Since March 2017 Kezia Cantwell-Wright has been working to found a new self-directed democratic school in East Kent. 

 

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By Kezia Cantwell-Wright

 

Since March 2017 I have been working to found East Kent Sudbury School, a new self-directed democratic school in East Kent where I live with my partner and two daughters. It has taken me on a fascinating, rewarding and exhausting journey and I know we are still really only at the beginning. I’ve met some incredible people and challenged my ideas on so many subjects like: Do children need guidance? What does equality really mean? How much authority can the school meeting have?

 

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The need for more educational choices is clear. I receive messages all the time from families dissatisfied and disillusioned with current options and eager for news of when our school will be ready to open. As a result, our project gained a momentum faster than any of the founders expected. We now have over 360 members on our facebook group with still more joining all the time. It’s taken us time to catch up with the demand, planning a new school is no small feat and sometimes it feels like chipping away at an iceberg. The more you uncover the more you realise there is to it. But piece by piece things are falling into place. We have a clear vision: to establish the UK’s first Sudbury model school, based on the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. Where learning will be entirely self-directed with no timetable of classes unrequested by students. We have a diverse and skilled founding group and passionate future staff members. A strategy for opening is rapidly taking shape and although we have had many disappointments in our search for the right location, each one brings us closer to understanding what we are looking for.

 

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As I’ve researched democratic schooling these past months (and I’ve read almost nothing else such has been my single minded determination!), I’ve been reminded of important themes from previous phases of my life. It made me realise that the seed of the idea was with me all along. It would be easy to trace it to my time spent at Summerhill School in the late 80s. The lessons I took with me from that experience certainly changed the way I viewed myself, learning and responsibility. The overarching ideas that left an imprint on me were that you cannot make someone learn something, they have to want to learn it first, and that we are all ultimately responsible for our own actions and have a duty to take care of the communities in which we live. Once I returned to mainstream school, people always commented that I was so mature for my age. I think what they meant was that I was very self aware, articulate, confident and conscientious.

 

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Later on at university, my art work and thesis explored the idea of how to create a balance between the needs of the individual and that of the whole or community. Though I didn’t link it to the debates at the school meeting at the time, I’m sure that was there somewhere. But I think perhaps it goes even further back than Summerhill. My mother gave me a lot of freedom as a child, even for the time but now, the way she brought me up would be inconceivable. Our house in Suffolk backed onto heathland and I would disappear for hours, making dens in the gorse bushes and playing with neighbours. I remember very little from my time at the local primary school there. Instead I remember the stories I made up, the role play games. I was always full of ideas and new projects and you couldn’t stop me drawing. So I self-directed my education back then, despite going to school.

 

So now it seems almost inevitable that I started this journey to found a democratic school. I cannot imagine any other education for my children, who like me are so full of imagination and ideas for projects and games. East Kent Sudbury School will give them and many others the freedom to learn whatever they choose, following their interests and passions, whilst balancing that with the responsibility of being members of a democratic community.

 

You can find out more about Kezia’s project at: www.eastkentsudburyschool.org.uk