The extraordinary vision of a group of determined parents, residents and local councillors who wanted to provide children in Swanage with the opportunity of a local education up to the age of 16, was marked with a celebration at The Swanage School.
The Swanage School founding governors and supporters along with former staff attended the event on Sunday 10th September 2023, alongside current governors and staff, as well as representatives of the Swanage Grammar School Association – the last previous school in Swanage to offer education up to the age of 16.
10th anniversary celebrations at The Swanage School with current staff and former teachers
Hard work and persistence
The Swanage School started on 4th September 2013, initially based at Harrow House in Swanage, while the new building on the High Street was still being built.
The children and staff were eventually able to move into the purpose built secondary school on 17th April 2014.
All the hard work and persistence of the Education Swanage team – the group formed to build the new school – was paid tribute to, in a series of speeches and recollections of the early days, more than a decade earlier.
Founding headteacher Tristram Hobson (left) and founding chair of governors Paul Angel (right) return to the school
Getting the ball rolling a decade ago (left to right) Dorset Council and Swanage Town Council councillor Bill Trite, founding governor Helen O’Connor and founding chair of governors Paul Angel
“Crazy idea… a secondary school in Swanage”
The Swanage School founding chair of governors Paul Angel said:
“Most of the people involved in the very early days had worked on the campaigns to save Swanage Primary School and the Middle School back in 2009. We had support for both those campaigns from PEAT, the Purbeck Environment Action Team, which was affiliated with a national movement called Transition Towns.
“The idea of Transition was moving from an oil-based economy to a green economy, and PEAT supported the idea of local schools for local children, reducing transport needs, building a sense of belonging within communities, learning from the natural world around us, using that sense of belonging to appreciate what we have but also what’s out there in the wider world.
“So, after those campaigns, a small group of us met to talk about what we’d like to do next, thinking mostly about the idea of a Transition Town group in Swanage. At our very first meeting we came away with two ideas. One was realistic, the other ridiculous.
“The realistic idea was for a noticeboard outside the library, so that people had a place to pin posters promoting events, campaigns, whatever they wanted. The crazy idea was for a secondary school in Swanage.
“Anyway, we approached Dorset County Council to ask if they’d help fund a noticeboard, but they said that noticeboards mean pins, and pins end up on the floor, and someone might step on one and health and safety couldn’t approve it, etc etc. So we built a school!”
The architect’s plans for the £7 million building
Councillor Bill Trite visits the construction site
The vision starts to become a reality
Moving from three tiers to two tiers
The challenge was immense but at that time the education system in Purbeck was changing from a three tier system of a first school, middle school and secondary school, to the two tiers of primary and secondary schooling.
Along with the introduction of the academy system by Tony Blair’s Labour government and the creation of Free Schools by the subsequent Conservative government, this provided a possible model to create a new secondary school in Swanage.
One of the invited guests, councillor Bill Trite, who was one of the early supporters of the school said:
“Purbeck was being used as an experimental area for moving from a three tier to a two tier education system. It was this project to close the middle school which was causing Swanage a problem, leaving the town with no education after the age of 11. For Swanage, the answer was to build a new school.
“There was plenty of opposition at the time from Dorset County Council, which feared that the new school would somehow detract from The Purbeck School at Wareham, but actually time has shown that both schools have since boomed.
“In Swanage, there have been beneficial effects on the population with more young families moving into the town and with our town being relatively isolated, it means children don’t have to do a long journey to get to school. The school now looks set to be even more popular in the future.”
Reflecting on the last 10 years of The Swanage School
“It was quite miraculous!”
A founding governor Helen O’Connor added:
“It was amazing that people from across the local community all got together and pulled this off, creating the school. Somehow we managed it and it was quite miraculous!
“Many of us had young children and were working parents, so we had little free time to achieve what we did. Now when I drive past the school, I feel really proud.”
Current headteacher Jenny Maraspin with the founding headteacher Tristram Hobson
“So fortunate to have Tristram and Jenny”
The first headteacher to be appointed back in 2012 was Tristram Hobson with Jenny Maraspin as the deputy headteacher.
