Llanfoist Fawr Primary, just outside Abergavenny, is a school where people like to do things differently. NICHOLAS THOMAS reports.

FROM nurturing the talents of every pupil, to bringing in expert help from the wider community, the Llanfoist Fawr Primary School’s teachers strive to make sure every child who passes through the school’s doors is given the best possible chance to succeed in later life, and will enjoy an education which is enriching and relevant.

The school’s headteacher, Jon Murphy, explained the school’s philosophy, saying: “Our ethos is the importance of everybody – every child that you come across has a talent, no matter what ability, they have something innate within them that we see as our duty to bring out.”

To achieve that, the school has taken the surprising step of doing away with traditional curriculum textbooks.

“A lot of schools have gone down the traditional route of English, maths, science – teaching things in silos,” Mr Murphy said.

“We don’t do that. We have a thematic approach where all of the children have an opportunity to take part in a whole breadth of different activities.”

Mr Murphy calls this “giving education a relevance”.

“If children are sat at a desk, using a book or a scheme, they can’t link that necessarily to why they’re doing it and what difference it’s going to make to their lives,” he said.

“So in this school, we have no published books that we use as a scheme. The whole thing is bespoke, the teachers devise the curriculum and plan the activities themselves.”

This allows lessons to be based around goals and objectives, meaning the pupils understand the reasons why they’re working on a particular English exercise or maths problem, for example.

This means, Mr Murphy said, pupils will engage in their work and, as a result, the standards will go up.

“More importantly than that, school’s fun, and an exciting place to be,” Mr Murphy said.

Planning out even the tiniest details of the curriculum is no easy feat, the headteacher concedes.

“It’s a phenomenal amount of extra work [for the teachers],” he said. “As a headteacher I’m blessed because, although I’m sure every headteacher thinks it, I’ve got the best staff in the world.

“Academically, our standards are high. That’s across the board with children who need more help, and with children who are more able being pushed on.

“But if you have talented students, you’re not going to get the best out of them unless you have talented staff.”

Academic excellence is far from the only thing the school prides itself upon, however.

Each student is encouraged to discover interests in art, music, sport and more.

To do this, the school enlists the help of people in the community to come in and lead educational projects.

“We don’t rely on [the school] being an island,” Mr Murphy said. “We bring lots of people into school because they enrich and enhance what we do.”

One of the school’s biggest supporters is local building firm, Alun Griffiths Construction, which Mr Murphy called “a fabulous ally to the school”.

“Mr Griffiths sent in a team of engineers with a replica of the second Severn Bridge, which was the size of our hall,” Mr Murphy said. “We had the children building the bridge with real engineers, you can’t get any more authentic learning than that.”

Other third-party associations include IT projects with award-winning educationalist Stuart Ball, who last year taught pupils how to code and helped them build their own computer, and an app creation workshop – the product of which is now being used in London’s Tate galleries to help visitors find out more about the paintings they are viewing.

Llanfoist Fawr Primary was also proud to be the pilot school for the Prince William Award, and pupils were delighted when the prince visited the school in March 2017 to personally launch the award, which focuses on teaching life skills – such as resilience, teamwork, and looking after the environment – to young people.

“The idea is that if a child knows themselves intimately and what they’re capable of, they’ll achieve more in their academic career,” Mr Murphy said.

“It’s particularly dear to Prince William’s heart because he’s driving the wellbeing and mental health agenda.

“Our instructor, Andy Candler, was in the armed forces. He’s phenomenal. He’s not using the fighting skills he learned but the skills of teamwork and looking after each other.”

This week, four pupils and two staff members travelled to the graduation ceremony for the first cohort of Prince William award-winners, and met the prince to discuss the impact the award has had on them.

“We’re extremely proud of our association” with the award, Mr Murphy said.

Given Abergavenny’s fame as a food hotspot, the school used Welsh government funding last year to develop its own food festival, but focusing on sourcing ingredients directly from the local environment.

Students “learned the skills of foraging and how to safely use things that can be found in the environment,” Mr Murphy said.

“That was a really exciting project last year. We had a little food market where [parents] could taste the produce that the children had made from source, not out of a packet, such as the wild garlic that grows locally.”

Being in the outdoors is an important part of life at the school, and its pupils are spoilt by being in a wonderful location with jaw-dropping views from the playground of the hills around Abergavenny.

The school’s PTFA has helped make the most of the school’s outdoor facilities, developing an outdoor theatre area, fitness trails, a pond and wildlife area, organic gardens, and benches.

“Learning in the outdoor environment is really important,” Mr Murphy said. “I like to think of Llanfoist Primary School as an environment to learn from, as well as to learn in.”