A school in the Royal Town won Royal approval when the Duke of Kent visited to see its new sports facilities and find out about its specialist work with visually-impaired students.
Prince Edward, Duke of York, visited Plantsbrook School in Upper Holland Road to visit its remarkable Visually-Impaired Resource Base and its state-of-the-art new sports hall, after flying to Sutton Rugby Club via helicopter.
The Duke, who is the Queen’s cousin, waved at pupils who had gathered in the playground to watch his arrival.
He was accompanied by Fleur Sexton, a Deputy Lieutenant representing Her Majesty the Queen in the West Midlands. They were greeted by Plantsbrook headteacher Tracy Campbell, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Sutton Coldfield, Councillor David Allen and his wife Linda. Sutton Coldfield MP Andrew Mitchell joined the group shortly after.
The 84-year-old Duke was shown around the school’s VI Resource base – the only one of its kind in the city – which is equipped with iPads, BrailleNote Touch Plus machines and laptops for students’ use. The resource base, which can provide support for 20 students, is currently helping 16 youngsters from across the city.
The Duke was shown round by Helen Aston, a teaching assistant in the special unit, who introduced him to staff and pupils and showed him the equipment they use.
He met Imaan, who demonstrated one of the £5,000 BrailleNote machines, which enable visually-impaired students to type and submit work to teachers using email.
Crucially, the students who are supported by the unit’s work are fully integrated into the school’s wider student body, studying alongside pupils without vision problems.
All the doors throughout the school have braille on them, while the building has a broad and open lay-out which is suited to visually-impaired students to get to know.
As a keepsake, the Duke was handed a ‘thank you’ note – in both braille and writing – to remind him of his visit to the unit.
Next, the Duke was shown Plantsbrook’s new state-of-the-art gym which, as part of the new sports hall, was the final building to be completed following a multi-million pound rebuild. The gym boasts running, rowing, cycling and weight-lifting equipment as well as a CardioWall fitness panel.
The facilities are also used by the teaching staff before and after school. The main sports hall includes a large court area, where badminton and trampolining was taking place on the day of the Duke’s visit.
After the visit, headteacher Ms Campbell said: “It was lovely to have recognition for the hard work that’s going on here, particularly in our resource base.
“These young people are fully integrated into the life of the school, which is testament to all of our teachers. The students were pulled out of lessons to speak to the Duke, but they get the same education as everyone else.
“We also got to show His Royal Highness our sports facilities. The children were excited to see him. They did us and the school proud.”
Ms Campbell added the rebuilt school is ‘fit for purpose’ where the previous, ageing buildings were not.
“The old sports hall was the last bit of the old school to be knocked down, so these new sports facilities have really ‘upped’ out game,”
– headteacher tracy campbell
“You can’t even compare the two buildings,” she said, “It’s completely different.
“The old sports hall was the last bit of the old school to be knocked down, so these new sports facilities have really ‘upped’ out game.
“The new school is a lovely environment to work in,” she added.
Cllr Allen, Mayor of Sutton Coldfield, said: “The school is most impressive. I spoke to the children in the Visually Impaired Resource Base and they are really inspiring.
“They have overcome their disabilities and the use of technology is just awe inspiring.
“We were very honoured to have our first visit from a member of the Royal family since we set up the town council.”
Andrew Mitchell MP added: “It has been a great honour to welcome His Royal Highness to the Royal Town and to see this wonderful school completed rebuilt.”