Open again despite odds

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Tiny primary school bounces back after fire disaster

Becoming a headteacher at the tender age of 30 is demanding enough. But for Sion Mason- Evans it was to prove an even bigger challenge than expected.

Just one term into the new post the young head faced a nightmare scenario.

Arriving at his 29-pupil village primary school one Monday morning, November 27, 2005 to be precise, he found it had been reduced almost to a burnt-out shell.

An electrical fault had sparked a blaze that had virtually destroyed the tiny, two-class Llanwnnen school, near Lampeter. The roof had collapsed, chairs had melted and books and computers had gone up in smoke.

"I saw the pictures in the hall that the children had just done on what they liked about the school under the heading, One Happy Family," he said.

"I broke down."

And with just 50 per cent of its pupil capacity, and a climate of school closures, Mr Mason-Evans feared the decision could be taken to close Ysgol Lanwnnen for good.

Pupil numbers had been falling since the early 1990s. A new "super primary"

in Lampeter 15 miles away had just been built, fuelling concerns But pupils were put in demountable classrooms and, just two months later, the school went ahead with its Estyn inspection.

"At first it was suggested the pupils be split up and sent to different schools," said Lynwen Jenkins, parent-teacher association chair, and governors' vice-chair, who has three daughters at the school. "But we felt it was important to keep them together."

The school, however, will be able to celebrate its centenary next year after being rebuilt. The character of the slate-roofed building, topped with a clock tower, has been kept.

Classrooms are brightly painted, and the once-ageing infants' classroom has been been transformed for the introduction of the foundation phase next September.

A sensory corner, full of twinkly lights and colourful curtains, is the school's new pride and joy. And Mr Mason-Evans, heaped praise on the "Blitz-spirit" attitude of parents and governors throughout the crisis.

"I could send a message out on a Friday afternoon and 90 per cent of the parents would be here to help on a Sunday," he said.

Gareth Jones, director of education and community services at Ceredigion, said the council never intended to close the school.

"You can't plan a long-term strategy with knee-jerk reactions," he said.

"We have invested pound;25,000 more than the insurance money to enhance the school."

Now Mr Mason-Evans has plans to increase the register to 60.

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