Unlocking pupils' creativity has cut down on exclusions in a Cwmbran primary, reports David Simmonds
When Ann Roberts arrived as headteacher at Fairwater junior school in September 2002, she knew she was inheriting a problem - and 45 exclusions in the previous year gave her some idea what it was.
"I realised very quickly that behaviour was the biggest issue this school had," she said. "The children couldn't learn because there were too many distractions caused by children with challenging behaviour.
"It came to me quickly that we needed to create an ethos to unlock their creativity and make them feel successful - and that would attack the behaviour problem."
Mrs Roberts and her new deputy head at the Cwmbran school decided on an enriched curriculum "that addressed the key skills at the forefront of education now - communication, getting along together - as well as the more stringent mathematical and linguistic abilities".
Pupils were asked what activities they wanted, Wednesday afternoons were set aside for mixed age and gender groups, and, crucially, volunteers were sought in the local community to bring their skills into the school.
"We had a lady doing nail art, which was really successful," said Mrs Roberts.
The volunteers supplement learning-support staff and other paid specialists, leaving teachers free to take their planning, preparation and assessment time.
At a recent open day at the school organised by National Primary Centre Cymru, visiting teachers watched dancers whirl their batons in the hall, while cricketers and footballers despatched balls around the playground.
Other activities, such as kick-boxing and rock climbing, take place off site.
Indoors, Faye Myall, a third-year degree student, was supervising the computer club. She has just finished her teaching practice in the school but was helping out because it's fun. "I'd love to come back here to work,"
Pat Griffiths, introducing children to the mysteries of iris folding and quilling (card-making techniques), was a learning support assistant until she retired two years ago. Now she's back as a volunteer. "I do a lot of craft at home anyway, so I decided to help out," she said.
Getting stuck into the paper and glue was Tracey Norman, whose daughter Nadine is in Year 4. "I wanted to do something but didn't know what," she said. "I know Pat, so she suggested I come along. I help out with reading, too."
But some teachers were concerned about the time devoted to the enriched curriculum. What about the school's statutory obligations? they asked.
"Jane Davidson, the minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, has fully endorsed this," said Mrs Roberts. "And we do have, reportedly, this 10 per cent flexible time to deliver whatever the school feels is appropriate educationally for the children."
With rising educational and behavioural standards, improved links with the community and falling exclusions - down to three last year - Mrs Roberts is in bullish mood.
"The children know they can be successful now, so why not try that maths problem, why not try writing that story? They're more willing to have a go, and that's borne results.
"I can see the benefit it's having on the children, on the school and on the staff, and I'd have no problem in recommending our enriched curriculum to anyone."