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Novel approach delivers affordable permanent capacity for fast-growing Ysgol Gymraeg Nant Talwg

Novel approach delivers affordable permanent capacity for fast-growing Ysgol Gymraeg Nant Talwg

An imaginative approach to building design has allowed a new Welsh-medium primary school in South Wales to leap-frog over the limitations of temporary structures and be fast-tracked to the forefront of modern educational environments.

From September 2014, pupils at Ysgol Gymraeg Nant Talwg in Barry will benefit from the latest in classroom layout and hi-tech learning equipment, and gain enough permanent space to grow to its full potential in pupil numbers by 2017.  

The transformation has been made possible by an investment of £2.7million from the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools programme and the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

Originally Ysgol Gymraeg Nant Talwg, which opened in September 2011 to meet rising local demand for Welsh medium education, faced the prospect of piecemeal growth through the addition of demountable classrooms as pupil numbers grew year by year. It was a prospect head teacher, Menna Roberts, described as ‘challenging’.

However this was averted by a decision of the local authority to use a standardised template school design and thereby reducing professional fees and other ancillary costs. This is providing a new permanent structure on the same site, with nursery accommodation, seven classrooms and state-of-the-art facilities for only £310,000 more than the cost of acquiring the extra pre-fabricated structures that would have been needed.

The school, which lies within the grounds of Welsh medium-comprehensive, Ysgol Bro Morgannwg, had experienced faster than expected growth in demand for places and by September 2013 had over 90 pupils across four year groups from nursery to Year Two. With 30 more children expected in September 2014, and the addition of a Year Three, more space was needed urgently.

Jane Wade, the council’s Operations Manager for Property and Delivery explained:

“We were going to have another temporary solution but I happened to read something about how schools were starting to use template designs. This made us look at a different form of delivery and we were able to have a permanent solution for much the same price as the temporary solution. It not only saved money but also reduced the time needed for the design, planning and delivery of the project.  I believe this is the first of its kind in Wales.”

Once the 50-week construction contract is complete in July 2014, the school will have a nursery unit, seven classrooms, and an open learning area for the Foundation Phase, a greatly enlarged school hall, new kitchens and extensive ICT facilities. This will allow it to continue growing up to a capacity of 210 pupils, when all year groups are in place by 2017.Nant Talwg

Said head teacher, Menna Roberts, who was appointed in 2012:

“We will have a very large facility that will double our current space, with a proper hall that we do not have at the moment and a purpose built kitchen so we can cook on site instead of having meals brought in, as we have now. We’ll also have a learning walkway that can be accessed from every classroom.”

She explained how staff got the children involved in the development of the new school. “We asked the children to develop mind maps of what they would like to see in the new school. For example we asked them what they would like to see in the learning walkway. Some said computers, some said a library and some said cooking facilities so we decided to keep that area as flexible as possible.

“The pupils also selected the colours for the new school. It was about them taking ownership of their new school”

she added.

The school did face the challenge of losing a large part of its play area while construction was in progress, which meant break times had to be staggered to limit the numbers outdoors at any given time.

Through consultation with parents the school has managed to allay fears about the potential impact of this on their children.

Said Mrs Roberts:

“We involved parents every step of the way. They could see the bigger picture and understood what we were all going to get from it and the process we had to go through to get there.”

There was an open day in summer 2013 before work began where contractors ISG of Cardiff outlined the project to parents using a CGI video and answered their questions.

The construction itself was turned into a learning experience for the children with low level ‘windows’ cut in the hoarding around the building site so they could see what was going on. The youngsters were also introduced to Ivor Goodsite or Ifor Safle Saff, a character who promoted vital messages about construction site safety.

The children also worked with community artist Christian Ryan to create special windows for the new school. The children were encouraged to specify local features, such as wildlife, the sea, parks and nature.

Mrs Roberts paid tribute to the contribution of her 13 staff, comprising five teachers and eight teaching assistants. She said:

“They have been very supportive throughout. They have done an excellent job in difficult conditions and have been able to deliver the Foundation Phase in a very restricted outside learning area.”

“The building process has meant that we have reorganised a number of activities and events. However we had established a firm partnership with ISG and the Property and Development Department of the Vale Council before work began and this has helped with every aspect of the project. It is fantastic that we will have a brand new purpose-built school that we can grow into,”

she said.

Moreover, the demountable building the school currently uses will not go to waste. The still relatively new structure will be dismantled and reassembled as an arts block for Barry Comprehensive school nearby.