The Countess of Wessex met pupils at staff on Wednesday morning at Sandford St. Martin’s Primary School. After arriving by helicopter The Countess was welcomed to the newly built school by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset, Mr. Angus Campbell, Headteacher, Jeremy Payne, staff, the governing body and pupils to the new school.
Her Royal Highness was able to tour the school and meet with the children and staff as well as guests. The occasion was marked by the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the official opening of the school. The Countess then left by helicopter to continue her busy schedule in the county of Dorset where she had three official visits on Wednesday.
The School caters for 350 pupils who excitedly cheered and waved flags as The Countess arrived.
The Countess of Wessex began to take on royal duties after her wedding with her first official duty in 2000. Since then, as a senior ranking royal, she has conducted countless visits and duties in support of The Queen and of her husband in his roles, as well as undertaking public duties for a large number of her own charities.
The Countess is particularly involved with charities relating to children, disabilities and communication problems.
St. Martin’s Primary School has been built on the site of the former Sandford Middle School. The new school is part of a much wider change in the education provision across the Isle of Purbeck area. After a widespread consultation was held the conclusion was that the existing system of first schools (reception to year 4), middle schools (years 5-8) and the secondary school (years 9-13) should change to a two-tier one of primary schools (years 1-6) and the secondary school (years 7-13). The effects on the local area are that Wareham and Sandford Middle Schools have ceased to exist as have the middle schools at Swanage and Bovington, the three first schools – Lady St Mary, Sandford and Stoborough – have become primary schools, and the Purbeck School has expanded to take in years 7 and 8.
Speaking of the decision to move away from the three-tier education system, Rob Graham, Head of the Sandford Middle School, summed up the two primary concerns of those who strove to save the middle schools. ‘First, a popular and successful school, is being closed. I am not saying that the new primary won’t do a good job, but this school is not far from being full, with 35% of its pupils coming from outside its catchment area, which shows how highly parents think of it,” Graham commented.
Graham continued: “Second, children’s lives are changing quickly between the ages of 9 and 13, and it is better that they deal with those changes in a relatively small school with a family-oriented atmosphere. Middle schools were introduced for good educational reasons and it is a tragedy that the four in Purbeck are to disappear.’
The new school at Sandford combines year groups from ‘Saplings’ through to Year 6 on one site. The school motto is ‘Happy to Learn Together’ and Mr Payne, along with the rest of the leadership team and staff aim to provide and education of the highest quality, within the context of Christian belief and practice.
Photo credit Lou Conner