The world of education in the UK is a veritable miscellany of institutions representing a full and varied range of possibilities for the nations’ learners. Perhaps too often, though, the immense variety in education on offer in the UK is overlooked when we limit our discussion of schools to a relatively narrow representation of what education is. And while much is made politically of the notion of choice when it comes to schools for our children, there is far greater breadth out there, despite the fact that for some areas, the notion of choice is fragile at best.
Beyond the mainstream, what options are there for pupils and teachers? Here are just some of what is out there in the state maintained sector and in the alternative sector:
These schools are underpinned by the core values and principles of the cooperative movement, for example, democracy, equality, self-responsibility and solidarity. Parents, pupils and staff have a stake in how the school is run in and for the local community. Within state education, there are two main forms of cooperative school: Cooperative Trusts and Cooperative Academies. There are over 800 cooperative schools in the UK.
Based on the philosophical ideas of Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), Steiner schools place relevance on phases of child development and the need for education to allow a child to develop academically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Steiner schools are co-educational, comprehensive and inclusive of all abilities and faiths. The curriculum in Steiner schools is a set of pedagogical guidelines and core subjects are taught in thematic blocks. There are 35 Steiner schools in the UK and Ireland.
Human Scale Education is a movement focused on small scale learning communities which are based on the values of respect, justice and democracy. Relationships and humanity of scale are central to human scale schools. Human Scale Education also works with schools and parents to develop “human scale learning environments where children and young people are known and valued as individuals.”
The Montessori method of education is the world’s largest global education movement. Inspired by Dr Maria Montessori, it is a child-centred approach to education based on particular classroom practices and ideas; “a philosophy of freedom and self-development for children with a practical approach.” It is estimated that there are around 700 Montessori schools and nurseries in the UK.
These schools draw on the research of Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey as developed and applied by Loris Malaguzzi. The core notion is that the child has rights as well as needs and is a competent, powerful being, connected to adults and other children. Children’s interests are followed and parents are directly involved in the school so that the method is consistent across home and school.
One of a kind! – for example, Summerhill, Sands School, Brockwood Park
Some schools are one of a kind. While they may share certain values, they remain unique in their approach. These schools typically operate as democratic communities, giving children the time and space to develop at their own pace, with a strong emphasis on a holistic approach to learning.
At a time when schools can feel pressure to conform to a particular direction of travel, the breadth both within and outside the system is heartening to see and crucial to maintain. We will always need variety in the education on offer to the nation’s young if we are to meet the needs of all, and there is much that schools drawing on differing philosophical ideas can learn from one another. If convention does not feel like opportunity, perhaps we might need to widen our perspectives on education in order to find our kindred spirits.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.