Why democratic?

 A democratic governance allows all those involved in the school to be invested in it’s success. A democratic school environment protects the rights of all individuals in the school, empowers those involved and fosters a sense of purpose and responsibility. The Sudbury environment allows children to cultivate leadership, problem-solving, and goal setting.

What ages can attend? 

Children from 5 to 18 will attend the school. There are no grade/class levels. Older and younger children mix in any way that they desire, often around shared interests. Older children typically learn compassion and patience from working with younger children. Younger children typically model their approach to learning and problem solving based on their interactions with older peers.

Are there fees?

Yes. The School of Empowering Education is a not-for-profit organisation (we are in the process of applying for charitable status) which receives no State money. For this reason we are actively looking for donations and will need to charge fees for the running and upkeep of the school.

Fees for September 2022 TBC but are anticipated to be between €3500-4000 per child.

To make our school as accessible as possible we will have a bursary system based on Gross Household Income (GHI).

What do children do all day? 

Throughout the day, there might be children reading, building, painting, gardening, eating lunch, attending a workshop or playing inside or outside. Groups of students can organise their own activities such as games, shows, making videos, baking together etc. Each day will be rich with opportunity that is only limited by the students’ imagination and interests.

While there really will be no typical day at The School of Empowering Education, a structure exists within which students can make choices about how they spend their time. Students will know in advance of each day what workshops/classes are on offer. Some they will need to sign up for in advance, others not. Students can also choose to spend their time in any of the various learning spaces available (art room, workshop, music room etc) assuming the space is not already occupied by a workshop. 


How will my child know what he or she likes if they are not exposed to it (with classes, etc.)?

The School of Empowering Education will offer a wide range of workshops and classes on a broad range of subjects. Workshops and classes will be run on the basis of requests from students or on the basis of knowledge/training/interest of staff/volunteers thereby ensuring a rich learning environment where every student has the opportunity to be exposed to many ideas, subject matters and learning styles. 

In addition to the workshops and classes the students will also have access to many books, tools, instruments and resources – all of which expose them to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Students will also see their peers learning and engaged with things they might not know about. 

Amongst the many resources available at the school we will also have computers and (age appropriate) access to a whole digital world of information. In many ways because students are free to explore all day long, they are exposed to a wide variety of topics, more than they would typically get in an environment where only one person is delivering the curriculum. Students in the democratic learning environment don’t look at learning as a set of fixed subjects to be mastered. Instead they follow their curiosity and interest, which incorporates internal motivation to drive them to find out more about their topic of interest.

How will my child learn if there is no curriculum, and no one tells them what to do or learn?

Self-directed learning environments such as the School of Empowering Education foster a child’s internal motivation, which is a more powerful driver to learning than employing external rewards and punishments, typical of our society’s educational systems. We believe that all children are born with a strong desire to learn what they need in order to become an effective adult in the society to which they live. In fact, our species would not have survived for very long without this inner drive. 

According to Peter Gray, developmental psychologist and author of ‘Free to Learn’ 

“Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. They are little learning machines…Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of school is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.”

Children are learning all of the time. This natural, driven, curiosity can continue into school age if it is allowed to thrive. The School of Empowering Education fosters that natural curiosity by allowing students to follow their interests and see where their questions take them. 

Why don’t you have teachers? What is the role of staff?

We believe that everyone and everything is a potential teacher. The staff and volunteers working within The School of Empowering Education all bring years of learning, knowledge and experience to the school community. Some of us are generalists, some of us are specialists. This range of educational backgrounds and learning styles enriches the school environment. 

The role of staff is to facilitate learning through a combination of non-interference, answering questions, asking questions and creating organised learning environments. In addition to this role, staff members are also ultimately responsible for the administration and functioning of the school. On a day-to-day basis, staff members focus on creating safe and respectful self-directed learning spaces in which children can have freedom and responsibility. 

Is it legal?

Yes. There are already many established self-directed learning centres with Ireland. For a fuller explanation our Legal section in the link below.

What if my child just wants to play all day?

“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein

Play is exactly what your child should be doing! There is a reason that nature has endowed children with an intense need to play in their earliest years of development, at a time when they are learning the most and the fastest than at any other point in later life. Not only do children make meaning and construct models of the world through play, they also practice their physical, intellectual, social, and emotional skills.

Students at democratic schools spend a lot of time playing. A common misconception is that play is mindless activity. It is not. Curiosity and play propel each other, they both involve exploration of the unknown.  The means by which people advance is through investigation and manipulation of that which is not yet known. Play is key to children’s learning and understanding of their world.

What if my child doesn’t want to do anything all day?

Depending on how many years your child has been in a traditional school setting, they may go through a period of de-schooling when they first arrive at our school. This may include long periods of what might appear to doing nothing at all. We, however, see this as a valuable and necessary transition time in which the student gets back in touch with him or herself.  Your child may also be testing the adults around him or her to see if they are serious about not interfering with their choices. All of this is completely normal and parents have to be prepared to accept this as part of the process before enrolling their child.

What if my child spends all day on the computer?

With all of the negative media attention surrounding screen time, it is not surprising that many parents are concerned about this. But as educator John Holt points out, computers are the tools of their culture, so it makes sense that they want to spend time using them. Furthermore, computers and gaming are often very social activities in school communities in which students engage with each other, learn from each other, and constantly problem-solve together. However there will be limitations on the time they spend on computers given the limited numbers of computers available in the school. A system, to be developed and agreed by students and staff, will be in place to ensure that all of those who want access to computers can do so in a way that is fair to all. 

So how do the children learn to read and write?

