AN INDEPENDENT Teignbridge school has announced ambitious plans to expand its capacity to meet ‘growing demand’ by investing £50,000 a year on improvements. 

Stover School, which provides independent education for pupils from three to 18, wants to expand its facilities to compete with other independent schools in the region and provide improved facilities. 

The school has submitted plans to Teignbridge Council to demolish temporary classrooms and replace with permanent ones and build a new, multi-purpose sports hall.

The plans also require listed building consent.

Founded in 1932, Stover School’s ground occupy part of the Grade II listed Stover Park and comprise the Grade II*listed buildings of Stover House.

Between 2010 to 2014, the school’s finances were in decline due falling pupil numbers and poor management practices, according to a planning statement. 

In 2014, pupil numbers had reached a low of 278 and with debts of £1.75 million, the school faced imminent closure. 

In response, the Board of Governors appointed a new head teacher, Richard Notman, to effect radical changes to reverse the decline of the school and avoid closure. 

From 2016 to 2019, pupil numbers grew to 407 and the school made an annual surplus of £177,711. Following this, the Coronavirus pandemic drove an unexpected increase in pupil numbers to 472 in 2021.

But to keep class sizes to 24 and to accommodate existing pupils, the school has had to reorganise its existing facilities to maximise teaching space. 

This has included reducing boarding accommodation by two thirds to expand classroom space. 

The statement says: ‘Whilst demand continues to rise, the available space is now fully used and there is no additional capacity to accept new pupils.’

Now aiming to expand to 650 pupils, which will give the school long term financial viability, the school needs to make a ‘significant’ investment in facilities. 

Now largely a day school, 90 per cent of its intake comes from within one hour’s travel time. 

The planning statement continues: ‘The school competes for pupils with comparable schools at Exeter School, Mount Kelly, Plymouth College and Blundell’s School Tiverton. 

‘It lacks a number of facilities which are expected of a school of its size, and which can be found at the competing schools. 

‘Unless the facilities elsewhere are matched, the gains of the past seven years will be lost. 

‘The vision is to integrate a group of well-designed new facilities into the existing school campus which work with the existing architecture and take advantage of opportunities that the development presents to enhance the landscape to the benefit of biodiversity, heritage, the educational environment, and public enjoyment.

‘Development will involve the introduction of new-build structures within the setting of designated heritage assets, however the proposals have been sensitively sited and designed to avoid any substantial harm to the significance of the listed buildings and registered park. 

‘The proposed purpose-built facilities will enable the school to compete with surrounding independent schools, and ensure there is sufficient capacity to accommodate up to 650 pupils. 

‘If the target number of pupils is achieved and sustained, this will ensure the long term financial viability of the school and allow investment into the maintenance and restoration of the existing heritage assets.’

The planning statement also says there would be further public benefits with new jobs created and provision of sports facilities for the wider community. 

The plans are for a new multi-purpose sports hall, walled garden teaching building with two science labs, home economics room, drama studio, art studios, 12 new classrooms for maths, humanities and languages and new staff room. 

The application says the school, where the only income is pupil fees, only makes a small surplus with 550 students but with 650, the school would become financially sustainable. 

The current temporary buildings are ‘at the end of their useful life’ and replacing those is a key priority for the school. 

The plans will be considered by Teignbridge Council planners.