||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (July 2013)|
|Type||Independent democratic Day School|
|Founders||David Gribble, Sybilla Higgs, Sean Bellamy|
|DfE URN||113619 Tables|
|Staff||approx 8 teaching, 5 support|
|Students||approx 50 - 70 students|
Sands School was started in 1987 by a group of students and teachers from the recently closed Dartington Hall School. Starting in the kitchen of a parent's house, the school quickly established its own philosophy, building on the progressive principles of Dartington. The school's name, Sands, comes from the first letters of the first names of two of the founding teachers, Sean Bellamy and Sybilla Higgs: ‘S and S’, or 'Sands'. This shortening came from the letters written by the school's other founding teacher, David Gribble, to Sean and Sybilla in the spring and summer of 1987. The school grew from its original size of 17, and within six months had moved to a large town house in Ashburton where it is still based today.
Since 1991 it has been at the forefront of IDEC, the worldwide international democratic education movement, and has partner schools in Israel, Japan, U.S.A and most European countries. In 2006 the European branch of this movement was launched, EUDEC, and many Sands students are actively involved in promoting democratic approaches to education both in the private and state sector in the UK and abroad, travelling through Europe to conferences and events aimed at establishing democratic education as a viable alternative to the present educational model.
It now has 70 students aged 11 to 17 and 9 teachers and 5 support staff. It offers a range of conventional qualifications including eleven GCSEs, (General Certificate of Secondary Education), BTEC Performing Arts, and LAMDA certificates, and offers students the chance to develop an approach to learning that is personalised and encourages critical thinking and creativity. The exams and lessons offer a medium for the development of open-minded and emotionally intelligent children. Sean Bellamy remains teaching in the school after 25 years and between them the core 9 staff have clocked up nearly a hundred years of teaching experience in the school. Young staff have joined recently so the age range of staff runs from 23 to 64.
At the heart of the model is the idea that students should help design their place of learning and remain actively involved in the making of its rules and contributing to its philosophy; that students and teachers should be equal partners in the running of the school and that students should map their own route through their school careers with guidance from the adults. The result is a place where play is still important even to 16-year-olds, where talking and recreation are valued and students tend to be relaxed, happy and involved in class because they have made a conscious decision to attend.
Sands School is run by a weekly School Meeting, which is open to all students and staff and where each person present has one vote, and a School Council consisting of six elected students and an elected teacher; this group investigates and advises on daily events, feeding information back to the school meeting for decisions and action.
Praise Of Standard
The school's most recent Ofsted report of 2010 referred to the school as exemplary in terms of the children's behaviour and attitude to learning, praised the social and moral development of the students and identified many outstanding features. The affirmation by Ofsted that Sands is successful in conventional terms as well as a fascinating and supportive democratic environment in which children learn to make real life decisions is, as one parent said, 'a little like having one's cake and eating it.'
Many students go on to take university degrees. Ex-students have followed a wide range of careers in, for example, education, art, music, the law, medicine, entertainment, business, social work and agriculture. One of the latest leavers has just been accepted to St Martin's Arts College at the age of 16, two years early, because the school allowed her the freedom to develop a university-standard portfolio during her final year rather than merely following an examination curriculum that would have failed to demonstrate her true ability.
Since the closure of Dartington Hall School in 1987 Sands and Summerhill are the only long-lived examples of democratic education in the UK.