A proud Portlander whose teaching career has seen him travel around the south in various posts is now enjoying his first headship – and just a few months in, his school has been rated excellent across the board.
David Newberry, 51, took up the reins at Dorchester’s Sunninghill Prep in September after a 20-year career in teaching which started in state primaries.
He moved back to Dorset with wife Tammy, who deals with marketing and admin at the school, and within a few months the school scored ‘excellent’ ratings from the Independent Schools Inspectorate for its quality of education in both academic and personal development areas.
He said: “We are so proud of our kids – they are lovely. Music is really, really strong here – 85 per cent of the kids are learning to play an instrument. There’s a strong correlation between learning to play music and academic success. So we are keen to get as many of them as possible into music. It’s relaxing and calming and gives them the experience of performing in front of people, from performing to a few parents in a little room and building their confidence to public speaking competitions.”
In recent Lamda (drama) exams 76 per cent of pupils achieved a distinction. Beyond performing arts there’s an enrichment programme with all sorts of activities. On a trip to the River Wye pupils canoed 15km, which took them eight hours, and cooked all their own food. They have buddied up with nearby care home residents and told their stories – one pupil was very impressed by the fact his buddy, in her 80s, used to be a police officer.
Their next project is to build an electric car, and they hope to rig up a solar panel to keep it charged.
There are no SATs here – instead there are progress tests, where ability is measured alongside potential to spot any mismatch. Lack of progress could mean they aren’t working hard but equally could flag up dyslexia or other difficulties. In reverse a mismatch could mean a child is working much, much harder to achieve the same result, doing hours of work every night.
“That’s not good either,” said David. “The tests show us what we need to do to help each individual child.”
Sunninghill’s building on South Walks Road holds a great deal of significance in Dorchester’s history. It was built in 1895 for Alfred Pope, of the brewing dynasty, and called Fourpenny House – a pint of ale cost fourpence at the time. It provided a fabulous playground for his 15 children and then grandchildren until being used as a convent, St Genevieve’s, from the 60s.
The school was founded in 1939, and occupied premises in Herringston Road until moving to Fourpenny House in 1997.
There are still nods to the Popes in the features of the building, such as the initials AP on the fireplace in the head’s study.
But now the site also hosts numerous classrooms for its 130 pupils, who range in age from two years nine months to 13. The nursery has a beautiful secure outdoor area for learning, there’s a swimming pool for the summer months and lots of games areas.
David said: “Along with excellent academic results, Sunninghill prides itself on being a supportive and nurturing school with excellent pastoral care and this was recognised by the inspectors. They commented that ‘pupils demonstrate high levels of self-confidence, self-esteem, self-awareness and perseverance’, pupils were ‘decision makers’ and ‘pupils display a strong contribution to others, embracing the many opportunities to take responsibility to others’.
“When I got here, the school’s strapline was that it’s a hidden gem. We think it shouldn’t be hidden any more!”
n To book a tour with the head email registrar@ sunninghill.dorset.sch.uk or call 01305 262306.