Whatever your project: one room, a large or small house, an old or new state school building, a purpose built site big or small, a day or boarding school Summerhill Democratics can assist you with Design and Curriculum; both the big and the small issues.
We will deal with growth predictions over time and their impact on students, staff, curriculum, community, basic building architecture and service and maintenance logistics to give you a clear picture of what your vision means in very practical terms.
Summerhill Democratics take first principles from the philosophy of A.S. Neill, having over 20 years of experience working at the school as teachers of senior Art, senior English, primary Maths and English, the development of a new Class 2 ( ages 10 TO 13) as well as the Class 1 area ( ages 5+to 9 +), as senior level and primary Curriculum Advisors and as Educational Managers.
Using this experience, and also practicing the essentials in a small day school, a home learning centre and in a state school with enrolments large and small, we have created our own Summerhill Democratics tools that we use to assist our clients in creating, adjusting, and reforming Democratic Free School Education spaces in schools around the world.
Our Working Principles
When you engage Summerhill Democratics to help you with your school, a lot or a little, we will proceed guided by the following principles. We will advise you if your project cannot sustain all of these basics and help you find a sustainable compromise:
- Free Choice of Action in Democratic Community.
- A surveillance-free environment, with minimum adult involvement or presence except for health and safety and a wise eye on healthy group dynamics and the flows of child energies.
- Schools are always artificial constructs; a variety of age appropriate as well as multi-age appropriate living/ learning/ energy spaces are required.
- Multi-aged Club-House based Classroom AREAS to intimately mix formal and informal learning, and to foster ‘learning level’ democratic meetings for law making, group idea/ project development and small scale humanistic community building, discussion and problem solving. This small group practice enables an understanding of larger meetings and how to better access them via participatory democracy skills.
- The child’s right so construct a personal developmental narrative within the Free Choice of Action in Democratic Community construct with minimum adult guidance.
- Authority sharing with adults : Within the free choice of the school there is a safety net re person and learning that is overseen by adults. Academically, this is regarding Literacy, Numeracy and Science. There are Special Attention lists to focus on students of concern where appropriate.
- All formal learning uses a Reduced Curriculum to offer children as much personal time as possible.
- We start with all lessons optional, but think literacy and numeracy are critical for any child to be able to access the opportunities of a democratic free school in an optimum way. Certainly, barring learning difficulties, a child entering at Class 1 level ( 6 to 9+) should be’ on their way’ and certainly literate and numerate as they approach the Class 2 level (10 to 13). Intelligent exceptions are always allowed.
- Family Style Assessment: No formal tests or exams at the Pre-Primary, Primary levels. Daily ‘normal adult observation’ and daily ‘general teacher lesson notes’ should suffice.
- The Model of the Three Circles: Free Play, Informal Learning, Formal Learning where Informal is a mix of teacher and student driven projects and Formal is teacher organised and offered. The teacher driven projects do not have an ‘over-arching’ pedagogy. Content should vary by teacher interest as well interests students have expressed : castles, architecture, creating board games, a famous battle, fashion, magic, card games, geography, paper-mache, make-up, cardboard houses etc.
- A teacher’s classroom or learning space ( a constant area or time defined area) is her own to organise and control, as is, within reason, her curriculum.
- The major divisions across the school are: Pre School ( to age 6), The Junior Levels: Class 1 ( age 6 to 9) Class 2 (10 to 12 +), The Senior Levels ( Formal learning pointing to Exams): Class 3 ( 13/14) Class 4 (15/16)
- With regards to the Three Circles the importance from left to right is:
Pre School: a) Free play b) Informal c) Reduced Formal
Junior: a) Informal b) Free Play c) Formal
Senior: a) Formal b) Informal c) Social Hang-out, Play
- The Junior Level is the engine of the Free Choice of Action in Democratic Community world, becoming professional children, free of adults, running most of their own affairs, deep in Project Learning and more sophisticated play, unhindered by the concerns of senior curriculums leading to exams and school graduation. But grounded in good literacy and numeracy and general learning skills that will allow them to transition to the Senior Level.
- Class 1 has an additional function, and that is to transition from the Pre School Adult-Cosy stage to an ‘Adult Hands-Off’ professional child environment.
- The Senior Level begins to focus on formal curriculum in Class 3 and leads to Class 4 and exam level curriculums as well as the considerations of school leaving choices and future career interests. As teens, social ‘hanging out’ is as important as deep play is to pre-school children.
A Democratic Free School must be designed with a balance of formal, informal and play spaces and the timetable must allow for planned choice of movement and a planned scope of choices during each day. The more students involved the more complex this becomes.
Numbers: We have written about numbers and community, and reduced curriculums elsewhere. But anyone developing a Democratic Free School Environment must be aware that the successful models are small, most under 100 students, with a maximum of just over 200. Beyond that great care must be taken with slow moves forward followed by careful systems analysis.