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Rural merger delivers ultra-modern alternative for Welsh-medium learners at Ysgol Bro Dyfrdwy

Rural merger delivers ultra-modern alternative for Welsh-medium learners at Ysgol Bro Dyfrdwy

Welsh medium primary education in a rural area of Denbighshire looks to have a more secure future, thanks to a £1.4m investment which is bringing two primary schools together in a new and ultra-modern environment.

Funding from the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools Programme and Denbighshire County Council has made it possible to create the showcase Ysgol Bro Dyfrdwy primary by enlarging and greatly upgrading one of the existing school buildings.

Larger, brighter classrooms, with up-to-date IT equipment, combined with an all-weather playing surface for multiple sports, will give the new school’s 112 pupils a richer learning experience, as they begin to enjoy the benefits of their new surroundings.Ysgol Bro Dyfrdwy

The project which brought together Ysgol Maes Hyfryd and Ysgol Llandrillo in the Edeyrnion area of Corwen began in 2010 when the county council held a review of Welsh-medium education across the Dee Valley. This identified significant surplus places at Ysgol Llandrillo, which had only 39 full-time pupils on the rolls. At the same time, Maes Hydfryd, then with 61 pupils, was relying heavily on temporary buildings to accommodate its learners.  

The local authority saw an opportunity to provide a new, permanent and greatly improved learning environment at the Maes Hyfryd site in Cynwyd village. As well as updated facilities, the new school is designed to guarantee more age-appropriate learning, with at least four separate classes, whereas previously, in some instances, children were being taught across four year-groups in the same class.

James Curran, the council’s Programme Manager for Modernising Education explained:

“We wanted to safeguard Welsh-medium provision in the area and felt that to do nothing would lead to a deterioration. By the two schools coming together we could deliver more robust provision.”

Following the review and subsequent consultation meetings with parents and the wider community, statutory notices were issued in 2011 to close both schools and create a new merged establishment.

Though the schools will remain on separate sites until the end of the 2013/14 academic year, they actually became a single entity in January 2013 under the headship of Eirian Owain, who had been head at Maes Hyfryd for 25 years. At that point Llandrillo had been under the stewardship of an acting head for some time.

Mrs Owain was released fully from her teaching responsibilities in January 2013 to start preparing for the changes. This meant splitting her week between the two sites. A joint parent-teacher association was also set up so that all parents would be fully informed and involved in the process.

Preparations included joint away days for staff and pupils from the two sites, the latter taking place at the Pavillion in Llangollen where youngsters had the opportunity to discuss and put forward ideas for a new school name, logo and uniform. A bridge was chosen as the new logo to signify a coming together of the two communities. When the new uniform was introduced at the start of the 2012/13 year every learner was given a free school jumper.

These away days were followed by numerous joint events such as sports days and eisteddfodau over the succeeding months to reinforce relationships.

Construction to expand and modernise the building at the Maes Hyfryd site began in July 2013 and, to allow contractors scope for their activities, around 30 pupils were relocated temporarily to the Llandrillo site. This further aided the process of staff and pupils getting to know each other better.

Project manager Lowri Roberts explained:

“Moving pupils to Llandrillo was less disruptive, given that part of Maes Hyfryd became a construction site. The work was undertaken on a phased basis allowing the school to take ownership of the new or refurbished classrooms as they became available. The period from September to Christmas was the only time builders were active here during term time, with minor work being completed in the New Year.”

ClassroomDuring ‘Maths Week’ – the second week of March, when the new facilities were largely complete. Llandrillo pupils were brought to the Maes Hyfryd site for special activities and familiarisation.

The first phase of construction involved physical extensions to the three arms of the building which was followed by extensive internal alterations to create a new environment at the site. During that term, work was also completed on the laying of a new multi-use all-weather sports pitch on what had been two aging and decaying tennis courts. The new facility will be suitable for football, netball, hockey and tennis.

Mrs Owain said:

“We have kept parents up to date. They have come to the school to question officers from the local authority and myself, and we have been perfectly honest with them all along the way.”

 

Talks also took place with the Cynwyd community throughout about how local people will be able to share the use of the new school hall, classrooms and sports facilities, once complete. In addition Builders Read & Co of Wrexham donated sports equipment for community use.

Meanwhile talks are also taking place between the local authority and residents at Llandrillo about the future use of the school building there, when the learners have finally transferred to the new school in September 2014.

Mrs Owain said she believed the new environment would bolster the children’s learning:

“If you walk into the building it looks completely different. It is light and modern and the nursery and reception are brand new. All the Foundation Phase classes face onto an open area. There has been a very large investment in ICT, with all new computers, laptops and touch boards. It is a fantastic new school to be honest and we feel very privileged that all this money has been spent on this rural area. We’re very pleased about it because it will really strengthen Welsh-medium education in the area.”

Despite the initial concerns in Llandrillo about the loss of their village school, the head-teacher said she felt that all parents were now fully behind the new establishment and the shared future.

Since the announcement of the creation of the new school there has been an increase in demand for nursery places there, most of it coming from English-speaking households across the whole catchment area.

Said James Curran:

“It is always a difficult situation when one school closes but a lot of positives have come out of it. We feel we have created a more stable platform for Welsh-medium education across the whole Dyfrdwy area.”