'Let's climb mountains'

24th March 2006 at 00:00
"I wish it was my home for one year... and I think I have conquered my fear of heights," wrote one primary pupil, thanking staff at Nant Bwlch yr Haearn centre in Snowdonia after a recent residential visit. It is one of two centres run by the authority, forming the outdoor education service used by Conwy staff and pupils and three other authorities in north-east Wales.

Conwy places high value on outdoor education. "What takes place outside school is every bit as important as what goes on inside," says director of education Elwyn Williams, himself qualified to teach PE and a keen player of cricket, squash and soccer. The centres give 4,500 primary and secondary pupils a chance to spend anything from one to five days testing their life and fitness skills in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

At Nant Bwlch, near Betws-y- Coed, the emphasis is on adventure: white-water rafting, kayaking and gorge-walking are all available. At Pentrellyncymer, near Llyn Brenig, the focus is on environmental education, but there is also canoeing, mountain-biking and orienteering. Staff from the centres provide outreach education too. Orienteering experts visit schools on the coast to teach pupils how to find navigate their own neighbourhoods.

At Glan Conwy primary, keeping fit plays an important part in the lives of the 124 pupils, says headteacher Sheelagh Thomas Hughes. All pupils swim throughout the year and the juniors go to a centre for both an activity day and a residential weekend every year. And staff spent a day "team-building"

at Nant Bwlch last autumn. Abseiling and rock-climbing taught her a lot about trust and professionalism, says Mrs Thomas Hughes.

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