Big Little or In Between

Here There and Everywhere

We’ve been talking about democracy and scale … size of the school and the building and the finances and the student population and the number of staff  and so on. Can a democratic free school environment work regardless of scale; how does scale change delivery? Are there, finally, issues that will arise to bring a particular sized project to a halt, or cause so many compromises that you will never reach a satisfactory ending ?

We don’t think every compromise is acceptable, but we do believe that in pursuit of a democratic free school experience for children that:

Tactics means doing what you can with what you have.”

Saul Alinsky

Be truthful about the situation including the personal. Your experience, your family and financial circumstances. Your nation’s culture cannot be ignored or your power/influence or lack of it within an existing school that wants to democratise or within a new start-up group.

Once you have a realistic view of yourself and the overall task you do what you can to offer the necessary gifts to students that will allow them to practise as much freedom and shared democratic control and input concerning their working life and living environment as you can manage.

The Elemental Gifts

Free Time

Free Choice of Action in that Free Time

Age Appropriate Habitats for that Free Choice of Action 

 Free Choice of Action in Community managed by Democratic Meetings


 NB: You are not attempting to offer these elemental gifts to the employees of the school. Management and job descriptions have nothing to do with the above list. It is used only to begin the creation of a democratic free school curriculum for students.

The following, though not comprehensive, will help plans become reality:

A reduced formal curriculum

An appropriately resourced informal curriculum

Easily accessible free-play areas

Spaces designed for child energies from preschool to teen

Policy that ensures adults stay in the background, giving children maximum independence

Excellent, well organised teachers and teaching areas

A realistic timetable

Lessons optional

Recognition that being literate and numerate is desirable for any child

Integrated and non-integrated activity and lessons

Quick-solution people problem techniques

A place for the school meeting


When the authority of the teacher ‘at the front of the class’ is removed and free time is given for free choice of action then the architecture and overall environment (including the democratic meeting and law book and traditions) becomes the ‘conducting factor’ that allows a school to function smoothly without the direction/ or constant direction of adult authority. This does not mean there is no adult authority. There is, and it is up to each school to decide how much and when and under what circumstances. But the goal is to share authority or give authority away to the students to the greatest extent possible considering … tactics … the individual ‘overall’ circumstances of each school or school project.

In other words it’s not going to be the same for 25 students and 1000. For primary students and secondary. For England and Pakistan.

But the Elemental Gifts can be strived for in all circumstances.

How many can you offer ?

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