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A Brief History of Sands School

by Sean Bellamy


In the summer of 1987 fourteen students and three teachers from the recently closed Dartington Hall School gathered in a garden and designed a new school.  Prior to this, and subsequently (as far as I know), no school has been formed in such a way.  Usually well-meaning adults decide what a new school should look like and how it should function.  Our initial level of student/teacher co-operation has remained at the heart of the Sands experience.

Dartington Hall School, in its heyday, was the country’s most radical educational ventures and although we rejected some of the more ‘public school’ ethos, there was much we felt was valuable and remains in our approach today.  Dartington Hall School existed for sixty years and educated some of the most interesting and talented people in the country.  My very first impressions of the school were of students and teachers sitting together talking, of all ages sharing lunch, of sports sessions with 11-18 year olds playing together; in fact, of age and gender being irrelevant and of people listening to all ages with an openness I’d not experienced in other schools.  It looked like my ideal of a university campus and I’ve since often viewed Sands as such an environment, but for younger students.

What we took with us to weave into the Sands experience has its origin in the fundamental differences I’d witnessed as a new teacher at Dartington Hall School; relationships between all ages based on trust and respect rather than some imposed artificial hierarchy; respect earned not expected; responsibility shared so that school is run by all of its members; space given for the development of the child as a social and creative being as well as an academic person; staff remaining open to creative criticism and judgement by their colleagues and pupils so that the education offered is relevant and successful.  And perhaps fundamental to it all – an intuition that there is always more to learn, that we may not necessarily get it right – so there is no preaching or evangelism about the education we offer.  Just an attempt to make it better and as such, each generation of students help the school evolve and remain alive.

Twenty-five years on and the school is still recognisable as the Sands I first helped design.  However, I believe it is better, more relevant today, and owned more co-operatively than in 1987, with a clearer structure and philosophy.