Since 2020, Jenny has been the headteacher following Tristram’s retirement due to ill health. Some of the teachers appointed in the early days still continue to teach at the school today.
William Knight, who has remained as a school governor since the start said:
“I think the school is absolutely fantastic and Swanage as a town has lots to be proud of, including the school’s children, staff and leadership team. We have been so fortunate to have Tristram and Jenny as our headteachers. The two of them have set the tone and created a very special school.
“When I walk into the school, I find that even the younger students come and start a conversation – they are caring and incredibly mature. The school builds confidence as well as producing good ‘added value’ exam results.”
Recounting the early days (left to right) Tristram Hobson with William Knight who as a governor has seen the school from its inception through to the current day
“School has gone from strength to strength”
Tristram Hobson was appointed as headteacher for a school that at the time didn’t exist but then went on to appoint the first team of teaching staff. Now recovered from illness, he was delighted to return to the school for the 10th anniversary event. In his speech to the audience he said:
“I’ve always been exceptionally proud of our school – whenever I’d had a difficult meeting I would tour the school. The beauty of it being a small school is you can go into every classroom in the building in under three to four hours. Everywhere I’d go, I’d see happy, engaged children. I’d never hear raised voices other than in excitement about the lesson.
“I used to show lots of people round the school from prospective parents to inspectors, but the tours I most enjoyed were going round the school with the governors – usually one or two at a time. At the end of the tour I’d always ask – is this the school you were hoping for? and they’d always answer yes!! And more!
“And the school has gone from strength to strength. There’s so much the school does well, but it’s the way every student in the school is encouraged and enabled to flourish and grow and follow their passion – whatever that is that is so impressive.”
Founding governors (left to right) Jo Tatchell, Helen O’Connor, Alison Stephens, Isobel Tooley, Collette Drayson, Steve Parker, Amanda Rowley, Paul Angel and William Knight (not present Steve Tooley, Carl Styants and Geoff Atkinson)
“School has matured and grown up”
Later Tristram added:
“The school has transformed from the early days when we opened with no building, 100 children in years 7,8 and 9 and only 12 members of staff.
“The school has matured and grown up but with the key aim of every single child being valued as an individual continuing.
“The way I did that was by learning the name of every student on day one. If you know someone’s name, you know about them, and it builds relationships which are so important.”
Headteacher Jenny Maraspin estimates the size of the success of the school!
“Embedding good practice across the school”
Now current headteacher Jenny Maraspin has picked up the baton, taking the school through the Covid pandemic, school shutdowns, the introduction of remote learning and the development of the use of Microsoft Teams.
“We’ve held onto the values but moved with the times. It’s cheesy to say but it’s the kids and staff working together that makes the school what it is.
“We’re aiming to reflect the needs of industry and equip the students for work. That’s where our new creative media suite comes in. We’re on the doorstep of the Arts University in Bournemouth and we’d be crazy not to recognise that.
“We’ve got a terrific curriculum which makes our planning and teaching strong. We’ve introduced the chance of working towards Duke of Edinburgh awards and we’d like to increase the numbers taking part this year.
“We’ve rearranged the timetable and created more opportunities for outdoor education. It’s all about embedding good practice across the school.”
Members of the Swanage Grammer School Association were invited to The Swanage School event to view the weathervane in its new home (left to right) Shelagh Ball, David Slingo, Steve Matthews, Gillie Humphries and Nigel Humphries
Grammar school closed in 1974
The Swanage School with its modern curriculum and ethos is very different from the Swanage Grammar School in Northbrook Road, which was opened on 23rd October 1929 by the Earl of Shaftesbury and closed in 1974.
However both schools have contributed towards the education of the town’s children providing teaching within the local community.
After years of neglect, the old grammar school building was demolished in 2022 but the copper weathervane was saved. Barratt Homes, which is developing 90 homes on the old site, paid for the demolition company HES to restore the weathervane.
It’s now been placed on the roof of The Swanage School as a symbol of the continuation of secondary school education in Swanage.
