Circle Balance / Multiple Entry Points

School managers need to be sensitive to the balance between the three circles: Free Play/Activity,Informal/Project, Reduced Formal Curriculum

If children do not go to teacher lessons:

  • Teachers may drift into activities that interfere with children’s freedom. With no students they may try to manipulate children to attend their classes.
  • A Summerhill-style school needs good teachers not activity leaders, as well as people who can find other things to do than always teach. Even remarks like, ‘I’ve really missed you, where have you been?’ must be avoided.
  • Leonard enjoyed a coffee and reading a book. Some days he drank a lot of coffee and read a whole lot.
  • Adults who require the ‘high’ of teaching and student/teacher interaction; who want, as the adverts horribly say say,’ to make every lesson a life changing experience’ may find life difficult in a free school.
  • The teacher is not special, and does not have to try and be special, just a quality teacher when required. 

When classes are too appealing:

  • If teacher edutainment is relentlessly on offer, freely-chosen activities and the informal curriculum will decrease.
  • Summerhill School is not working well when there is too little time spent in Free Play/Activity, Informal/Projects.
  • It is not a success to have full class attendance.
  • Children have better things to do, even just swinging or lying on the grass staring at the sky.
  • A well-functioning free school has a healthy daily distribution of children throughout the three circles of activity. 

When the Informal, Activity curriculum shrivels:

  • It will be harder for many children to move into formal classroom learning and vice versa.
  • Much of the knowledge, learning skills and content of the English National Curriculum can be covered through activity/project-work in the informal curriculum with or without adults.
  • Reluctant learners often gain confidence in doing and in the wider skills of learning by regularly accessing the Informal Project environments. This transfers to more formal learning later on.
  • Age-appropriate informal learning environments are especially important at the Veteran Child ages of 10 to 13. 

Summerhill is a boarding school on 11 acres of land, fields and woods.

This gives greater opportunity for Free Play/ Activity than is available in most one-building day schools with limited outside spaces.

It is a significant problem for democratic free day schools to decide how they can balance the formal teaching of a curriculum with Free Play/Activity, Informal/Project Curriculums when the time available is shorter and spaces are at a premium.

It will be harder to balance The Three Circles and create proper areas and energy spaces for the school population. Indeed, we have consulted with small schools that have only a single large room for the students. 

Not A Franchising Formula 

We are using the Three Circles to describe something that is fluid in practice so that school leaders and teachers have a way of understanding what happens. It is an observation of the underlying mechanics of a variety of democratic free school and progressive school environments. We thought, “These schools work. There is a free flow of different Curriculums here, but we need a way to describe it.” The idea is to help people who are starting out to begin to get the balance right. However, we are not trying to create a model or a franchise formula and we would advise school starters to trust their own observations and judgements whenever in doubt. 

Multiple Entry Points 

  • Teachers need to be flexible enough to accept students at the level they find them. 
  • Students at a democratic free school have free choice of action and will not always choose the Formal Reduced Curriculum option.
  • Those who arrive at 11 may revert to a lot of Deep Play and Informal Curriculum while they recover from years of compulsory schooling.
  • Students who arrive at six might Deep Play most of every day for several years.
  • When children do decide to choose the Formal Reduced Curriculum after time away, at whatever age or from whatever previous learning background, a Democratic Free School must be ready to engage with them.
  • This means that it is normal for teachers to have to deal with multiple entry and re-entry points.

Assessments For Multiple Entry

  • The teacher must informally assess each student, emotionally and academically, for the particular subject, and put them onto a comfortable learning track.
  • A quality multiple entry point policy should be a basic requirement of every democratic school and part of the job description of every teacher.
  • It is a natural component of Democratic Free School Education, it is part of a child’s freely chosen developmental narrative. It is not a Special Educational Needs situation. 

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