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Haven on earth

There could not be a greater contrast between the drab streets of Tremorfa and the bright, purposeful interior of its nursery school. Nor between the concrete and tarmac surrounding the school and the grass and wood within its grounds, where children use the outdoor environment as a "classroom."

Tremorfa nursery school is a haven in this deprived area. But it is also, under the leadership of Carolyn Asante, a model of what the education of young children should be and how Cardiff would like provision for all three to seven-year-olds to develop.

Structured, co-operative play is the basis of the approach and of the foundation phase, now being introduced throughout Wales.

The Welsh Assembly's decision to introduce this phase means that, as on the Continent, children in Wales will not sit down to formal learning until they are ready for it.

"The key emphasis is on personal development," says Wendy Thomas, Cardiff's foundation phase adviser. "But it's very carefully planned, not a 1970s free-for-all," she adds.

Children work quietly in groups, studying reflected shapes in a mirror or making pizzas with great care.

"Children are best at the edge of their capabilities," says Carolyn Asante.

"There is a subtle difference between being stretched and being stressed."

Teachers and other staff at Tremorfa reflect constantly on what they do and are encouraged to try new strategies. They discovered, for instance, that boys were reluctant to write indoors so they created a builders' yard outdoors and gave the boys clipboards on whichto write.

On another occasion, staff realised that they were unconsciously keeping four boys with challenging behaviour on the periphery of activities. So they created a learning wall, featuring photographs of children doing positive things.

Soon, the difficult boys were begging to take part.

Most of the 64 children on roll come for either morning or afternoon sessions, although some with special needs stay all day and there is a breakfast and lunch club.

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