25 September 2007

Starting School or Starting a School

Most school aged children will have settled back into school this month but what do you do if you can't find a school that you feel fulfils the needs of your child? Home education is one answer but it isn't for everyone, I just read this article and another option appears to be starting your own school. The article explains why and how four parents started their own schools; Lewes New School in Suffolk, The Family School at Larkhill in Clapham, Chrysalis School for Autism in Hertfordshire and Moon Hall School and Community College.
Lewes New School opened in 2000 and has sixty pupils, from ages three to 11 with fees 0f £1,750 a term. It was started by Adrienne Campbell and her friends Miranda and Stephanie, after they realised they kept moaning about their children's education. Their school has small class sizes, fosters respectful adult/child communication and involves creative and challenging learning, it does not follow the National Curriculum.

The Family School at Larkhill, Clapham, southwest London opened in September and has 12 pupils aged from ages six to eight with fees of £1,500 a term. The school was founded by Polly Griffiths, her husband Dil Green, and a group of other committed parents. Currently the Family School at Larkhall has no permanent home, but an eco-friendly building, will be ready next January. Currently teaching takes place four mornings a week, and the rest of the time parents lead activities such as gardening, cooking, dancing and days out to museums. The school took inspiration from the Human Scale Education movement that promotes small class sizes and values each child's individual talents. The families come from a variety of backgrounds, and all parents have to put in one day a week at the school, leading activities, cooking the school's organic lunches, driving or doing administrative work.

Chrysalis School for Autism, Codicote, Hertfordshire was opened in 2005 and has just three pupils, aged from four to 13. It has fees of £15,000 a term, with one-to-one teaching. Laura Dyer started the quest for a new school as she felt the LEAs special needs school did not meet the needs of her son William. Before he went to school, William had been using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) at home, an intensive way of teaching autistic children that breaks tasks down into small stages and uses positive reinforcement to develop skills. Chrysalis aims to provide ABA teaching for other autistic children in the area.

Moon Hall School and Community College, Surrey. The school was opened in 1985 and the college in 2005. There are 100 pupils (aged 7-13) at Moon Hall School, and 88 (aged 3-13) at Moon Hall College. Fees are from £1,900 for mainstream teaching with dyslexia fees worked out on an individual basis. Berry Baker started the school as she was unhappy with the dyslexic teaching available locally for her child. With the encouragement from her friend Andrea, who also had a dyslexic son, she decided to teach the two boys herself at home whilst training in dyslexic teaching. When the school outgrewn her house, it moved into a new building in the 60-acre grounds of Belmont, a nearby prep school near Dorking. Moon Hall School's pupils have access to Belmont's games, drama and other non-academic facilities. Two years ago the charity bought a school near Reigate – Moon Hall College at Burys Court takes children from three to 13 years old, mainstream and dyslexic, with the intention of taking them up to 16 in the future.

These four stories are very inspiring - I'm sure it isn't an easy thing to do but certainly is worth considering as an option if you feel that your local schools are not meeting the needs of your children. Anyone can set up an independent school, but you are legally required to register with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (formerly the Department for Education and Skills) and undergo an Ofsted inspection to make sure the school reaches "satisfactory standards in relation to the quality of teaching, the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of its pupils, the premises and accommodation, the welfare, health and safety of pupils and the suitability of the proprietor and staff within the school". Independent schools can decide their own curriculum and ethos so do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Most independent schools are run as registered charities. More information about starting schools can be gained from Human Scale Education and The National Association for Small Schools gives advice and support to schools at risk of closure.

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