HE MAY not be able to read or write just yet but Henry Thornton is top of the class.

And he is also the school superstar. Not bad considering he is only eight months old and has been in lessons for just a few weeks.

Henry a black Labrador has taken up post at Beaucroft School in Wimborne as assistance dog for the students.

He is already a huge hit with the pupils – and the staff.

Headteacher at Beaucroft, Joe Barnett, takes up the story: “The school council, which is mostly made up of the students decided they would like the school to have its own pet and they drew up a shortlist.

"A crocodile, a shark or a dog. So it wasn’t too difficult to narrow it down to one.”

The school was helped in finding Henry by the Bournemouth-based charity Helpful Hounds Assistance Dogs.

The organisation changes the lives the children,adults, their families and careers by providing emotional support dogs to schools.

Henry is the latest trainee to graduate.

Already Henry, who lives with teacher Neil Palmer but spends each day in school, has made a big impact at Beaucroft, a special school for children and young adults.

Joe added: “We have lots of children with complex needs so just to be around Henry and stroke him will be very beneficial.

"We also have some pupils who find it hard to transition from one part of the school to another and being able to walk with Henry will be a real help.

“Obviously we will learn over time what he can do but we are already very excited about the future with Henry as part of the team working with every class. Everyone loves him.

“He is an absolute star. Faces lit up when he came in for the first time. He is in the main office each day and the children can take time out to see him or if they are having difficulties they can arrange to take him for a walk."

Henry was pre-named but the school decided to give the second name of Thornton because he was funded by the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation.

The charity was established by family and friends in memory of the young Royal Marine who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2008 at the age of 21.

John’s mum and dad, Linda and Pete were on hand to meet Henry as he attended his first school assembly.

Pete joked: “It’s like having another branch of the family. He will be on the Christmas card list.”

He added: “Every year we make a contribution to the school to do whatever they feel is right for the pupils and this year they decided to have Henry which is absolutely wonderful. We are obviously delighted.”

The arrival of Henry has an extra special significance for Pete and Linda as John struck up a friendship with a dog while on tour in Afghanistan. A stray black Lab called Tangy who lived the barracks with the men.

Linda said: “Henry is going to make such a difference. It’s great for us because we have struck such a fantastic relationship with the school over the past eight years or so. It is very special to us.”

For more about Helpful Hounds see helpfulhounds.org.uk or email enquires@helpfulhounds.org.uk