AN EDUCATION chief has backed a schools partnership in Dorchester.

England’s Schools Commissioner Dr Elizabeth Sidwell visited the county town to meet representatives of the Dorchester Area Schools Partnership (DASP).

Following the meeting Dr Sidwell voiced her support for the partnership and vowed to help it raised standards for children in and around the town.

Dr Sidwell, who is responsible for raising standards, tackling under-performance and championing the growth of academies and free schools, met with DASP headteachers at the Thomas Hardye School.

After speaking to the headteachers from first, middle, preparatory and secondary schools she then visited Sunninghill Preparatory School and St Mary’s Middle School in Puddletown.

Headteacher of Sunninghill Andrew Roberts-Wray said Dr Sidwell had been ‘very excited’ about the DASP model.

He added: “It’s a fantastic leap forward for DASP to have Dr Sidwell’s support in this partnership.”

“With her help, we’ll be able to fast-track some changes towards better, broader education for all in this area.”

At the meeting in Dorchester, Dr Sidwell agreed that the Department for Education would help first schools that wanted to become academies to do so.

She also vowed to work with DASP schools to offer advice and support to failing schools or those with specific difficulties from outside the Dorchester area.

Finally, Dr Sidwell agreed to help further develop DASP as a model of state and independent partnership to see it become a community education partnership involving local businesses.

This will see DASP playing a role in raising standards for children from reception year right through to apprenticeships and employment.

The support from Dr Sidwell comes a month after DASP members was recognised as a pioneering model of national significance following a meeting with acting director general for infrastructure and funding at the Department for Education Andrew McCully.

That meeting was also attended by West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin and chief executive of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools David Hanson.

Members of DASP now want to see the partnership move forward by developing a ‘skills for life’ programme with local businesses.

It would aim to offer young people real workplace skills and in return they would be guaranteed a job interview in future with a local business.