School built by teachers and pupils

24th October 2008 at 01:00
After years of leaking roofs, staff are enjoying state-of-the-art equipment in new buildings

Delyth Williams is proud to be head of Ysgol Bryn Teg Primary, near Llanelli, a new school designed mostly by teachers and pupils.

It is one of the most technologically advanced schools in Wales, equipped for the challenges of the play-led foundation phase, with many added home comforts.

Pupils chose bright and cheerful colour schemes for the large and airy classrooms, and teachers even had the last say on coat hangers.

Underfloor heaters have been installed throughout, and young children are shielded from the wind in the playground shelter by glass screens. Water coolers are found at every turn and every door can be accessed with an electronic swipe card, making it safe and secure as the school opens to the community.

Carmarthenshire now intend to use the school's design plans, based on teacher and pupil consultation, to ensure all schools in the county are fit for purpose.

But for Mrs Williams, her staff and pupils, the reality used to be very different. For 20 years she worked in a school she describes as little more than a tin box with windows. Modelled on an aircraft hangar in the 1950s, Ysgol Yr Ynys, the new school's predecessor, was only ever meant to be temporary, a new school on the horizon.

"It would be freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer," said Mrs Williams. "It was literally falling apart and we had to put buckets everywhere if it rained."

The school was finally amalgamated with nearby Llwynhendy Junior in 2005, a damp and gloomy old building which Mrs Williams said resembled a workhouse.

A Pounds 4.8 million new school was planned for the Llwynhendy site, and conditions were about to exceed all expectations as the local authority involved teachers and pupils in the design process.

"We were keen to provide a school fit for purpose, a school for the future," said Gareth Davies, county architect.

"We wanted it to suit the specific needs of the staff of Bryn Teg and we wanted the teachers to have a sense of ownership."

Alterations were made to the plans to accommodate the suggestions and requests of staff and pupils, following a consultation.

One of the major issues was for the new toilets. Each classroom was given its own individual facilities, tailored to the age of the class.

The LEA originally planned to buy a number of laptop computers to share among pupils, but when teachers said they would prefer a separate ICT suite, plans were changed. It has 33 state-of-the-art Apple computers that are also used by the community after school hours, giving value for money.

A special room for science experiments and designtechnology work was added, and a class storeroom was converted into a quiet room for reading at the request of the class teacher.

The 200-pupil school opened its doors in September this year.

"Teachers here have influenced school design for the rest of the county, said Mr Davies.

The Assembly government has delivered more than Pounds 667 million since 2004 for improving school buildings across Wales. Since 2002, 1,575 school projects have received funding support through the school buildings improvement grant.

But the government had to backtrack on its ambitious goal that all school buildings in Wales be fit for purpose by 2010 when it became clear it was unachievable.

Many local authorities have been plunged into the red as they raise the standard of school buildings. Mrs Williams said she knows there are many teachers in Wales still having to deliver lessons in appalling conditions.

She said: "We have all worked hard to prove we deserved these new facilities and this building was long overdue."

Facilities `fantastic'

Paul Welsh, headteacher, has gone from teaching in a dilapidated school with blackboards to an ultra-modern eco-friendly school with state-of-the- art equipment.

Padre Pio RC Primary School opened last month in Pontypool to replace two Catholic primary schools each more than 140 years old.

The Pounds 3.5 million school, paid for by Torfaen council, the Assembly government and the Roman Catholic diocese of Cardiff, boasts a number of measures to reduce its carbon footprint, including a bio-mass boiler that uses wood pellets as fuel and a rain water harvesting system to flush the toilets. Each classroom has an interactive whiteboard; each teacher has a laptop; and pupils have access to 30 laptops. Wireless technology means the internet can be accessed anywhere on the site, so pupils can take their laptops to the playground for lessons.

Video conferencing facilities allow the pupils to link up with other schools, including a nearby Welsh medium school where they are practising the language of heaven counterparts, and another Catholic primary where they are getting to know their future secondary school classmates.

The school also has underfloor heating, motion-controlled CCTV cameras, and water fountains in every class. Mr Welsh said: "It's fantastic. The facilities here are second to none."

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