We all know that babies learn to walk without being taught to do so through “walking lessons”, and people tend to learn a new language quickest through simply living where the language is primarily spoken rather than being forced to take lessons about the language. Just the same, students at The School of Empowering Education will not be forced or coerced into attaining any skills or information, so they can learn things as they become necessary, fun, or interesting in one way or another.

When a child is ready and willing, the basics like reading, writing, and maths are quite easily learned. Traditional schooling forces children to learn these at the same age and at the same rate, often before a child is ready or interested. Thus, the process seems to be difficult and time-consuming. The fact is that other democratic schools have reported children teaching themselves to read with absolutely no instruction, some at the age of 4 and some as late as 12. By age 13, there is no difference between the child who learned to read at 4 from the child who learned to read at 12. Reading just happens to become necessary at some point during the childhood of democratic school students, and so they all learn to read eventually.

As for maths, it has been proven over and over again that all of the maths content for primary school age can be learned in just 6 weeks when the child is ready for it. Imagine all of that time saved for valuable play!

You may also be interested in the following articles:

Children Teach Themselves to Read

Kids Learn Math Easily When They Control Their Own Learning

Will my child be safe?

As with all of our students, a decision about whether The School of Empowering Education is appropriate for your family would depend on your child’s ability to learn to take responsibility for his or her actions. Our school is not equipped to handle a student who experiences severe difficulties in learning independently or in self-correcting negative behaviours. One of the key determiners of who can attend The School of Empowering Education is whether or not the student can be trusted to keep themselves physically safe. For example, if your child does not understand the dangers of roads and is likely to run out on to the road if unsupervised then the school would not be the best place for them. 

The school is based on trust and respect and therefore we need to be confident that they understand the rules around safety. The students and staff will make the school’s rules together, and any student can report staff or students for violations of the rules. Any conflict will be addressed through established self-directed learning principles of Restorative Practices and Non-Violent Communication and reviewed by students and a staff member to decide on appropriate action. Having a small student to staff ratio will also contribute to safety.

What are the rules and what happens if someone breaks them?

The rules will be decided democratically by students and staff. In general, the rules will provide for the protection of individual rights while maintaining an atmosphere of safety and respect. In some democratic/Sudbury schools student-led judicial committees are established to investigate any violations of these rules. However in The School of Empowering Education rather than the judicial committee we will be using Restorative Practices and Non-Violent Communication to deal with violations of the rules or issues of conflict. We believe this approach reduces potential for blame and shame whilst still resolving the conflict and allowing learning to take place for all involved. 

How does your community handle bullying?

Like at most other schools, bullying is taken very seriously at The School of Empowering Education. We will use tools from our Restorative Practice training such as circles to encourage honest sharing and listening around the bullying. This can be both empowering for the “bullied” student, who learns to take care of him or herself against any bully in the future and is less likely to see themselves as a victim. It is often a transformative experience for the “bully” who gets firm but respectful treatment from his peers.

How do you measure or evaluate progress with no exams?

“All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” Educator John Holt

A big leap that any parent must make before enrolling their child in our program is the willingness to trust them. You must trust that they will learn what they need to in their own way and in their own time. Once you shed the notion that real learning can be measured, you will begin to see your child in a different light and trust your own instincts about whether or not they are growing.

Do you accept children with autism or other special needs?

Prospective students will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. As with all of our students, a decision about whether The School of Empowering Education is appropriate for a child would depend on the child’s ability to learn to take responsibility for his or her actions. Our program is not equipped to handle a student who experiences severe difficulties in learning independently or in self-correcting negative behaviours.

Is there a specific “type” of child that would benefit more from a Sudbury model school over a conventional school?

Self-directed, democratic schools have welcomed every ‘type’ of child – from the highly academic student to the traditional school ‘drop-out’. This learning environment works for a broad range of students including those who are: bright, highly motivated kids who want to surge ahead and challenge themselves; kids with unique learning styles who want to move at their own pace; kids who are ‘different’ in some way and want an atmosphere of tolerance and friendliness; social kids who want to be part of a democratic community; kids who are passionately engaged in exploring and creating; high-energy, restless kids who want to be active; frustrated kids who are sick of schooling; shy, sensitive kids who want to pursue their own interests; and self-directed kids who are ready for responsibility.

Will they do the Leaving Certificate exams?

Today’s higher education landscape is rapidly changing and there is now a wide array of options available. We encourage students to research and pursue the option that works best for them in reaching their goals, including admissions criteria for future programs of interest. If students wish to do the Leaving Cert. they will be facilitated to do so.

Will they be able to go to college?

Students who attend democratic schools are usually extremely well-prepared to go to college. They’re knowledgeable, articulate, and very motivated. Democratic school students are able to learn all they need to know for college entrance, often in a very short time. Colleges are not as different from democratic schools in that students are expected to know themselves and take responsibility for their own education. 85% of the students from the original Sudbury Valley School attend college. Others pursue their vocations in a variety of ways.

Many students do choose to enter traditional 4-year colleges and universities. The history of Sudbury graduates is that 80% get into the college of their first choice. They do so because they stand out to any admissions counsellor in that they usually know what they want to study and can articulate why they chose this institution over others. Once they arrive, they have already had so much experience with freedom and choice that they are more prepared for college life than many of their peers.

A 48-year history of graduates from Sudbury Valley School has shown that the vast majority are living lives that are congruent with their values. In other words, graduates know themselves, know what they want, and know how to get it. They seek out meaning in their work and in their personal lives. They are happy and content with the life they create for themselves. Sudbury students are also particularly prepared for a fast-changing world in which self-initiation and lifelong learning is a must.

With thanks to Wicklow Democratic School for allowing us to share some of their beautifully worded answers.