Frequently Asked Questions
What is the starting age for Small Acres School?
Children should be 5, nearly 5 or older to start. We enrol children between the ages of 5 and 8 currently and all children start with a 2 week trial period – click here for information on trial periods and enrollment.
Does Small Acres follow the Montessori or Steiner approach to learning?
While there may be some similarities, Small Acres is not following a Steiner or Montessori approach at all. Small Acres has its own unique approach to learning and education. The staff has a wide and varied experience. We discuss different pedagogical approaches and we do not adhere to any specific pedagogy. We are a democratic school, which means we support learning in all forms.
What assessments do you have?
We do not follow the National Curriculum, though we are aware of the standards and we do use some of them in our own pre-assessments and assessments, no assessments are given to children under the age of 7 and all assessments are informal. We do not offer SATs.
When do you start teaching the children to read?
Children learn at their own rate and we do not require children to start reading before they show signs of reading readiness. This often means that a child will begin reading on his or her own in a very natural way. It also means that children learn to read at different ages, some as young as 4 and some not until 9.
How can I get involved as a parent?
Small Acres is a democratic school and we welcome parent involvement. We offer a a variety of opportunities for involvement and we also offer Parent Participant Training for those that are interested in further involvement in the daily routine of the school.
Will my child fall behind if you are not teaching them the National Curriculum?
We believe all people have an innate drive to learn and that they will each learn in their own time and in their own way. Please do not approach Small Acres as an "easy start". Enrolling a child at 5 with the intention of withdrawing them once a place in your preferred state school opens up, or when the child is 7, will not be of value to the child and may be detrimental. Children in state schools are given specific lessons in reading and maths, they become conditioned to sitting at a desk for long periods, they are expected to be reading and writing at a very early age. At Small Acres, children are allowed to develop at their own rate and in their own way. They will not usually transfer easily at the age of 5 to 7 into a typical state curriculum. We advise parents to not consider this approach if you know that you will withdraw your child prior to the age of 7. However, we also realise that London can be a transient town and for many families a move away from London while children are young is often preferred or necessary. If you tell us of an impending move, we may be able to help the child develop skills he or she will need to make the transition easier for him or her.
Can you please elaborate on what democratic means? Do students and staff have the same voting power and over what decisions. Are there exclusions or areas where staff has full or over ruling power?
Democratic schools are schools in which the students have a voice. There are a variety of democratic schools in various countries. If you are interested in learning about the philosophy behind democratic schools I would recommend that you read Summerhill by A. S. Neill and Free to Learn by Peter Gray. Summerhill is a school in the UK and it is considered to be the “original” democratic school, founded in the 1920’s.
At Small Acres, children have a voice in creating the boundaries and guidelines for the school, designing plans, deciding how and when they learn to read and what projects they work on. Children over 7 years, who are enrolled for 3 or 4 days (with the exception of those new to the school) can request a time during the day when they can focus on skills. This is individual time or sometime offered to small groups and there is a focus on learning specific skills such as reading and working with numbers. Everyone is invited to these sessions, for those over 7 there is an assumption that they are ready to develop skills needed for further independent learning. We never 'force' any child to attend any skills session. If an older child is not wanting to come to a skills session on offer, they are not required to attend and the staff will focus on the reasons behind this refusal. Children are natural learners. If they are refusing to learn, there is a reason. The child may be reacting to pressure from home, they may be recovering from the approach taken in their previous school, they may need support in other areas of their life.
Everyone who is at the school comes to the Morning Meeting (adults and children), usually we eat lunch together, and everyone helps with cleaning up at the end of the day. Other than these times, everyone is free to do as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.
If a child or adult has an issue with a rule or a problem, they bring their concern to the morning meeting. Everyone’s voice counts. In issues of safety, the teachers have the final say (often the children set stricter limits than adults ever would) but even then, any disagreement can be brought to the meeting. The meeting is chaired by a different person each morning, chosen democratically and adults are part of the meeting, not in charge of the meeting.
Does the school have rules, who decides what they are, how can they be changed and how it is decided if someone has broken them? Right of appeal? What are the punishments?
