In your own words, tell us about your project.
Wicklow Sudbury School is the first democratic school in Ireland. There are no set classes, curriculum or tests, and students ages 6 to 18 are able to determine their own learning paths. All decisions are made democratically, and each staff member and student has an equal vote. Students make and enforce the rules and students take part in the committees and clerkships that keep the school running. Wicklow Sudbury has an emphasis on mental health and emotional well being that has helped many students feel happier and more confident than they did in traditional schooling. Wicklow Sudbury is currently in its third school year and has 27 students and 5 part-time staff members. We are searching for a new building that will enable our community to keep growing.
Why did you do this work?
Wicklow Sudbury School was founded by a group of parents who wanted a better education for their children. The students, parents, and staff members involved in this project believe that the traditional education system in Ireland is not meeting the needs of all children and young people. There is a mental health crisis among young people in Ireland, and the stressors associated with school and exams are huge contributors to this. Young people in Ireland are calling for more say in their education, and that was what the recent meeting of the Dail na nÓg decided was the biggest issue that young people currently face. Humans are natural learners; we need to give students the freedom to explore their passions.
What was the impact or outcome of your project?
The impacts of our project are only anecdotal at this point. On multiple occasions, a parent has told a staff member that they felt like they had their child back again, since their child had been miserable in traditional school. Students say that their mental health has improved, that they are more confident, that they value all the connections they've made and the community they're part of, and that they love being able to structure their day how they want. The age mixing in Wicklow Sudbury has also been very successful, with students of all ages working together and learning from and teaching each other.
Wicklow Sudbury School is part of an emerging movement of democratic education in Ireland, so we hope to have a wider impact outside of our community. We've already supported another Sudbury school to open in Sligo and are helping start-up groups across the country. We would like to work with traditional schools as well, to help them incorporate some of the principles of democratic education and prioritise the well-being of young people. Hopefully we will also be able to work with policy-makers in order to make state funding and supports accessible for schools like ours.
Do you have any tips or advice for similar projects?
Link in with projects that are already established, like Wicklow Sudbury School or Sligo Sudbury School. Since our school was the first of its kind in Ireland, the founders had to figure many things out. Now that that work has been done, it will be easier for other democratic schools to open in Ireland, and the Wicklow Sudbury community is happy to share our experience and knowledge.
Which Sustainable Development Goals does your work link to?
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Location of Project
Kilpedder, Co. Wicklow