Head takes play principle to Italy

Ann Davies is headteacher in a tiny village in a Welsh valley where she and her farmer husband have lived for 34 years. Earlier this year, however, she was in Tuscany teaching Italian children to speak Welsh.

"The Italians cope well with it," she said. "They can roll their 'r's."

She was visiting nursery schools in Tuscany and Elba to inspire her own nursery at Ysgol-y-Dderi in Llangybi, near Lampeter, Ceredigion, which is a pilot school for the play-based foundation stage.

And her international outlook is one of the reasons why Mrs Davies won this summer's Promethean teaching award for Welsh primary head of the year.

She was nominated by John Rolfe, international school award manager at the British Council in London.

"Ann is one of our most innovative and proactive supporters of the international dimension in education," he said. "She shows that it doesn't matter if you are in a mono-culture area or a mixed area - it's about young minds being engaged with the bigger picture."

The school is part of the British Council's Comenius project and has links with eight different European countries.

All five teaching staff and three support staff at the 135-pupil school have been on at least one international exchange, and every year all Year 6 students go and stay with Danish families for a week.

Mrs Davies sees her European work as a logical consequence of rooting her school in its wider community. But her international focus is not at the expense of people close at hand. The school is open for keep fit and Welsh classes, and children visit pensioners to sing happy birthday to them.

Ysgol-Y-Dderi was opened in 1976 as a new-build community school, replacing five village schools (it now serves six villages).

Mrs Davies, who grew up in Blaenpennal near Aberystwyth, was 26 when she joined the new school, and apart from five years away for her first headship, and a term off for maternity leave, has spent the past 30 years there.

Mrs Davies is also concerned to develop her staff. Her four teachers have completed the National Professional Qualification for Headship, including one at the age of 29, thought to be the youngest in Wales.

Although 57, she says coming to school still gives her a buzz each morning.

"I'll stay as long as I'm motivated and as long as I feel I'm giving of my best."

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