Sudbury School lets pupils learn their own way

Sudbury School lets pupils learn their own way
Gayle Nagle, teacher at Sudbury School, Sligo

People are relocating from all around Europe to attend a school in Sligo where students have complete independence to decide their own education. The Sudbury School in Calry, Sligo, is preparing to open for its second year and its student numbers have grown from 15 to 32.

The ethos of the school is that students decide what to do with their time, which means they can spend the day climbing trees, reading, researching for a project or surfing their tablets — it’s purely their own choice.

The school places students and staff on equal footing in a direct democracy. The students, who range in age from 5 to 18 years old, can start any time between 8.30am and 10.30am and leave at any stage between 2.30pm and 4.30pm.

This year, families have moved into the area from England, Scotland, and Germany for the start of the school year.

“It’s been an amazing year for us,” says co-founder Gayle Nagle. “It’s a school where the children have their own voice, their own choice and their own opportunities to follow their own interests and learning pursuits.

“They learn themselves about their own strengths and weaknesses and about making their own decisions. They all learn at their own pace, in their own time and in their own way.”

Ms Nagle and Maura Duignan established the school to give an alternative to parents who do not want their child at a mainstream school.

“I have a background in education, and while we are not against the current system at all, we just feel that mainstream education is successful for some children but not for others,” says Ms Nagle.

Sometimes one size fits all just doesn’t work.

Julie Meehan, who moved from Slane, Co Meath, last year to enrol her children, is delighted at how their first year at the school went.

“It’s been quite a developmental journey for us all,” she says. “Clariana would have been going into second class so she had to go through a deschooling process as such while Amie would have been starting junior infants.

"They are learning to rely on themselves rather than look to an authority figure to elicit learning and I’ve noticed that when they have differences at home, they seem to be a lot faster to work things out themselves.”

Gayle said is a similar school in Wicklow there are plans for others in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Leitrim and East Clare.

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