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Super school for new era

A flagship primary aims to have something for everyone in the community. Mike Lewis reports

Bill Lazard never forgot the welcome he received in the Welsh hillsides when, as a bewildered schoolboy evacuee, he was deposited in the Amman Valley during the dark days of the London Blitz.

His bronze sculpture depicting his arrival on the doorstep of a Cwmamman mining family stands in the foyer of Ysgol-y-Bedol, Carmarthenshire county council's new flagship community school. It is a powerful and poignant work, depicting a frightened small boy clinging to the skirt of his mother.

Behind him, a choir sings against a backdrop of coal tips.

Vernon Morgan, Carmarthenshire's new director of education, sees it as an analogy of what the authority is trying to achieve at Ysgol-y-Bedol. "You have the child and the family surrounded and supported by the wider community," he said.

"We intend to develop a new kind of school which can support the community at large."

The school is a model for Carmarthenshire's controversial re-organisation plans, which entail closing some small schools and building modern replacements.

"Many of our existing school buildings date back to the 19th century and that's not good enough," said Mr Morgan.

"It costs around pound;11,000 per year to educate a pupil in a small school but that figure drops to around pound;2,500 for a pupil in a more urban area."

Built at a cost of pound;5.5 million, Ysgol-y-Bedol - which replaced smaller schools at Twyn, Glanamman and Garnant - is the first large-scale project of its kind in Wales.

As well as providing education for up to 350 children aged from two to 11, it will offer a host of community services aimed at tackling deprivation, social exclusion and a high crime rate in an area which once lay in the heart of the Welsh coalfields.

The school will double up as a centre for integrated services such as childcare, health and social care as well as providing a "drop-in" local police office. Bright, spacious and boasting state-of-the-art technology and equipment, Ysgol-y-Bedol has an information and communications technology room, a vast hall containing three badminton courts, a library and the first junior school gym in Wales.

Built on the site of an old rugby pitch, it is set in spacious wooded grounds which include "an outside classroom" for nature study. Although the first pupils only moved in three weeks ago, headteacher Donna Williams says they have already reacted favourably to their new surroundings.

Staff are enthusiastic about the school's shared teaching scheme while interactive whiteboards are clearly a big hit with youngsters.

"It's brilliant, the children love it because it brings the subject alive," said Karen Evans, who teaches six subjects in Year 3. "We studied the planets the other day and the children felt a part of it."

It is hoped that the computer room and library will form an integral part of adult and adolescent education, and the gym and badminton hall are available for public use as well.

"So many people hated school," said Mrs Williams. "Our biggest challenge is to get these people back over that threshold.

"Bedol is the Welsh word for horseshoe. I really hope it brings us luck."

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