TUCKED away in the hills of Torfaen, Ysgol Bryn Onnen manages to host more than 200 children from around Pontypool and Blaenavon.

Having such a wide catchment area for pupils is what drives the school’s vision, to build a friendly environment where everyone feels part of a community.

This idea is crucial to the way that the school is run, said acting head teacher Rhys ap Gwyn.

He said: “Because of the location of the school, where people come from different parts of the borough, we want them to feel part of something together rather than just individuals.

“We are trying to build is a caring atmosphere at the school where everybody looks after each other and feels part of that community.

“The kids don’t necessarily get to see each other after school, so it is a different sort of friendship that they have got.

“It gives them the confidence that that they mix with children that they don’t know. They are really able socially, they are able to integrate easily and mix with other children.”

As a Welsh medium primary, the school is an active part of the Welsh Government’s push to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Mr Gwyn said: “It is a big part of what we are trying to do.

“We have Criw Cymreig, or Welsh Crew, and their job is promoting the use of the Welsh language amongst the pupils, and particularly using it outside the classroom, so they are able to use it at home and in the community as well, not just in the school.

“As part of that, they went down to Tesco in Pontypool with one of the governors, to give out leaflets and stickers to customers there to encourage them to speak welsh. They actually came across one or two staff members who could speak a bit of welsh there as well.

“As part of the national Shakespeare Schools Festival, we performed our festival at the Metropole in Abertillery at the end of November.

“The children had some coaching sessions from professional actors beforehand, and they were involved in some of the stage design and lighting and set design.

“They performed a Welsh language version of Macbeth.

“The theatre was absolutely packed with parents watching – it was fabulous.

“It gave the children a chance to take part in something they don’t see in this area. You wouldn’t see a performance of Macbeth in Pontypool at all – let alone in Welsh.

“It’s had a knock-on effect on their language work in class, they’ve done lots of written work based on that.

“Taking part in things like this improves their confidence, and they understand the importance of the language as well.

“We also took part in the ‘Sharing Private O’Brien’ event, where the children worked with Gwent Archives to investigate and research the history of Private O’Brien, and they put on a performance of letters that he wrote during World War I.

“Our children created a film and performed the story of his letters at the Congress Theatre in Cwmbran. We did the Welsh side of it, and another school acted out the English side.

“The children have also been to watch a Welsh pop band, and we teach the children to play Welsh language games on the yard at break time.”

Giving the children a strong foundation is something that the school is looking to focus on, and Mr Gwyn is confident that this has led to the school improving over the past year.

He said: “The foundation phase is what we have worked really hard on over the past year.

“We’ve tried to develop areas for the children to work on in foundation-based classes to help develop their independence and to develop their language skills and social skills as well.

“We have worked really hard to raise standards over the last year.

“The indications that we have had so far about our progress are really positive.

“Looking forward, we received a ‘Bags of Help’ grant from Tesco.

“We now have a £4,000 grant to develop the outdoor area, that’ll be a huge project for us in the new year.

“We’ve gathered ideas from the children and the PTA as to what they want on the yard and how they would like to use the area.

“There will be quiet areas to sit and work and to promote the children’s wellbeing, some shelters and tables outside for the children to be able to work, and physical climbing frames and activity stations.”

Mr Gwyn said that the friendliness of the pupils is what makes Ysgol Bryn Onnen so special.

“If we take the children out for the day, it is always reported back to us it is often reported how polite and friendly they are,” he said.

“We often have visitors in, recently we had someone come in from the Dogs Trust to run sessions with the children and they said how open and responsive the children were.

“It’s really pleasing to hear, as it shows they have the confidence and social skills that we are trying to build in them and it’s setting them up for life outside of school.”