The restored Swanage Grammar School weathervane
The weathervane in its new location on the roof of The Swanage School welcoming everyone as they come into town
“Extraordinary dedication of so many people”
Former Swanage Grammar School head boy from 1968 and treasurer of the Swanage Grammar School Association David Slingo said:
“It’s good to learn about the physical connections between the two schools and that The Swanage School actually started at Harrow House formerly known as Oldfield House, which used to be part of the grammar school.
“The story of how The Swanage School was founded is spectacular and emotional and shows the extraordinary dedication of so many people. It’s good to see the grammar school weathervane now being proudly displayed by The Swanage School!”
Other events to mark 10 years of The Swanage School are planned throughout the year to include current students and past pupils.
Director of music, drama and the creative arts Harry Peake, who has been a teacher at the school from the early days, provides musical entertainment at the celebration event
- More about The Swanage School
Cutting the cake the Swanage School Way!
Full text of Tristram Hobson’s speech
Back in April 2012 I heard about a community group who were having a public meeting to show their plans for a new secondary school in swanage. Being nosey I decided to go and have a look. I had no idea what to expect but thought I’d at least be able to have an ice cream by the sea…
What I found was even better than an ice cream – it was a group of people who had passion and drive that was inspirational. I remember really clearly Paul (Angel) speaking about his vision for this amazing small school by the sea.
The proposer group (ultimately the governors) wanted to create a school where every child would be known and valued as an individual and where the school would be at the heart of the community. I was bowled over – this was exactly what I believed in. It felt like a perfect match.
Someone asked if they had a headteacher yet. My ears pricked up…
Geoff (Atkinson) the chap in charge of organising the recruitment of the new head spoke up. He said they’d be recruiting someone soon. Probably not a serving headteacher (they couldn’t afford one) but an experienced deputy headteacher who would share their values and vision for the school.
In my head I was jumping up and down with my hand up saying, “Pick me!!”. Luckily they didn’t manage to find anyone better and I was appointed in June 2012.
My first big outing was The Swanage School open evening in October 2012. Usually these are showcase evenings… you wheel out your best students, teachers lay on exciting taster lessons, with demonstrations and bunsen burners and DT machines purring.. Parents are astounded that ‘school wasn’t like this in my day’…
This time there was no building, no students, just me and some artists’ impressions of a school, saying how amazing it was all going to be. To this day I have no idea how we managed to recruit even a single student.
By November 2012 I had officially started and my first job was to appoint my deputy head teacher. Of course I wanted to see them teach but still didn’t have any students or a school. What was initially a hurdle actually turned into a blessing. I went to see the candidates teach their own classes in their own schools. It was truly eye opening to see how they interacted with the students they’d been teaching all year.!
And so I saw Jen with her class of C/D borderline year 11s at The Leaf in Bournemouth. These students weren’t high achieving maths geeks. No, they were the polar opposite – they were the ones who had always struggled at maths and been given to Jenny in the months prior to the GCSE as their best chance of getting that C grade.
And as we all now know. Jen was Jen – engaging, funny, and motivating. Not only did she have them learning some maths, they obviously liked her and wanted to make her proud. They’d been good as gold all lesson and I loved it when one student looked at me and asked, “were we good enough miss?”
But that was only part of the interview process. Jen had to undergo two further horrible days of grilling, role play, all sorts… with the governors, external advisors and me. We had a very strict schedule – managed by someone making a beeping sound over the intercom when we needed to move round to the next task. We were busy interviewing Jen and I asked a particularly horrible question about managing conflicts within curriculum design or some such.
Just after I posed the question, the intercom beeped and Jen looked up and said:
“Looks like I’ve been saved by the bell!”. That was the moment I knew she would be perfect for our wonderful new school.
Jen started in April 2013. We had an office at Harrow House. It was very much the calm before the storm – at lunchtime we’d wander down to the beach and on rainy days sit in the bluey eating pasties.
It was a bizarre time – we were two experienced professionals who were both good teachers and school leaders, but there was a very small overlap in the venn diagram of the skills we had against the skills needed to set up a school from scratch.
One of our first jobs was to appoint our support staff and teaching team. For the teachers, we really wanted to see them teach but we still didn’t have a school or any students.
We were really lucky that Anetta Minard at Jen’s old school, the Leaf Academy, was happy for us to use students as our guinea pigs.
