Head is top of the class for Welsh

The inspirational head of a village school is in line for a top award.

Jennie Lewis has been nominated for one of the prestigious Niace Inspire Awards for her work in boosting the Welsh language at Ysgol Nannerch.

Jennie took over as head of the 72-pupil school three years ago, just before an Estyn inspection which recommended that more be done to promote use of the language in the English-medium school.

She contacted Coleg Harlech Workers’ Educational Association to set up a group of learners among the parents and for herself, and the results have exceeded everybody’s expectations.

The first group of parents and staff was formed in 2010 and last September, following the success of the original class, a second beginners’ class was established.

Both groups are following Welsh for the Family courses run by Coleg Harlech which enable learners to focus on learning practical phrases and vocabulary.

The ultimate aim is to assist parents and staff to help the children with learning the Welsh at school and strengthen the home-school links.

Jennie has proved so inspirational and enthusiastic that she has been nominated by Coleg Harlech co-ordinator Meinir Tomos Jones, who is also one of the tutors, for the Teaching the Family category in this year’s Inspire Awards.

The awards are organised by NIACE (The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) England and Wales  and are presented to recognise outstanding contribution to adult learning.

“Instead of creating policies or guidelines for the use of Welsh in the school, Jennie has taken direct action, which has resulted in the status of the language being raised,” said Meinir. “She has ensured that parents as well as children have an opportunity and favourable conditions to learn the language, an action which has resulted in significant benefits for all involved.

“She is a perfect example of a learner leading by her own example and her perseverance in attending the class is proof of her determination to ensure that families of Ysgol Nannerch and the wider community participate in Welsh.”

Class teacher Gaynor Selwyn, who is among those attending the classes, said it was noticeable how much more confident and advanced in Welsh were those pupils whose parents were learning the language themselves.

“Nannerch is a very English village but the response has been remarkable,” she said.

Meinir commented: “I think it is extraordinary what has been achieved. I was worried initially whether we would have enough interest to justify a class.”

The results of the Coleg Harlech courses have been so successful that other Flintshire schools, including Ysgol Parc Cornist in Flint, have visited Ysgol Nannerch to assess whether they could do likewise.

Jennie, whose own daughter attends a Welsh-medium secondary school, said: “Following the Estyn report we looked at ways of involving the community and parents expressed a wish to have more Welsh, but it has surprised me how people have reacted and also kept at it.

“It is very impressive to see the positive impact the parents’ classes have had on their children.

“The fact that the class has focused on practical, conversational Welsh with the emphasis on essential phrases to use with children has given me personally more confidence to use Welsh in natural contexts around the school rather than just the class,” she said.

While she is delighted to have been nominated for the award she still harbours one ambition for her pupils.

“The icing on the cake will be when some of our children are confident enough in Welsh to move up from here to Welsh-medium secondary schools and that the class will have empowered the parents to confidently take this step she explained.

Coleg Harlech Principal Trefor Fȏn Owen is delighted that Jennie is in the running for an award.

He said: “Jennie is a fantastic example of how a proactive and enthusiastic headteacher can make a real difference.

“We wish her all the best and we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for her.”

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