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A champion of little people

Paragon of pedagogy will help to share best practice in play-led foundation phase

Until recently Vanessa Lloyd says she was "a shop floor girl" among heavyweight thinkers.

That's how she saw herself alongside Wales's other pedagogy champions before resigning to become a schools adviser for the beleaguered Denbighshire local education authority.

Ms Lloyd, 39, was a teacher at Christ Church Community Primary in Rhyl, but grabbed the chance to become one of former education minister Jane Davidson's 11 pedagogy champions, charged with spreading best classroom practice in a bid to raise standards.

Ideally, she would rather have combined both jobs, but that would have been a tall order in her role in helping to bed down the play-led foundation phase (FP) across the county.

Part of her remit will be to guide teachers through the Assembly government's copious literature on the FP strategy for three to seven-year-olds, due to be rolled out for under-fives this September.

But Ms Lloyd is part of the new face of Denbighshire education. The authority was condemned by Estyn for many failings - in educational standards and leadership - after an inspection last July.

An action plan is now under way and a special board has been set up to oversee improvements.

But this week the Welsh inspectorate was more positive. In a progress report, inspectors said the authority had shown better leadership, and the county's teachers had increased in confidence.

"Early years came out OK - there were good things happening," said Ms Lloyd.

"Denbighshire has now taken a lead by training everyone - heads, teachers and classroom assistants - involved in delivering the foundation phase."

By emphasising play, active involvement and practical activities, the government hopes the FP will be the first step to children becoming lifelong learners.

"We developed outdoor classrooms in my former primary before they became trendy, back in May 2002," she said. "I was able to bring those elements into meetings of champions."

Children's outdoor learning remains a big part of her remit. "Schools in Llangollen are doing great stuff, and so are schools in other parts of Denbighshire, but no one knew what the other was doing," she said.

Now, all schools on her patch will have a visual audit of outdoor provision on an individual web page.

Ms Lloyd has also written a common health and safety document. "Because I'm a practitioner, I know what works in the classroom, and what teachers need to raise their own professionalism," she said.

"I can distil the FP strategy. If I don't think something's going to work, there's no way I'll sell it to my teachers. If it won't work in the classroom, I won't push it. It's wonderful to be in this position - sharing ideas and listening."

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