HEARTWARMING and tear-jerking are words that come to mind after watching the first episode of A Special School.

The three-part documentary celebrates the lives of those who attend Wales’ biggest special education needs school - and it’s in Penarth, at Ysgol Y Deri.

The series begins with head teacher Chris Britten explaining what life is like at this lovely school.

“We all know what these children can’t do. They know what they can’t do, they get told when they’re away from here every day. We have a culture where they’re told what they can do,” he said.

Penarth Times: Credit: BBCCredit: BBC

There are more than 280 pupils at the school, all between three and 19.

Pupils are divided into classes that best suit their needs and personality.

Teacher Lea Ann King said: “We’ve got one student who has never been in school. She’s been home-tutored because of her anxiety so while it looked like it was silly (activities as the students got to know each other), it’s about making sure they’re relaxed and can get to know each other.

“It’s difficult for them to make firm friends. This is their social life as well.”

Penarth Times: Credit: BBCCredit: BBC

Craig Campbell, who works on the behavioural support team, says if a child is not behaving properly, it has usually resulted in a breakdown in communication, with needs not being met.

“Our job is to look at their needs and see what we can do to proactively help them,” he said.

Penarth Times: Credit: BBCCredit: BBC

Episode one sees pupils travel to Exmoor to overcome anxiety at an outdoor activity centre, where experiences like zip wiring and canoeing are designed to challenge the children, both mentally and physically.

Mr Britten explained: “It gives them a residential experience which I think is actually really important for kids’ education. It gives the parents a bit of a break as well.”

Jett is jealous of brother Jake, a 16-year-old with cerebral palsy, going away, and asks mum if he can sneak into the suitcase.

Seven-year-old Felix has Miller-Dieker syndrome, which means the surface of his brain is abnormally smooth. Children with his condition don't normally live past infancy, and mum Alex says she “doesn’t think he would be here if it wasn’t for the school”.

Using an eye gaze device that enables pupils to control a cursor using their eyes, teacher Lisa Rees-Renshaw helps Felix to make cognitive decisions.

“Getting them to communicate really drives me,” she said.

By the end of their trip to Exmoor, the students don't want to leave, and they finish the week in style with a disco.

"They're different when they come back," Mr Britten said. "I don't know what it is. Perhaps a bit more mature in their outlook.

"They'll never remember a maths lesson. But they'll never forget the experiences they can have here."

A Special School will be available as a box set on BBC iPlayer on 14 September.