In 2001 we celebrated the 350th Anniversary of the birth of St John Baptist De La Salle, a man who changed the world by answering Jesus’ call to “teach all nations”. St John Baptist De La Salle was a pioneer in education, Patron Saint of Teachers, founder of the De La Salle Brothers and an inspiration for the future. Although himself a Priest, he decided that the members of the Order of Brothers should not be ordained, but dedicate themselves exclusively to the education of youth. From humble beginnings in Rheims, France in 1680, he set up schools for the poor, founded the first ever Training College for teachers and established the first modern secondary school. He wrote text books and guidelines for teachers. It is to him that Professional, Vocational, Industrial and Approved Schools owe their origin. His work marks the foundation of modern popular education and the profession that serves it.
St John Baptist De La Salle’s aim was, and the ethos of the Brothers still is, to help bring Christ to the world, to help young people to be fully prepared for life, practically and spiritually, so that they can take the Good News to all they meet.
Catholic Education was brought to Bournemouth in 1871 by the Religious of the Cross, and for the next 65 years it depended entirely on them. During those years, as well as the Convent School in Boscombe, they established both St Walburga’s and Holy Cross Schools. There was, however, no grammar school provision for Catholic boys.
In 1936, the Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, prompted by local clergy and laity, invited the Jesuit Order to establish a Catholic Boy’s Grammar School to serve Bournemouth, Christchurch and the surrounding areas. In response, the Jesuit Superior sent a former Head Master of Stoneyhurst College, Father L E Bellanti SJ, to scour Bournemouth for a suitable site. Through a chance conversation he discovered that a delightful property in St Catherine’s Road, Southbourne, was about to be vacated by a school for girls, then known as ‘Grassendale’, thereafter to be called ‘St Mary’s Gate’. Grassendale was also the name given to the large house on the property that is now the administrative wing of St Peter’s. It is one of the oldest buildings in Southbourne and had been owned by Dr T A Compton, the founder of ‘Southbourne’ and the originator of its name. A new school for boys was duly opened on the site by the Jesuits in September 1936.
It was named ‘St Peter’s’ and given a badge comprising the Cross Keys of St Peter the Apostle and the motto ‘In Verbo Tuo’; (later, the Brothers added the Star: the Sign of Faith). The school roll on the first day was 34 boys, of whom 6 were boarders. By 1947, in view of increased commitments elsewhere, the Jesuits had decided to withdraw and arrangements were made to hand over the School to the De La Salle Brothers. With the Brothers began a long period of development for St Peter’s as a day and boarding school for boys. At the same time Bournemouth itself was expanding rapidly and with it the Catholic population of the area. The need for more accommodation in Catholic Schools became crucial and, in 1963 the Diocese of Portsmouth responded by opening a new Catholic Secondary School for Boys and Girls to complement St Peter’s and Boscombe Convent. It was called ‘St Thomas More’s’ and was established on a fine site with brand new buildings in Holdenhurst Avenue.
Thus the Catholic Community was blessed with three excellent schools that, together, provided the full range of Catholic Secondary Education for boys and girls. From 1965 onwards the re‐organisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines became the subject of much discussion. Finally, in 1977, after a long period of consultation, the Diocese of Portsmouth concluded that the future of Catholic secondary education in the area, up to the age of 18, could only be guaranteed through the merger of all three Schools. This aim was realised in 1980 with the establishment of a new Comprehensive School, centred on the site of St Peter’s with St Thomas More’s forming the Lower School. The name ‘St Peter’s’ was chosen for the new School and with it the St Peter’s badge.
Today, the School is on two sites, in St Catherine’s Road, Southbourne and in Holdenhurst Avenue, Iford. Each site has a full set of facilities and extensive playing fields. Currently, there are some 1600 pupils on roll, including about 400 in the Sixth Form.
St Peter’s has been a specialist Performing Arts College since 2000: a centre of excellence for the School, and a means of forging stronger links with its family of schools and the whole community. This special status is enabling the School to develop its resources in the performing arts, in particular through the commissioning of Dance Studios and the employment of additional specialist teachers and supporting resident artistes. There are many extra clubs, performances, master classes and classes for gifted students and music lessons, all at no extra cost to the community, which take place after school, some on Saturdays and others during the holidays.
The influence of this initiative is across the whole School. The introduction of a wider range of teaching methods has also enabled the use of expressive arts to enhance learning in other subject areas, by encouraging pupils to express themselves with confidence and fluency. Assistance is also provided in the development of Information Technology and in raising standards generally.
In addition to being a specialist Performing Arts and Sports College, St Peter’s School has been recognised as a high performing School by the Specialist Schools Trust for three years. Also, the School has been awarded the prestigious Artsmark Gold Award for the third time, a rare honour. The ‘Investor in People’ award is a national award acknowledging the School’s commitment to staff development and the managerial systems which enable this to be achieved.
Since 2005, St Peter’s has held the second specialism of Sports College Status. Sportsmark was awarded to the School for its effective policies and practices for the provision of a well-balanced physical education programme and for its development of an out of school hours programme that offers a range of opportunities to pupils, enabling the School’s young people to move from school sport to sport in the community. The School has been awarded a further Sportsmark Distinction Award. St Peter’s is also linked with the Leonardo project, a European initiative, fostering educational links with its partner schools in Europe.