Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi – caring faithfully for their Cynefin

Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi serves the historic city of St. Davids and the village of Solva.  As the first 3-16 Voluntary Aided Church School in Wales, the school has learners spread over 3 campuses and an extensive rural area.  We discussed how the school incorporates RVE and outdoor learning with Cilla Bramley, the Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning.

“We are a fully inclusive school for pupils of all faiths and backgrounds.  When learning about faith we feel that developing a sense of awe, wonder, respect and care for nature supports all our learners in having a greater empathy and care for the planet, each other and supports them to become more ethically informed citizens.  When sitting on a cliff top, beach, in a garden or woodland, it somehow seems easier for learners to be prayerful, mindful and reflective; wonder at creation and feel a sense of peace and thankfulness when surrounded by such beauty.”

“We try to ensure that our Koinonia, our community of faith and friendship, underpins all that we do, and we aim to provide a stimulating and engaging Curriculum.  We try to support pupils to embody the four purposes and the school’s Christian values, whilst developing authentic career and work-related experiences and skills.  The sub-lenses relating to the Church in Wales RVE online resources have supported staff in planning effective RVE work, which can be delivered using outdoor learning pedagogy.”

“Our Foundation Phase learners take part in weekly outdoor learning sessions which often have a discrete curriculum focus.  The most important aspect of these sessions is for them to gain first-hand experience of living things, the changing seasons and for them to experience the awe and wonder of being outdoors in nature.” 

“To encourage a sense stewardship for our natural environment, all of the learners from our ‘Non’, ‘Aidan’ and ‘Dewi’ campuses regularly help make a difference by collecting litter from around our Keep Wales Tidy ‘Caru Cymru - Litter Free Zone’.  Keen to do our bit to help the natural environment, our learners also take part in events such as the Big Walk and Wheel, the Great Big Green Week and the RSPB Birdwatch.” 

“Linking to a wide range of community members, groups and businesses are key Curriculum drivers at Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi.  Through connecting with local groups such as Eco Dewi, Câr Y Môr, a sustainable seaweed farm, Ramsey Island RSPB and local farms our learners have the opportunity to learn about sustainability and biodiversity.  Regular visits are made to the Erw Dewi Community Garden, and our learners gain first-hand experience of managing a garden and learning how it changes with the seasons.  Pupils from all three campuses have supported community members to plant trees at Maes Glasfryn, a local haven for both wildlife and people to enjoy nature in.  There is also an eco-committee (Senedd Gwyrdd) in the school Senedd which is focused towards making the school more environmentally friendly.”

“With the support of consultant Jayne Etherington, we have recently launched a transition project for our cluster and faith primary schools called SOS – Save our Seas. Learning will be based around the Harmony project, which aims to prepare young people to engage with the environmental and social challenges we face whilst equipping them with the skills they need to live sustainably.  Pupils will link with a range of local groups and individuals including Surfers against Sewage, Plastic Free Schools, Eco Dewi and Câr Y Môr. We are also excited to work with award winning author Nicola Davies whose book ‘This is how the change begins’ will support pupils in making pledges and taking action to save our seas.”

“Our learners study pilgrimage in Year 7, linking cynefin and faith to the Curriculum.  As of the last couple of years, Year 6 cluster pupils have undertaken a local pilgrimage as part of their transition process.  Our Year 7 learners also study various religious, non-religious and philosophical views towards stewardship of the natural environment.  We feel that it is only by appreciating and becoming at one with nature that pupils are likely to show care and respect for our planet.  By fostering a strong set of values and ethics in our learners and encouraging them to take action at a young age we hope they realise that the natural world is everyone’s responsibility.  We hope we develop learners who will take this attitude forwards into their life.  Pupils are explicitly taught about human impact on the planet and what they can and should do about it.  By having a dedicated team of pupil eco-warriors, the message is perpetuated throughout the school community.”

“Following our recent Estyn inspection during which our outdoor learning and linking learning to our cynefin were identified as strengths, we were approached by Swansea University to host their Primary PGCE students for the day.  Year 5 & 6 Pupils at our Non campus led the students on learning walks where students were able to see outdoor learning in practice and talk with pupils about recent work, they had done linking to our cynefin. Following this they were given a talk about planning principles at the Non campus.  We use authentic contexts for outdoor learning, linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals where possible.  The PGCE students were asked to plan a cross-curricular unit of work based on our planning principles. They visited Whitesands beach and had to work in small groups to plan how they would use the beach as a learning stimulus and link with the community, before returning to ‘pitch’ their curriculum ideas. A panel made up of Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi pupils and staff judged the pitches and gave feedback before declaring a winner.”

We asked Cilla if she had any tips for someone starting a journey of linking outdoor learning pedagogy with RVE/cynefin teaching and learning.  “When developing outdoor learning on our Primary campuses, the critical thing in the first instance was to form a community group of likeminded individuals who were keen to develop the outdoor areas.  A community focused group of pupils, staff, parents/carers, governors, city councillors and friends of the school, came together at agreed days after school and also on occasional Saturdays to develop log circles, forest areas, raised beds, planters, wild areas, willow structures, mud kitchens etc. By pulling together as a community we achieved a great deal, and it fostered a great sense of togetherness. We were lucky to have passionate staff in school who became the key drivers of such initiatives. We obtained funding from Learning through Landscapes for outdoor equipment and staff training and further funding was allocated to develop a cross-curricular orienteering course and training.” 

“A group of staff from across the age ranges have formed a Professional Learning Community focussing on learning in the natural environment, sharing the benefits and a range of resources to support the development of outdoor learning pedagogy at the school with other staff.  Building effective links with parents, local groups, individuals including our park ranger and local businesses has further supported the development of using our local cynefin to drive our outdoor learning pedagogy forward.” 

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