Democratic School

We give our students an equal voice in decision making and teach the skills essential for success as a member of society.

We incorporate many elements of a democratic school into our approach to education and schooling.

Children at Village School have a voice and are heard, and take responsibility alongside teachers for making decisions and running the school.

Students are actively encouraged to speak up and share their perspectives, ask questions and make suggestions.

What is a democratic school?

A democratic school gives students an equal voice with teachers and parents on the content of their education and how their school operates.

In order words, when decisions are being made, everyone’s vote has the same weight, regardless of age, experience, maturity or role.

Democratic schools are not lawless, chaotic environments, as some might think, but structured, organised schools with clear rules that have been defined and agreed to by all.

Democratic School - Making a Maze

The heart of the democratic school method is the democratic meeting, where issues are raised, solutions found and agreed upon democratically.

The nature of democratic schools may evolve based on the current needs of the school community, but always returns to their core function of empowering students to take control of their education.

Democratic schools serve to provide students with ample opportunities to practice decision-making and self-directed learning in a safe environment.

History of democratic schools

Democratic schools have been in existence for centuries, with similar overall philosophies, encouraging pupils to follow their interests and rely on their own judgement.

Some of the more well-known proponents of democratic education include Bertrand Russell, Peter Gray and John Holt, and democratic schools base their approach on their philosophies.

The influential Summerhill school in England has been in operation since 1921, while the Sudbury Valley School in the USA has been thriving since 1968.

There were many democratic schools opened in the 1960s and 1970s, when the “free schools” movement peaked, after which the general enthusiasm waned.

There are still a number of democratic schools in operation around the world, practising the ideas of self-determination and an equal voice for students, of which Village School is one.

How we apply democratic principles

Many parents would agree that schools should teach values and behaviours, such as sharing, critical thinking and empathy, alongside specific academic skills.

And that schools should encourage creativity and give students the space to explore their interests.

At Village School, we use many elements of the democratic approach to give our students a voice in the decision making process and to teach values and skills essential for success as a member of society.

We actively engage students in the design and management of their learning process, and adapt our curriculum to accommodate each student’s interests and abilities.

Democratic School - Student with Teacher

Home group meetings

Each home group (class) holds a daily meeting to discuss events and experiences and raise issues that are affecting the classroom, agree on solutions and create or update rules.

Things that be covered in home group meetings include:

  • Clarifying daily procedures
  • Resolving social issues
  • Discussing current affairs
  • Highs and lows of the week
  • Upcoming class activities and events
  • Showing recently completed work

These meetings are also a great opportunity for children to gain practice in running effective meetings. Students take turns in the roles of chair, minute-taker and time keeper.

Every child in the group experiences what it is to be able to ‘stand up and be counted’ in their own individual way without fear of being ridiculed for doing so.

Over time students gain confidence in their ability to speak up and be heard, and take great pride in these opportunities to take on responsibility and shine.

Democratic School - Outdoor Class

Whole School Meeting

Each week, there is also a whole school meeting, which is attended by the entire school.

These meetings are an extension of the classroom meetings, where issues are discussed and achievements are shared, and help students from all year levels understand and practice meeting procedures.

Students from Year 6 run the meeting, and are supported by their classroom teacher outside of meetings to become effective leaders of the meetings.

It also reinforces the empowerment of students, who actively participate in resolving issues affecting the whole school community.

Meetings may have an agenda prepared beforehand, and include standard elements such as a welcome to country, a brief meditation, and record keeping, including a rule book that has been expanding and adapting for more than 10 years.

Items that may be discussed at meetings include:

  • Cubbies and their management
  • Animal duties e.g. a better what to do something
  • Games e.g. whole school tiggy
  • Upcoming events e.g. school photos, concerts
  • Fundraising, whole school projects

and teachers take turns along with students to raise topics and provide suggestions.

Students often also have the opportunity to present and talk about work they’ve completed recently in the course of their classroom learning.

Democratic School - Year Six Elections

Individual learning

We achieve individual learning by setting open-ended tasks which can be tackled at some level by any age group.

Project- based learning where the children choose their own topics is one way to achieve this. Another is to set tasks that can have many outcomes.

A task that only has one expected outcome is generally only set for an individual student, taking into account their pre-knowledge and skills learned, such as individual maths goals or language tasks such as spelling and punctuation.

Resolving issues

Issues are best resolved by involving the children.

Initially children are encouraged to talk their problems through with each other, or perhaps get a big friend to listen and then help them decide on the outcome.

More formal issue resolving involves each chatting to a mediator (teacher, learning support or older student) on their own and then working together with a mediator to determine a positive outcome, with consequences if necessary.

There are some instances where one of the children may feel too intimidated to follow this process e.g. when the other child is much older, more aggressive etc. or where the nature of the complaint is sensitive and adult intervention is required.

Creating rules

Apart from safety issues such as wearing shoes, a hat in summer and a raincoat in winter, most rules come from discussions with the children, usually in their whole school meetings.

These rules can be very fluid, particularly with the rules about cubby building, which constantly come up for discussion and review.

Most rules are decided by a vote and are often up for negotiation.

Democratic School - Taking Care of Chickens

Social causes

Children are encouraged to follow their passions with regard to causes, and they frequently create stalls etc to raise money for a good cause.

Mixed-age learning

Being a small school facilitates a lot more cross-age socialising. Often the older children initialise a whole school game of “Tiggy” or “Capture the Flag”

Hiring staff

Hiring new teachers is a protracted affair.

Everyone is a stakeholder in this process and applicants are expected to spend at least half a day teaching one of the groups.

The children’s feedback along with the staff feedback from this is always considered an important part of the process.

Using democratic principles

Learn more about our how we run our school using democratic principles:

Our Holistic Philosophy - Teacher with Students Outdoors Our Approach Village School is an independent, non-sectarian and non-denominational primary school, and we take an holistic approach to education. Read more »
Our History - Whole School Photo from the 1980's Our History Village School has been in operation since 1982, and although it has evolved over the years, it has successfully maintained its original democratic vision. Read more »

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