Sands School

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Sands School
East Street

, ,
TQ13 7AX

Coordinates50°31′00″N 3°45′09″W / 50.51658°N 3.75257°W / 50.51658; -3.75257Coordinates: 50°31′00″N 3°45′09″W / 50.51658°N 3.75257°W / 50.51658; -3.75257
TypeIndependent day school
FoundersDavid Gribble, Sybilla Higgs, Sean Bellamy
Local authorityDevon
Department for Education URN113619 Tables
Staffapprox 20 overall
Ageapprox 11 to approx 17
Enrolmentapprox 60 – 80 students

Sands School is a democratic school in Ashburton, Devon in England.


Sands School is the second[1] democratic school in England which was started in 1987[2] by a group of students and teachers from the recently closed Dartington Hall School.[3] Started 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,[4] 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. In 2011 the school hosted a combined IDEC and EUDEC conference over ten days with more than 500 people attending from around the world.[5]

Sands is a fee-paying day-school. It now has 70 students aged 11 to 17 and 10 teachers and 5 learning 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. There are no uniforms.[6]


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. Children can choose what to learn, when to learn and how to learn.[1] They are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning.[7]

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.[8] It has no head teacher.[9][10]

Praise of standard[edit]

The school was inspected by Ofsted in November 2016 and in October 2013 and was found to be ‘Good’ overall with a number of ‘Outstanding’ features. No area of the provision was found to be less than "good" and all of the Statutory regulations (the school "Standards") were met in full. This is the same outcome as the previous inspection in 2010.[citation needed]

The latest report on Sands School gives a clear endorsement of their democratic approach to education. Taking part in decision-making process was observed to develop "exceptional qualities of thoughtfulness and the ability to offer balanced arguments". Good pupil achievements were found to be a "consequence of the democratic structures". Personal development was deemed to be "outstanding" because of the exceptional impact of the democratic principles. The inspector was particularly impressed with pupils’ behaviour, noting that "lessons took place in an atmosphere of mutual respect" and that "visitors were greeted with interest and impeccable manners".[citation needed]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Helen E. Lees (2014). Education without schools: Discovering alternatives. Policy Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-44730-6412. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  2. ^ "EUDEC Member School: Sands School". Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  3. ^ Carnie, Fiona (2003). Alternative Approaches to Education: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. Psychology Press. p. 94-96. ISBN 0415248175. Sands School.
  4. ^ "Democratic Education — Talk for the staff of the education department at the University of East Anglia, Norwich 2005". 2005.
  5. ^ Nicola Kriesel, Jan Kasiske (2014), "Don't break the rules – change it! — Ein Besuch in der Sands School in Ashburton, England", Schätze bergen – Alltag in Freien Alternativschulen (in German) (1 ed.), Leipzig: tologo verlag, pp. 57-62, ISBN 978-3-940596-95-6
  6. ^ Redwood, Fred (19 June 2004). "Size isn't everything". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  7. ^ OECD (2008). Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate. OECD Publishing. p. 100. ISBN 9789264047976. The most radical vision of the student as a self-responsible and intrinsic motivated individual exists in democratic or free schools. In Sands Schools, for example, a second-generation English democratic school, founded in 1987, children are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning.
  8. ^ Woods, Philip A. (2011). Transforming education policy. Bristol: The Policy Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-1847427359.
  9. ^ Annette Fitzsimons; Max Hope; Keith Russell; Charlie Cooper (2011). Empowerment and participation in youth work. Learning Matters. pp. 82–83. ISBN 978-1844453474. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  10. ^ Bonnie Hill, Matthew Williams, Olivia Cross (1996), Mary John (ed.), "Children in charge : the child's right to a fair hearing", Children in Charge Series Vol 1, Chapter 11: Running Our School (in German), ISBN 185302368X{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)