The young people learn how to participate in a community, and how to work with others towards shared goals. It is an intensely social age, and through discussion and conversation they discover their own views, hear other perspectives, and learn through daily experience how to work with others to solve the problems of daily living within a community.
At their weekly meetings the young people discuss the events taking place in their own and the wider community, bring both opportunities and difficulties before the group, celebrate each other’s achievements and hold each other accountable. They learn through experience the benefits and limitations of the democratic process.
The kinds of things the young people are responsible for includes:
- Looking after the woodland, and the animals on it (both wild and domesticated)
- Maintaining the buildings (from cleaning toilets to repairing windows etc.)
- Coming up with business ideas, making money and managing budgets
- Resolving issues to do with community life
Naturally all of this is under the guidance of adults, but the key message is that the Young People’s Community is THEIRS. Visitors often remark how much of a sense of ownership the young people show – that they genuinely see this as being their community, and understand that it is they who are responsible for its success, and their happiness.
A description of the practical functioning of the community follows.
The 5-day week is divided up to create as many large blocks of uninterrupted and unscheduled time as possible. The specific nature of the work that takes place in any of these blocks is decided through conversations with the students both individually and as a group.
The daytime blocks have run from 9am to 12pm, and 1pm to 4pm. We are trying a one year experiment (2017/18) of a two-hour lunch break so there is more time for conversation at the lunch table, and more time for games. The revised schedule for 2017/18 would be 9am to 12pm, and 2pm to 5pm.
The young people have 30-50 hours of work time each week. The use of this time is flexible and bespoke and tailored to the needs of the individual young person. As a result each young person has a different rhythm and schedule.
They maintain a daily time sheet, recording what they have been working on that day. This time sheet is a focus of the weekly one-to-one meeting with their guide.
The Lead Guide meets each young person once a week, or once a fortnight. In these meetings, the Guide reviews with the young person the work completed in the previous week or two, and together they set goals for the week ahead.
These goals include responsibilities for the young person, and responsibilities for the adult. For instance, responsibilities for the young person may include finishing a piece of research, doing a few more Maths problems, writing another essay, or planting a row of spinach. Responsibilities for the adults are usually about new lessons that will be given in the week.
Goals are agreed and documented by both the Guide and the young person. During the course of the week the young person can refer to these agreed goals as they plan their use of time, knowing they will be held accountable for their use of time at the end of the week.
One-to-one meetings offer a key opportunity for pastoral support.
The work they do
Students show their work and learning in a variety of ways. Chief amongst these, in adolescence is their transformed environment. Their work results in edible flowers growing in the beds, bees thriving in the beehives, paintings decorating the walls, money in the cashbox, essays published on the website, music published on SoundCloud, and shelves holding up materials.
A study of Russia resulted in a re-adaptation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a political parody titled The Very Hungry Stalin. A game featuring Donald Trump was designed in the programming language Scratch.
They produce written work, filed in folders, organised by half term. This work is primarily in Maths and English. They also have an art portfolio.
The Guides give lessons to individuals and small groups through the week. Peripatetic staff come in at scheduled times to offer lessons. On Mondays our arts specialist comes in, on Tuesdays our environmental science specialist, on Thursdays our music specialist and woodworker, and Fridays our ecologist. Contact time with these specialists varies from week to week and student to student.
Lessons are also given by visiting specialists. A list of visits over the past year is available.
The emphasis is on the students’ own work rather than the teacher’s activity, and in this our approach more closely resembles the way Universities (the stage coming up) function than the way primary schools (the stage just passed) do.
Progress towards GCSE and A-Levels
The bespoke approach to education places an emphasis on tracking curriculum and concept coverage at an individual level. We do this through a Record of Work, which is a document of concept coverage maintained for each individual child. This year (2017/18) we are trialling a new system used by over 500 Montessori schools around the world, called Transparent Classroom.
The Lead Guide meets regularly with external subject specialists in English and Maths to ensure the young people in KS3 are making significant and sustained progress in these areas.
From 2019/20, students will sit English and Mathematics GCSEs and, optionally, Combined Science. To ensure students develop a love for learning and also excel in their examinations, we are recruiting for 3 positions for September 2018: a Reader in the Natural Sciences, a Reader in the Physical Sciences, and a Reader in the Humanities.
Checks and balances
We have three systems of checks and balances to ensure the young people are making significant and sustained progress:
- Bi-annual visits from Montessori teacher trainers, who review the young people’s work and discuss what is working well and what can be improved.
- Termly review of the young people’s work with the Head of School who picks 3 young people at random and inspects their work for significant and sustained progress.
- 6-weekly meetings with external subject specialists in the core GCSE subjects, where each individual young person’s work is reviewed and future direction for each is discussed.
The Lead Guide meets termly with parents, to whom we are ultimately accountable.