Podcast Notes:


Out of Balance Curriculum Circles

What can go wrong with the Curriculum Circles:

The reduced formal curriculum; the informal/project curriculum; free play and activities

What happens if children do not go to lessons? 

If kids don’t go to lessons the main problem might be teacher behaviour.  Jason doesn’t care if kids don’t go to lessons.  What is important is that teachers should be able to deal with not having kids in their lessons.  New teachers might take it personally, thinking that it reflects on them.

We don’t want the teacher to feel lonely and go off into the other circles to “hunt down” kids.  It is OK for them to play with kids and do activities with them occasionally, but they should not have designs on those areas.  We are not going to take our curriculum and remodel it as an activity-based curriculum as though that were better.

Leonard once thought it would be great to do some architecture.  He got some books and materials and went and sat in the activity room.  He built a little house and the children didn’t pay any attention to him. He was fine with that. A couple of years later he made a Neolithic hut and there was a bunch of kids that took it up and made a whole display. This is quite different to having an activity with learning objectives.

The classic neurotic teacher could make their lessons artificially appealing or have an emotional hook to pull kids in.  They might say, “I really miss you” or some such bullshit.  Edutainment- muppet learning- with the teacher as showman, making learning fun is demeaning to teaching.  In science you can have flashy stuff to draw people in but is it science?

  • We don’t have a particular pedagogy for our reduced formal curriculum
  • In the activity/informal curriculum the teacher is responsible for ordering resources but it is not a separate curriculum running parallel to the formal curriculum.

The informal curriculum is observable.  

It goes on close to the Clubhouse so you can scan and see what’s happening.  You can see the evolution of projects, the problems and the solutions and you might even walk over and help people through the problems of doing stuff. 


Free Play

Free Play/Activity Curriculum is not watched, measured or evaluated in any way.

We probably didn’t put enough emphasis on Free Play.  To us it seems obvious, but perhaps our readers do not see it so much.  We think that play activity is fine just the way it is and there is no need to control it.  


In a boarding school some things are easier. Summerhill has the privilege of 11 acres, students have their own shared rooms and there are many separate buildings and places to go.   Day school design is a lot harder. It is usually in a single building and it can be much trickier to create enough spaces for kids to be energetic, noisy and free as well as quiet, calm and formally working or working on projects.  There have to be outlets for the different energies … and flowing interests … of children. 

In a Democratic Free School the Habitat itself is a Curriculum as well as a Creator of a Variety of Authority Choices.

  • If you are not careful you might take on an environment that is not possible to redesign.  We looked at one potential school that was one big echoing hall: not possible.
  • You Must Know what you need, what you are looking for, what will enable a viable 3 Circle balanced Curriculum habitat for a Democratic Free School

There Circles Concept Not A Franchise Idea

We are not selling the Three Circles as a franchise and it is important that kids are not even aware of the circles.  The balance of the circles may vary in schools of different characters.  The model is simply a way of monitoring what is going on in your school.  

Multiple Entry Points

Kids will come to free schools and stay away from lessons for a while.  Teachers will have to be happy about this and then flexible enough to accept the students at the level they have when they come back.  This is a significant challenge for teachers and students.  We call this multiple entry points.

This affects the way you design your reduced formal curriculum.  You can’t have the fluid spiral curriculum designer’s dream.You have to accept that kids who do not have serious emotional/developmental issues will comfortably find find their own personal developmental narrative.  The conventional wisdom is that you need a teacher to design a scheme of work and that if children miss out on it that is a disaster.  You have to trust that kids can miss out on huge chunks of learning and get it back or skip over it with no serious consequences.

Multiple Entry Points Is Not SEN

When kids come back into the curriculum it is not a special educational needs situation.  SEN is a big subject and we shall come back to it.  Free schools work for all kids- as well if not better than kids in other schools.

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