We didn’t want to outstay our welcome though, so scheduled all the teachers who we’d long listed to come on the same week. It was a crazy week – we saw over fifty teachers teach lessons over the week.
By the Wednesday the students all knew who I was and that I was recruiting teachers for this wonderful, brand new school in Swanage – some even asked if they could join!
During one observation a student caught my eye and whispered, “She’s a keeper”!
By July our team was recruited and just as you’d expect new recruits to be, they were super keen. Which was lucky because even before we’d paid them anything, we got them to come for a team building weekend in Swanage.
I think it was my idea to have the weekend. I saw it as a really good chance to get to know each other, have time together, so we could hit the ground running in September. I felt it was also really important for everyone to buy into a shared vision for this amazing school we were going to create.
I think it was Paul’s idea – or maybe Carl’s to add to this weekend a free for all ‘meet the teacher’ on the Saturday morning when parents of children who were coming to the school and as it turned out random members of the public who had an axe to grind could come and meet our brand shiny and new, super keen, yet totally innocent teaching team… and have a massive go at them.
We all survived but it was a close call. Luckily I had thrown the governors under the bus beforehand and they forgave me.
And so, almost exactly ten years ago with a small but amazing and keen team of staff and about 100 students the school opened. Well, sort of, I’m sure you can remember – we were camping out in Harrow House. We had no specialist classrooms, not enough space and our staff room was also the SEN area. But we were buzzing on the fact that we had created a school from scratch.
We started the term with lots of team building and whole-school building activities. We took the whole school coasteering and climbing, we named the school houses – you’ve got Aaron Brown to thank for Halsewell!
We spent time doing with the students what we’d done as a staff in July and what the governors had spent the previous several years doing – deciding what our school should be like and how we were going to make sure it was the best school in the country.
One of the things we looked at was the school motto – Omnia vinces perseverando, which means perseverance overcomes all things. We spent time unpicking what perseverance actually involves and the students ended up turning it into a far more catchy ‘we try, we fail, we learn, we succeed!’
During our first two terms we got on with the business of education. Jenny and I were back on home territory. Apart that is from the process of overseeing the building of the brand new school. Luckily we had Steve Tooley on our side. He had the talent of being both meticulous and very scary. Both of which we came to find out were essential to keep Kier (the builders) in line.
Towards the end of that first term we took the staff round the new building so they could see it for themselves. It was still very much a shell but we could get an idea about how it was going to look.
I found Tori Farren standing in what was to become the art room – her classroom. She was crying… oh dear… that’s not good… like most men, I have no idea what to do when an adult cries in front of me. I think I put a hand on her shoulder and said what’s wrong Tori? She replied, “It’s wonderful.”
And it was and it is even better now!
Between the governors, the staff and the students as well as members of the swanage community we had managed to create a school where every child was known and valued as an individual. Where each student could feel confident to be themselves and to grow and learn in their own way.
I’ve always been exceptionally proud of our school – whenever I’d had a difficult meeting I would tour the school. The beauty of it being a small school is you can go into every classroom in the building in under three to four hours. Everywhere I’d go, I’d see happy, engaged children. I’d never hear raised voices other than in excitement about the lesson.
I used to show lots of people round the school from prospective parents to inspectors, but the tours I most enjoyed were going round the school with the governors – usually one or two at a time. At the end of the tour I’d always ask – is this the school you were hoping for? and they’d always answer yes!! And more!
And the school has gone from strength to strength. There’s so much the school does well, but it’s the way every student in the school is encouraged and enabled to flourish and grow and follow their passion – whatever that is that is so impressive
I shouldn’t, but I will, single out one aspect of the school that I’m especially proud of. The musicals that we put on really are incredible. I love the way so many students and staff are involved. I used to love seeing literally hundreds of children crammed into the hall learning the songs and dances with Harry (Peake) at the front strutting his stuff.
I was then and remain now, incredibly proud of our lovely school and all the work that’s done here. We tried – we worked so hard in the early days and I know everyone continues to do so. We failed – many many times and I’m guessing staff and students continue to fail. But we learn along the way. And The Swanage School is sure as hell succeeding.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you TSS!