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The role of self motivation (Gopalan et al, 2017)and self direction (Biesta, 2010) has long been recognised in children’s learning.  However, in tightly managed and timetabled state run education it is impossible to map this kind of learning or to follow self directed trajectories through to conclusive outcomes.    The East Kent Sudbury School has established itself as a part time centre for home educated children, aged 8 to 16, and is in the process of applying to become the first UK registered school without a subject driven curriculum.  Instead, an aims based curriculum, akin to that proposed by Reiss and White (2013), is being used as a pedagogical framework within which pupils will be expected to self-direct their own education. This is a form of pedagogy known as self-directed education (SDE).  Pupils are expected to forge their own educational trajectories within a curriculum fashioned around the aims based curriculum

Biesta, (2010) sets out a framework of three dimensions in which, he argues, all forms of education, including student led education, function.  These dimensions or domains he names as qualification, socialisation and subjectification.  He extends this understanding of function to that of impact and, as education is a designed activity, argues that the purposes of education are driving forces in understanding this impact.  Education should therefore be purpose driven and this purpose should be made explicit across these three domains.  This research uses this theoretical framework as its base from which to explore the pedagogy of East Kent Sudbury School. 

The project uses a mixed method approach  to flesh out this framework through the perspectives offered by school staff, parents and children about the kind of education they are undertaking in practical, pedagogical and philosophical ways.  Semi structured individual interviews are held with staff, parents and children to ascertain perceptions of, and feelings about, the school’s approach.  The research is ongoing and these will be held at three to four monthly intervals over the research period.  Mixed focus groups to explore school wide understandings and ethos are also to be conducted.  In addition a mosaic approach to children’s experiences and perceptions, as exemplified by Clark and Moss (2001), is used to gain a pupil eye’s view of the educational process, again using the framework of the three domains suggested by Biesta (2010).  Pupils at the school thus actively participate in the research with a choice of contributory methods including photography, drawing, role play, play and conversation.  This is in keeping with the school ethos that pupils are competent beings who are capable of being, and ethically should be, important and directive decision makers in their own education.  It is also in keeping with (although arguably an extension of) the new sociology of childhood which argues that children are experts in their own lives , that their views may vary from those of adults and consequently these views should be actively sought out at first hand and not presumed (James and Prout, 1990).

The study takes a broadly phenomenological and hermeneutic approach yet also considers the pressing policy question of how education conceived of, and practiced differently, can answer centralised calls for measurement and accountability.  This question is again approached through the domains framework as exemplified by Biesta with initial findings suggesting that  subjectification and socialisation are emphasised both by the schools ethos and by research participants.  The implications of this balance and the trade–off it suggests are an important starting point for on-going policy and educational discussion as the UK interest and participation in alternative education grows. 


Harriet Pattison, Dr

Lecturer at Liverpool Hope University

Harriet Pattison is interested in alternative education and alter childhoods.  She has done research on home education and is currently researching with a Sudbury Valley model education setting with particular concentration on meaning and...