Self Directed Learners
We believe that play is key to children’s development.
We support children to learn in their own time, way and pace.
We help children grow in a democratic environment to become engaged, responsible citizens.
Ted is a former classroom teacher from the US who currently works in childcare and volunteers as a basketball coach. He also teaches online courses to children all across the world, and values the diversity of his experiences working closely with children of all ages and backgrounds. He is excited to bring student-led education to Cork.
Michelle is a mother of two, maker, artist, and life long learner. Passionate about social change in Ireland, she has been involved through work or volunteering with Wallaroo Playschool, Coder Dojo, Avaaz, Cork Educate Together Secondary School, The Living Commons, International Community Dynamics, Recruit Refugees Ireland, and Cork Life Center. She is also a member of the Irish Judo Association.
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It is a place of self-directed learning. Its core principles were outlined by Professor Peter Gray:
- Education is the child’s responsibility
- Unlimited opportunity to play and to develop passions
- Unlimited opportunity to play with the tools of the culture
- Access to a variety of caring adults that are helpers, not judges
- Free mixing among children of different ages
- Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic, community
In practical, operational terms, we take it to mean:
- A school that is governed as a direct democracy. School rules are decided collectively through deliberation and vote. Every member of the school – whether a student or a staff member – has equal voice and equal vote in those decisions. The enforcement of those rules is subject to the same democratic process. The only limit to that democratic governance process is the Irish law, which must be observed at all times.
- A school where children have freedom to spend their time as they see fit, within the limits of the law and the rules of conduct agreed by the whole school community. There are no compulsory curricula, no compulsory learning or recreational activities, and no compulsory assessment. All types of pursuits and activities are valued equally.
- A school that accepts students within a minimum age range of 6-18 years, who are allowed to mix freely.
- A school where staff members support the students in their pursuits, uphold the school ethos, ensuring that the school fulfils its mission and meets its legal obligations.
- A school which is inclusive, lowering barriers to participation as much as possible without compromising its ethos.
When they first established some 40 years ago, Educate Together schools were a huge step towards more inclusive and child-centred education. They continue to provide valuable service to many children. The same can be said about other alternative schools, such as Montessori or Steiner. It is great to see them all grow across Ireland.
Our alternative is much more radical. While Educate Together describes itself as ‘learner centred’, we would describe our school as ‘learner led’, as we trust children to take responsibility for their own education and see our role as facilitators not teachers. We do not follow the National Curriculum, and don’t offer any formal lessons, unless requested by the students. Unlike Montessori schools, we are not committed to a particular pedagogy – method of teaching. We do not follow a particular philosophy or worldview either – unlike Steiner schools. Which is not say we are value-free (see below).
In legal terms, we operate as a company limited by guarantee (company number 680834) and are in the process of applying for charity status. Thus, the ultimate responsibility for overseeing the school will rest with the directors of our company and trustees of our charity. However, most of the responsibility for day-to-day running of the school will be devolved to the school itself – staff and students acting together.
The school will operate as a mini-democracy, with its own legislature, executive and judiciary. The legislature is the General Meeting, where each school member – staff or student – can participate with an equal vote. The General Meeting will assemble weekly (or more often, if need be), lay down school laws and decide on operational matters (cleaning rota, timetable of activities, etc.). The executive is the set of committees, established and dissolved as needed. The judiciary is the Judicial Committee – the school court, to which all disciplinary matters are directed. The Judicial Committee is supported by Reconciliation Officers – conflict mediators.
The operational rules of the school are described fully in the School Bylaws document.
So called Sudbury schools are modelled closely on the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. It was established over 50 years ago and became hugely influential – scores of democratic schools across the world adopted it as a model.
Sudbury Valley School is our main source of inspiration, too. Most of our governance ideas (General Meeting, Judicial Committee) are Sudbury ideas – and so is the notion of dispensing with any formal lessons altogether, unless requested by the children. We encourage everyone who is interested in democratic education to explore the Sudbury Valley School website, or watch documentaries on the Sudbury Valley Youtube channel for they are a great source of information and inspiration about democratic schooling.
However, there are certain aspects of Sudbury Valley governance (such as students hiring and firing staff) that may be difficult to implement in the Irish context – at least initially. Also, we want to retain flexibility in developing our school model the way we see fit. For this reason, we chose to call ourselves Cork DEMOCRATIC school, rather than Cork Sudbury School.
We don’t have one, for we operate as a collective. For operational reasons, we may appoint a coordinator or a spokesperson who will act as public face of the school when that is convenient. That role will be rotated regularly. In terms of the legal structure, the company has a board of directors who can make decisions on legal requirements but who consults the General Meeting beforehand where possible.
Since we operate as an independent school that does not follow the National Curriculum we are not entitled to government grants and so must charge fees. We are in the process of finalizing our fee model. It is a difficult decision – we are a charity, so we are not in it for profit, but we must ensure that the school remains viable for years to come – and we want to pay decent wages to the people we employ. Some important parameters remain unknown – such as the amount of rent we will have to pay.
We expect to be open from 8.30am until 5pm, Monday to Friday – much longer than typical schools. However, our core hours (when all students are expected to be at the school, and when all organized activities are scheduled) won’t happen early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It will be down to the General Meeting to decide what those core hours are.
We are not in the business of allowing or disallowing anything – besides what is prescribed by law. It is down to the School as a whole – staff and students – to sit down and work out the rules. The weekly whole school General Meeting will be the forum for this. Perhaps the GM will decide to restrict time students can spend on the screen, perhaps it won’t. And that policy may change as the school develops and matures. All evidence suggests that if children are allowed to create their own rules of conduct, they are far more likely to follow them.
We believe in children – we don’t idolise them, but we trust them to educate themselves, given the right circumstances. We treat them as equal players, not lesser humans. Thus, we are on the opposite end of the spectrum from fear-based education and fear-based parenting.
We believe in freedom (but not license)
We believe in democracy – especially in direct democracy, where every stakeholder has a meaningful input in making all decisions that affect them.
We want to be as inclusive as it is possible without compromising our model, and we cherish diversity.
We believe in evidence – and so value science.
We believe in secular education: a space where children (and staff members, for that matter) are free to cultivate and share their spiritual, religious or philosophical convictions, but where such convictions are not imposed on anyone.
learn more about our democratic school
We know that you might have a lot of questions about our school and democratic education in general and it is very important that you feel comfortable and confident that Cork Democratic School is the right model for your child.
If you have additional questions that are not answered in this FAQ section, please contact us!
Read about psychological rationale, history and principles, the Sudbury Valley model. Find links to films, ted talks and online lectures on the topic.
What is a democratic school?
More information about what a democratic school is here:
democratic school reality check
Find out whether democratic education is the right way for you:
Become part of a community
A Democratic School is more than just that: it is a community of people who believe in children and who want them to thrive and develop without coercion.
In this section we present news from our community of parents, students, staff members, and the founding team.
If you want to help us proudly present our community online and contribute with photos, videos, drawings, stories, etc., send us an email!
participate in our democratic school
If you want to stay up to date with Cork Democratic School, have a look at our events and important dates.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Our monthly open meeting to ask any questions you might have and get to know the founders of the project.
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89327862452 – Meeting ID: 893 2786 2452
You can find more info on our Facebook page or send us an email.
We’re looking forward to meeting you!
Open Event at the lough, cork city, June 2021
pictures of past events held by cork democratic school
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