Absolutely we have rules, yes they can be changed, anyone who disagrees with a rule decided by the meeting can bring up the issue during the meeting. We all work together to create a space that is safe and where everyone has a voice. We do not have “punishments”. If someone is having a really difficult time and is infringing on the rights of others, a meeting is held. If the person is not able to keep within the boundaries and if there is a feeling that the rest of the group is being impacted, the child may be asked to stay at home the next day. This is a very rare occurrence.
Freedom is not the same as license: everyone has the right to make their own choices, create their own projects and play in their own way but they do not have the right to prevent others from having the same freedoms. When a child first joins Small Acres from another setting, this can be difficult for him or her. The group works together to help the child understand the basic freedoms that each child (and adult) has.
If a child felt that they were being treated unfairly, they would come to the meeting to discuss it.
We have very few rules. They are all about being respectful of each other and keeping the space safe for everyone.
Do you have curriculum or kids have full discretion of what to study including the choice not to study but just play?
Children are ‘studying’ all the time! Play is learning and learning is always happening at Small Acres! As stated above, we do ask children 7 and over to come to skills time, exceptions are made for new children and those who have had really negative school experiences and need time to recover the love of learning. Children are never 'forced' to attend. Children who attend only 2 days per week usually don't come to skills time at Small Acres. These children are home schooled and are attending Small Acres for the social interaction and sense of community.
We, the teachers, choose what we will focus on in our own plans, which we develop with the children in mind, children are not required to come to any plan or lesson we offer. For example, I am now focusing on geometry with the idea of building a tetrahedron kite later this term. So 3 dimensional shapes, symmetry, angles and line are part of the plans I bring. Another teacher has focused on measurement and has created a chart of heights among other things. Mainly, we follow the interests of the children and build in skills as we see the need, provide the environment to foster development of interests and learning. “Just play” is not a term that makes sense within our setting.
Do you have a fixed hour when schools starts and ends and is there flexibility around it?
School starts at 9am and ends at 3pm. There is flexibility around the start, with most children arriving between 9:05 and 9:20. We need to leave the playground at 3pm so that it can be ready to open to the public at 3:30. Though it is always fine for a child to leave early, we do generally expect everyone to help with tidying up at the end of the day.
How are parents involved with the school?
in many different ways, from taking a place on the board, helping with general school stuff such as purchasing, cleaning, etc to becoming a Parent Participant. Parent Participants are volunteers within the school. The requirement is that a family be part of the school for at least one year, or have prior experience in a democratic school setting before applying to be a parent participant. Parents can always come to school to visit or to bring something up at the meeting, of course. We also have community meetings when we all meet up to discuss the school or enjoy a meal.
Do you have marks, exams, do kids have to study for a particular achievement, gcse etc?
No we do not have marks. We are a primary so no GCSE’s
What do you think will be the primary differences between a kid graduated from small acres and a conventional public school? On what are your conclusions based?
Children from this type of school have a broad base of learning, they have developed their interests and self confidence, they love learning and do not see school as something to be endured. They love coming to school. they can converse with adults and children of all ages. My conclusions are based on the people that I know who have graduated from this type of school (including my own children and their friends), studies done at Boston University by Dr. Peter Gray, interviews and talks given by graduates of democratic schools both in Europe and in the US.
The school is very new and there is a little opportunity for parents to make an opinion based on past experience. Can you give us an example of a long established democratic school which Small Acres is approximation of?
Play Mountain Place
The first 2 are in the States. Play Mountain is the school which I am most familiar with as it is the school my own children attended. It has been around for over 60 years. Sudbury Valley is on the east coast of the US and there are several of them now, again around for decades. You are best served by reading Dr. Gray’s book (mentioned above) which deals with Sudbury Valley specifically.
Summerhill is here in the UK, it is a boarding school, where the others are not.
You can visit the website of each of these schools by clicking the links at the bottom of this page.
We are similar to the 3 in many ways:
Children learn in their own time
Play is seen as vital
Children are able to develop their interests
We do have ‘skills time’ for over 7’s, this may be different and is based on the belief that children between the ages of 7 and 9 may need some support to develop the skills needed to follow their own interests. This is not true for every child, nor necessary for everyone.
Dealing with ofsted can be challenging for any school, and even more so for a new democratic school. Can you share any offsted report already issued or if none what feedback you have received so far?
We have just completed our OFSTED visit in January, 2015. We have received "good" across all areas. The report has been published on the Ofsted website . You can access the report by clicking here.
If you have a question that isn't answered here, email us.