Encouraging the children’s voice is key for improvement at St Illtyd’s. THOMAS MOODY reports

WHEN head teacher Claire Williams was appointed in January 2017, St Illtyd’s Primary School in Abertillery was rated as ‘adequate and needs improve’. The school has since focused on the ideas of its students to help develop their learning.

Mrs Williams believes that giving children a say in how they are taught can only benefit them.

She said: “We are trying to encourage the children’s voice. I’m really passionate about that. I think that if you go with the children, they’re going to love their learning, and that’s what we want in this school, is for children to love learning.

“In the summer term, when we had our ‘move-up day’, where the new teachers met with the new classes and asked them what they are interested in and what they wanted to learn about.

“Over the summer holidays and on the training days at the start of the year the teachers could really think about the children’s ideas and how they could weave those into the skills the children need to learn and marry the two together.”

One way in which this has taken form is through ‘Immersion days’. As we walk through the school corridors a teacher in hospital scrubs walks past.

Mrs Williams explained: “Year five are doing a science topic about the body so their teacher is dressed as a surgeon and they are having first aid training in the hall.

“The idea behind the immersion days really was trying to create an authentic context for learning for the children, so they’ve got an experience to hook their learning on to and it then inspires them to find out more.

“For example, in year four last week, the teacher dressed up as Miss Wonka, we had an Oompa Loompa, and all the children came in and they couldn’t get into the classroom until they were given a golden ticket.

“When they got to the classroom, it had been transformed into a chocolate factory. The topics they learnt about were nutrition, adding up the cost of ingredients, and how to market the chocolate bars.

“It’s about giving children experiences and giving them meaningful opportunities to develop their maths and literacy and ICT skills in a really fun way.

“We have a phrase here at St Illtyd, that you need to be on the bus. I’ve got a fairly new team, there is a few teachers that have been here for a number of years, and also lots of staff that know the community really well. All the staff here are on the bus.”

A large part in the school’s improvement is through the sharing of ideas with other schools.

“We’ve been on a huge improvement journey over the last 18 months to two years and the reason I think we’ve been able to improve so quickly is because we’ve collaborated with others,” said Mrs Williams. “We’ve gone and visited lots of other schools, we’ve had a lot of support from the local authority in terms of training.

“Collaboration was really key to the school improving.

“I’m involved in a number of networks myself as a headteacher. The school I worked in previously as a deputy head was a pioneer school. We made lots of links and networks there, but I also sit on the board of directors for the newly re-established National Academy for Educational Leadership (NAEL) which is the brainchild of Kirsty Williams.

“That’s a real privileged position for me to be in as the leader of this school as I can make sure that I am bringing in up to date developments back to school. That affords us lots of networking opportunities and it also means that as part of the curriculum development that we do.

“We’ve received a lot of support from other schools for subjects like Welsh and Literacy and other subjects that have been on our school improvement plan.

“Sometimes just visiting other schools has helped us, as has inviting other schools in and sharing our practices. I try to share this with Blaenau Gwent heads. As we are improving we’d like to give a lot more back.”

St Illtyd’s embraces social media as a method to include parents in their children’s education. The school is active on Facebook and Twitter, and even has its own app where parents can see what is being taught in classes.

Mrs Williams said: “Family and community engagement is a big drive this year. We have started towards that last year opening up our doors a lot more, inviting parents in, but also trying to develop links with the institute next door.

“Our children sang for the pensioners at the institute, we do our Christmas production there.

“We held a forum in the summer term for parents to talk about homework. We had lots of positive feedback from parents but also had some really great constructive feedback to help our homework be more family friendly

“It’s about opening the doors, letting the parents know what we are doing.”

Fact file:

The school motto is “Believe Enrich Succeed Together”.

St Illtyd’s has 215 students, from nursery to year six.

Head teacher Claire Williams took over in January 2017.