AN exciting new chapter has opened in the history of a Bournemouth school for children with special needs.

On April 1 this year Bicknell School, named in honour of much-loved former mayor, the late Bessie Bicknell, became the Tregonwell Academy.

The academy boasts an Ensbury Avenue campus for primary school age children with severe behavioural problems and autism with a second campus for secondary school age children on Petersfield Road, the original site of Bicknell School.

There is also Throop learning centre, for those who cannot attend mainstream schools because they suffer from an illness or school phobia, as well as behaviour support services.

The academy’s executive head teacher Brian Hooper told the Daily Echo: “We decided to grasp the opportunity to become an independent company and now employ staff directly.

“Although independent from the local authority we still want to identify ourselves closely with Bournemouth, which is why we have decided to be known as the Tregonwell Academy, in memory Lewis Tregonwell – the man who founded the town.”

The Academy has two head teachers, Sian Thomas and Nicki Mitchell, and more than 200 pupils, mainly boys, from five to 16.

Mr Hooper said: “Becoming an academy has opened up huge opportunities for us to work closely with local schools. This arrangement enriches us and them. As well as seeing significant improvements in terms of behaviour, we judge our success on the number of students who go on to college or work placements. A number of our children have been involved with the criminal justice service and we work closely with other agencies. We put them in the right context, with the right support. A lot of our children would have been written off in the past.

“Parents are supportive because, unlike other schools, we manage the situation and don’t send the children home; I have been here 12 years and have never known a child to be excluded.”

Chairman of Governors Pat Marchiori-White said: “Our role is to build up self-esteem; children who appear to be bullies are actually very vulnerable. Sometimes they have several problems which need to be addressed.”

Staff are trained to protect themselves, as well as pupils, and there is a pastoral support team.

Teaching assistant Jodie Meads, 29, from Bournemouth, said: “Working here is very challenging but also extremely rewarding.”