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Pembrokeshire Primary School embraces outdoor learning in post-lockdown move away from computer screens

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Outdoor learning has flourished at Johnston Community Primary School over the last academic year, with pupils planting a wild flower meadow, learning bushcraft skills, creating a vegetable patch, looking after chickens and much more.

The wide-ranging programme, which includes the use of a nearby woodland area and field, has enabled children to take responsibility for different projects as well as use the outdoors for all manner of learning, with everything from meadow studies to Shakespeare in the open air.

“The pandemic caused schools to think carefully about the experiences that pupils are offered,” said headteacher Gareth Thomas.

“In light of lock-downs and periods of school closure we were very aware that pupils screen time had increased dramatically, especially through the winter months. 

“We decided to use the pandemic to kick-start our ambition to offer pupils rich and engaging experiences in our wonderful outdoor environment.”

Pupils say they love the expanded outdoor learning, saying they enjoy being in the fresh air, learning new skills, having an adventure, discovering new things, and the peace and quiet.

“It gives us the opportunity to learn about animal and plants in their own habitats,” said one pupil, while another said: “You are doing more practical things and you have to use your brain in a different way.”

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One of the key features of the outdoor programme is the seven-acre field adjoining the school site, which was leased to the school in 2017 but had been unused until that point. To help launch the programme, a massive effort got underway to clear the field, with help from rangers from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.

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“We discovered that we actually had the use of a small section of woodland as well, with a small stream which we constructed a wooden bridge over in order to access a fire pit area,” said Gareth.

“All of a sudden, it felt like something special was taking place and a parent built us what can only be described as a chicken palace ready for us to introduce chickens for pupils to look after.

“Beginning in September 2020, pupils enthusiastic and back in the classroom, we began introducing outdoor learning into the curriculum and engaging pupils in our wonderful outdoor spaces. From this point on, things really started to grow. Each class started to develop their learning, taking responsibility for activities and planning challenges week to week.”

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Years three and four began forest school activities led by education officers at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, bringing wellies every Wednesday morning to begin their adventures in the woods.

“We found that pupils really wanted to take control of the learning that they engaged with, planning projects such as building bug hotels and creating signs for different areas, planting native trees and much more.”

Year five used the outdoors as an exciting environment to apply maths skills in a real-life context, from calculating the heights of trees from planning how much fencing was needed for growing areas, calculating the areas that sheep would be able to graze, and working out the ratio of ingredients in jam-making (having gathered blackberries from the field).

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“Almost immediately, the work in maths gained momentum as the innovation of teaching approaches began to build, and the success was apparent as learners flourished during outdoor activities,” said Gareth. 

Year six looked at what they could grow and much money they could earn; work include digging up part of the field, creating a vegetable patch, helping to build a large polytunnel, working with tools, creating business plans, and growing nearly everything from seed in order to maximise profit. Pupils took complete responsibility for nurturing the plants, with many choosing to give up break and lunch times in order to water them, as well as organising and planning the different areas.

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“The pandemic shone a spotlight on the fact that helping children to engage with nature, solving challenges and problems outside is more important than ever and is something that our current mobile phone driven generation are in danger of missing,” said Gareth.

(Lead image: Pembrokeshire Council)

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Education

Neath Abbey Welsh medium primary school given go-ahead

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Neath Port Talbot Council’s new Rainbow Coalition Cabinet has agreed to move forward with plans to open Neath Port Talbot’s first ever Welsh medium primary “starter school” at Neath Abbey.

The new Welsh medium starter school in premises previously occupied by Abbey Primary School at St John’s Terrace, Neath Abbey, could welcome its first pupils next January if fully approved.

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Part of the council’s strategy to increase Welsh medium education across the county borough, the Cabinet agreed to move the starter school plan to its next stage – publication of a statutory proposal to establish the new school.

The starter school model is used when establishing a new school, gradually allowing the facilities and staff to be used efficiently while the school grows to its full potential.

Under the plans, £200,000 would be set aside for refurbishments and improvements including the provision of learning walls and digital equipment ensuring the school can deliver the new curriculum.

Cllr Nia Jenkins, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Training, said: “This council has a ten year target to increase the number of Year 1 children taught through the medium of Welsh from 16.8% in 2020/21 to 31% (460 pupils) by 2032 and this proposed new school will help reach that target.

“It also complements the national vision for the Welsh language, to have a million Welsh speakers by 2050.”

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(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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Education

Pontarddulais school’s physical education department supported by Amazon

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A comprehensive school in Pontarddulais has received a £1,000 donation from the Amazon fulfilment centre in Swansea.

Pontarddulais Comprehensive School plans to use the donation to purchase new safety mats for use in PE lessons.

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They say this will allow their pupils to enjoy activities such as gymnastics and inspire more pupils to follow in the footsteps of their peers who have recently succeeded at a national level.

Christopher Law, General Manager at Amazon in Swansea, said: “At Amazon, we recognise the value of extra-curricular development, and we are pleased to lend a helping hand to Pontarddulais Comprehensive School with this donation. We wish the school well as it seeks to inspire and engage the leaders of tomorrow through both academic and physical education.”

Nigel Hughes, who is an engineer at Amazon in Swansea and put the school forward for the donation, added: “My children receive a fantastic education and genuine support at Pontarddulais Comprehensive School, and it’s great that Amazon is providing this donation to help fund new equipment.”

Julie Evans, Area Coordinator for Health and Wellbeing at Pontarddulais Comprehensive School, said: “We want to thank Christopher and the Amazon team in Swansea. This kind and generous donation will support us in continuing to create the high-quality facilities required for a first-class educational experience. It will be a great addition allowing us to strengthen and expand our school’s physical activity opportunities.”

The donation to Pontarddulais Comprehensive School was made as part of Amazon’s programme to support the communities in and around its operating locations across the UK.

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(Lead image: Pontarddulais Comprehensive School)

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Education

Council to review Swansea Valley ‘Super School’ decision made by previous administration

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A reprieve could be on the cards for Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools as Neath Port Talbot’s new coalition administration say they want to review the decision made to create a new ‘super school’ in Pontardawe.

The new administration says it wants to establish if an alternative way to bring 21st Century School standards to the Swansea Valley can be achieved, which would be more acceptable to the community.

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The decision to establish a new £22.7m English-medium 3-11 school and specialist Learning Support Centre for pupils with a statement of Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Pontardawe to replace Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools was taken by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet on October 20th, 2021.

The controversial decision triggered a process of communicating with local schools around the next steps and general planning for the construction of the new school and swimming pool.

A successful tender exercise took place to secure a contractor to begin stage one of a two stage process.

Neath Port Talbot Council say that under its own procurement rules, it says it has been necessary to approve the appointment of the contractor to undertake Stage 1 contract works only, with no obligation on the council to proceed to the second stage. Stage 1 includes developing the design information; carrying out assessments of traffic and site conditions; ground investigations; and obtaining planning approval.

The council say that this first stage contract does not commit them to the construction of the school and pool, with a further contract being entered into at Stage 2, which is the actual construction phase. 

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It adds that allowing stage 1 works to progress will ensure that the opportunities to meet the timescales of the October 2021 decision could still be realised if a review does not highlight any changes are needed to the project.

This will avoid further anxiety for the school staff and families due to unnecessary delays, particularly important for those pupils in Godre’rgraig Primary School who are currently educated in temporary accommodation awaiting the new school.

Neath Port Talbot Council say they will now start discussions with Welsh Government Ministers to establish what information they might require from the council. This will inform the consultation process which the council will undertake with stakeholders.

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