Age Range in School Design and a Bit of Size

Note : This series is an excerpt from our Design a School Project.

Jason:  My Can of Worms

I was talking to some home educators a couple of years ago and opened the same old can of worms I have been bothering over for the past decade.  School starters like to make free schools for little kids.  I, on the other hand, am more concerned about the older ones.


Well, I guess it is partly due to the fact that I put up with school pretty well until I got to about ten years old and only really started to find it oppressive when I was a teenager.  There were many aspects of primary education that were better than being at home.  In the 70s primary classrooms in the UK were OK: lots of active learning, painting and drawing; a broader mix of male and female teachers than you get these days; not too much violence.

Secondary school was another deal.  It really felt that I was being fed into a meat grinder.  The sixteen and eighteen exams were the mincer.  If you got through those exams, it would all be gravy.  Of course, that was not the case and I have felt that I was sold a dodgy plate of mince ever since.

I do not want to take away kids freedom in exchange for a handful of papers that do not have the value they are built up to have.

So, if I look at a setting up a democratic school, I want one that makes a bridge between primary and secondary school.  It would be dumb to completely reject examinations but I don’t think you have to spend your whole childhood obsessing about them either.

I would favour a school that goes from 9-14, giving children lots of opportunity to do what they choose.  I’d give them some literacy and numeracy if they need it and then pretty much open the doors to their interests.  I think they will do just fine at exams without having their heads in a collective bucket for five years.

We can work down and up from this core, but there are problems.   Senior schools are expensive and secondary school teachers can be preposterous boors- recruitment will be a chore.  A democratic primary school is a great idea, but I wonder whether it is really necessary when kids aged 5-9 don’t really mind going to school anyway.

So, there you go, I want to start a school in the middle range and see where it goes then add a bottom and top when they are necessary.

Leonard : Starting With?

Our final design would have Elementary, Junior and Senior components. We will be presenting a complete Transitional Model. We want to address the next stage of Democratic Free School development. One that will start to seriously challenge the mainstream Monopoly. That will energise parents.

We want more people to realise that traditional schooling in ‘free, democratic states’ is not that much different in content or control than many oligarchies and dictatorships. That is very suspicious; it must change. Nations that cherish freedom of choice of action in community, democracy, people equality and human rights should want that to change. And should want children, with daily practice, to have a deeper understanding of the pillars of democratic life.

If a government doesn’t want that ? Get rid of it. Vote in another.

Not Talking Small 

We are not working on small, then. Which is the prevalent model left over from Neill, from the 70’s and very much the result of government policy. People think Democratic Free Schools are elitist. They are not; they are starved into that position on purpose.

But we don’t want huge. At present, I’m thinking of the neighbourhood state schools I know from my years developing Club House Democracy in a Canada. They were dotted about the city, a decent size, manageable and practical. The average size was about 350.

Whatever the final size and numbers we are going to say, here it is, the whole school, up and running with all the components in place. This is how it all slots together.

Let’s Talk Professional Children

But  where do we start planning? What age range ? Even if we plan a school from ages 6 to 17 where do we begin our thinking ?

If we ask the question most people answer, “ Well, at the beginning. With the little ones.” But they would be wrong; because if we go back to the vision, the age where those basics will be most enthusiastically understood, embraced, and implemented it will be at the Junior level. Ages 9/10 to 13 +.These are what we call the Professional, the Veteran children, at the top of their independent skills and abilities.

These are your super-free organisers, owners of space and action and doing. With basic skills in place from the elementary level, and with no need to worry about exams and graduation.

They can live easily on the slimmest of formal academic curriculums.

And they will inform the elementary levels by example and will graduate upwards with a deep understanding of Free Choice of Action in Democratic Community as they move through a more ‘serious’ senior level and then into the wider world.

In fact, it’s probably reasonable to  ‘go to’ high schools, to have a Democratic Free School of only the 9 to 13+ age range. In 1971, that’s what I did. And it was a success.

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