time she has been head she has transformed the school with the support of staff and the wider community.

The school were recently banded as yellow in the Welsh Government’s National School Categorisation System.

“We have been on a long journey of improvement,” Ms Bellis said. “There have been lots of changes and we are proud of the fact that we are now in the yellow category. The staff I have worked tirelessly and they want the best for the children, so I am really proud of them.

“Having received help from schools during our improvement, we are now reaching out and helping other schools.

The Welsh Charter co-ordinator is supporting others in the area and Ms Bellis is providing training on reducing workloads in schools.

The school itself has forged relationships with businesses and organisations around the county.

Staff at Tai Calon Community Housing have been learning Welsh and the pupils have been supporting them in their education.

They also have links with the community radio station BGfm which is based in Brynmawr and children have spoken in Welsh on air. They also work with Nantyglo and Blaina Town Councils and take part in remembrance services and Christmas showcase.

Ms Bellis said: “It is important that children understand their local heritage as well as their Welsh heritage and the world beyond. Raising aspirations and opening the door to what is out there and the opportunities they could have is really important.

“It really inspires our children.”



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