What is the school’s ethos?
We are proposing to set up a new self-directed democratic school based on the Sudbury Model. Self-directed means that children will have complete freedom over how they spend their time, what interests they pursue, what they learn and how they learn it. Democratic means that all students and staff together form the school community which is responsible for making all decisions regarding the organisation of the school and each member of the community has an equal vote regardless of age or any other factor.
Why a Sudbury school?
The original Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in Framingham, Massachusetts, was founded in 1968 and is still running and thriving today. SVS has catalogued the organisation and philosophy of their school through many books, handbooks and other media from which many other schools in the US and around the world have been founded. Rather than re-invent a new model from scratch we are proposing to also use the Sudbury model for our school, whilst also ensuring we meet our local regulatory requirements.
How does the school community organise itself?
All decisions about the running of the school are taken in the weekly school meeting. Decisions will be made here on matters like expenditure, staff recruitment, excursions and the schools rules or laws are written here. The meeting agenda is posted on the notice board and all are free but not obliged to attend. A chairperson is appointed to run the meeting and maintain order and this could be a staff member or student.
If kids are free to do what they like won’t it just be chaos?
With freedom comes responsibility. Whilst children are free to use their time at school how they wish they are not free to infringe upon the rights and peace of anyone else at the school. If you alone are responsible for your choices and actions then you alone are to be held accountable for those actions, any students breaking school rules and causing an infringement on others are held to account by the school’s Judicial Committee.
How does the Judicial Committee work?
If someone breaks a rule or is believed to have infringed on the rights of another or the school as a whole a complaint is made. (This is quite a simple form. Students not yet able to write can ask someone to scribe for them.) Anyone can have a complaint filed against them, staff are not exempt. The Judicial Committee or JC then meets daily and works through the complaints. The persons involved are called and details are checked, witnesses interviewed, all sides are heard. The person on trial is asked to make a plea – guilty, not guilty or no contest – and then their sentence if applicable is decided upon by a small jury. This may seem laborious but the whole school takes it seriously and it is an extremely effective way to sort out issues. All issues are dealt with fairly and transparently; it is very rare that a sentence is contested or appealed.
Does everything have to go through the JC?
Not at all. And in a school where issues are dealt with fairly and openly and students have practise at resolving issues in this way many problems are simply dealt with informally between students with no complaint necessary.
If they can do anything all day, does that mean my child will do nothing but ….
We trust students to make their own choices and to learn from those choices. Any interest or activity, provided it’s within the laws of the school, are considered worthy and equal. We do not have a hierarchy of subjects with academics at the top, craftsmanship and arts in the middle and play or hobbies at the bottom. We recognise that learning can come from any interest and often happens as a by-product rather than as the goal. So yes a child could spend the whole day playing outside, on a computer game, reading, chatting or just about any other activity you can think of. Many parents worry about their children becoming obsessed with just one thing and spending all their time on that. Traditional schools talk about having a balanced educational diet and this is a hard concept to let go of. A Sudbury school sees that in any pursuit there is more than just one thing being learnt, playing a video game may involve teamwork, problem solving, map reading, quick reflexes, memory skills, reading instructions, making mathematical calculations; these things are no less valid because of the context. In fact, because the child is using these skills to solve real problems they are more valid than a hypothetical scenario laid out in a text book.
However, that all being said, because of the nature of the school the student would not be doing one thing all day in isolation. There would be many other students around them following other interests and carrying out different projects which the child would be exposed to. So it is far less likely than if the child were following their interest at home, alone, that they will not also embrace other interests at some point.
How does the school cater for children with Special Educational Needs?
The school will have an open admissions policy, and anyone is welcome to apply. The model as implemented in other Sudbury schools works very well for a wide range of children with a wide range of needs. In fact, for many reasons the school will work better than a traditional setting for many with special needs. Children are free to learn how they wish for example, there is no bias towards learning through text. Children will not be expected to meet specific milestones at specific ages so no one will be considered ‘behind’. No one will be packed into a crowded class room so children that struggle with sensory overload will have space to be on their own when they need it. Many of the stresses put upon children with special needs to behave like their neuro-typical counterparts will not be there, instead they can thrive in their own way.
However, the requirement to attend the school is that you are capable and willing to take responsibility for your own actions. If a particular need/condition makes that an impossibility, then the school will not be a suitable environment for that child. In that instance we would be failing the child to suggest we could meet their needs. But every child wishing to apply will be considered and it will be through discussions between child, parents and school and through visiting days and a trial period that all concerned can assess whether indeed the school is the right place for that individual.
Where will the school be?
We intend the new school to be able to serve as much of East Kent as possible and are looking for a suitable location accessible to families from Thanet, Canterbury, Whistable, Folkestone, Deal and other surrounding areas. The final site for the school is yet to be decided.
Who will the staff be?
Initial members of staff will likely be comprised from members of the founding group. Over time we hope to be able to grow our staff base as the student base grows and to attract talented individuals with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds in order to present children with a wide range of talents, knowledge and experience.
How will the school be funded?
As we wish to be free to follow our ethos and not be subject to government involvement the school will be an independent school. Parents will be expected to make a contribution to the running costs of the school via a tuition fee, the amount due is yet to be decided but we are committed to keeping costs as low as possible to make the school a viable option for as many families as possible. It is also expected that a sliding-scale system or bursaries will be available for those that cannot afford the full fee amount.
What are the hours of the school and how does attendance work? Can my child attend part-time?
The exact hours are yet to be defined for our individual school. However, following the Sudbury model it is likely that we will ask students to commit to a certain number of hours per day, to attend. Within that there will be flexibility; our opening hours will be longer than the required daily minimum allowing students to arrive and leave at times that suit their rhythms. There would not be penalties for taking holidays mid-term or for pursuing interests off campus, rather this would still count as attendance as the child would still be learning. But regular hours are a necessity for the school to work as a community.
Other Sudbury schools have tried allowing part-time students and found that it was disruptive to the school’s community as they could have limited involvement in the organisation of the school they felt they had limited commitment to the community. The exception to this is very young children that could only separate from parents for short periods at a time, in these cases shorter daily hours work well until the child is ready to be at school for longer.
How does the school prepare students for their lives after school?
Many studies have followed the lives of Sudbury graduates to see how the experience prepared them for their later careers and life as an adult and found that whether they had taken formal exams or not they “had no particular difficulties getting into colleges and universities” and that many “others have become successful in careers without going to college”. More importantly perhaps,” former students report that they are happy with their lives. They are almost unanimous in reporting that they are glad that they attended Sudbury Valley and in believing that the school prepared them better than a traditional school would have for the realities of adult existence.”1 Students of a Sudbury school have practise in making real decisions about their lives, they are responsible for their choices and as such are well prepared for the independence of adult life. Having the time to follow their interests they often have a clearer idea of what they would like to pursue as a career compared to a student that has been given little choices of their learning. The school’s democracy prepares students for life as citizens within a democratic country, children will leave with an understanding of and respect for the processes of government and justice.