New curriculum-free school

June 23rd, 2020 7:05 AM

By Jackie Keogh

The core group involved in introducing the West Cork Sudbury School are: Becky Firmage, Kathrin Bierwirth, Catherine Scroope, Jessica Mason and Tracy Wall.

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A school which focuses on play, the outdoors and different types of intelligence to help children flourish, is due to open in West Cork this September. Jackie Keogh hears what’s involved in the Sudbury School

A NEW school in West Cork aims to encourage children to direct their own education, an initiative that the Sudbury School believes will inspire life-long learning.

Jessica Mason, a founder, trustee and parent of two children who expect to attend the new West Cork Sudbury School when it opens in September in the Coomhola area of Bantry, said that the bedrock of the educational model is that ‘we are all innate learners.’

Part of the Sudbury model focuses on the benefits of play, being outdoors, as opposed to sitting at desks for long periods of time. It also encourages students to delve deeply into the subjects in which they are most interested.

Jessica outlined how this community-led initiative is gaining mainstream momentum following the lockdown of the past three months and the long-term restrictions, which are likely to continue due to the 2m distancing rule and other guidelines.

‘Many of us are questioning how we live,’ she said. ‘We have had to rethink how we work, travel, and how our children are educated.

‘Homeschooling has certainly thrown up questions about the rigidity of a national curriculum that was written 20 years ago,’ she added.

‘The Sudbury model embraces diversity, creativity and allows children to follow their own educational interests, but that does not mean they are left to their own devices.

‘The school will be founded on freedom, trust, respect and responsibility, and, at its core, is a school meeting. It is at the meeting that both the staff members and the children discuss the running of the school.’

A venue for the proposed Sudbury School has been identified. However, the group behind the initiative do not wish to disclose details of the location until all matters have been finalised.

If it goes ahead, the new school will be located in a spacious building that has ample outdoor space and mature grounds.

An estimated 15 to 20 children – ranging in ages from five to 18 – can be accommodated if the project commences, as scheduled, next September.

Jessica said their projection is to take additional admissions during the school year because its capacity – at max – could be as high as 30.

The value in having such a broad age range is that children can learn more from different peer groups. According to Jessica, ‘it mirrors the real world, or the working world, where we are asked to work alongside different age ranges and that is an education in and of itself.’

Jessica said the first Sudbury School was opened in America 50 years ago and these have now spread across the US, and into Europe, on the strength of their success.

‘By success,’ Jessica said, ‘the measure is of a child’s happiness, and the recognition of all types of intelligence – not just academic intelligence. There is emotional intelligence, social intelligence, ecological, and creative intelligence too.'

The first Sudbury School in Ireland opened in Wicklow in 2016. Over the last four years, the numbers of students there have doubled from 15 to 30.

In 2017, the Sligo Sudbury school opened and their numbers have doubled also.

There are five people working on making West Cork the third school of its kind. They first meet in November 2018, but the sense of urgency has grown since the lockdown.

Jessica said: ‘Parents want it because they want to offer their children a choice, a different form of education.’

The school has applied for charitable status and is waiting for that to come through. It will be answerable to Túsla in terms of child protection. But because it will not follow the national curriculum, it will not receive State aid.

‘That means we will have to be self-funded,’ said Jessica. ‘However, with charitable status we can fundraise, try to source grants and other funding, and we will have to ask parents to pay fees.’

Applications for admission are now being taken at [email protected] June 15th is the deadline for the receipt of applications.

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