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The educational vs the custodial function of school

I was a teacher at the pioneering Small School in Devon [England] which opened in 1982 and closed in 2017. Pupils ranging from eleven to sixteen were offered a broad, balanced program of academic, creative and practical activities. Qualified teachers and skilled people from the community collaborated: pottery was taught by the local potter, woodworking by the local carpenter, art by a local artist. The older children went for work experience in local businesses and on farms. We used the village playing fields for games; we bought vegetables in the village for lunch (and also grew our own), which the children took turns to cook.

The school was permeable to the community: it provided rehearsal space for local music and drama groups; adults were allowed to join in lessons; staff and pupils worked on restoring woodland and footpaths. Several old students returned to teach classes. The staff and students were on first-name terms; no uniforms, of course; one school inspector congratulated us on creating “an informal yet orderly community.”

…it is possible to imagine things being done differently. Perhaps the disruption of the pandemic will force us to reevaluate the custodial versus the educational functions of schools and come up with something better suited to the future patterns of work and learning that may emerge.

—Caroline Walker in a letter to the
London Review of Books, March 2021


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