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Extra sparkle of a primary example

Val Luxton's celebrated smile has never been wider than on the night she received the BT primary school teacher of the year award at Cardiff's city hall.

"My headteacher was crying on one side of me, and my nursery nurse on the other," she recalls. "All I could remember thinking was: "For goodness sake, Val, don't cry."

As she made her way to the stage, somewhat shellshocked, the irony of the occasion was not lost on the 57-year-old mother-of-three who launched her career as a nursery nurse on the other side of the Severn Bridge in the late 1960s.

"Here I was, a Bristolian picking up an award in Wales," she says. "I was completely and utterly stunned and still can't quite believe it. When we moved to Wales I thought I wouldn't be able to teach because of the language."

Sixteen years after joining the staff at Carmarthen's Model Church in Wales primary, Mrs Luxton has mastered Welsh sufficiently to improve her teaching of the country's language and heritage, and now heads a team of six in a busy nursery of 64 pupils.

"My award is a reflection on the whole team, and the fact we get on so well is important. If there is tension between us, the children are obviously going to react."

Indeed, Daphne Evans, Mrs Luxton's head, who nominated her, cannot recall hearing a single cross word in the nursery. "I would have been very disappointed if Val hadn't won," she said.

"She's an inspirational figure to staff, parents and children alike. She has this gift of getting the best out of each and every child.

"Even our 11-year-olds still talk about how much they enjoyed being taught by her. Many now want to be teachers themselves. As far as I'm concerned all my staff are teachers of the year, but Val possesses that extra sparkle."

Val was even used by one inspector as his yardstick for assessing other infant teachers.

"He said that in some 300 visits to schools across Wales and England he had yet to find one to match her," said Mrs Evans. "That is a huge accolade, and in my opinion her award is probably the hardest one to win."

One former pupil said joining Val's class was like "going from one mum to another". Another said she wanted to relive her life just so she could rejoin her class.

"I always wanted to work with children and have done so since I was 16," says Val. "The important thing is for children to be happy. There should always be plenty of laughter and fun in the nursery."

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