Origin & Philosophy of Sudbury Schools

The Sudbury philosophy originated with Sudbury Valley School. SVS was founded in 1968 in Framingham, Massachusetts (USA). A.S. Neill’s Summerhill was one of the inspirations for SVS, and like their predecessor they define themselves as a “democratic school”. However, unlike the hundreds of “free schools” that opened, inspired by and more or less loosely based on Summerhill, they took Neill’s philosophy of “freedom, not license” very seriously.

Sudbury schools share two fundamental beliefs.

The first, that:

“children are extremely good at (and therefore do not need to be taught) the main behaviours they will need as adults, such as creativity, imagination, alertness, curiosity, thoughtfulness, responsibility and judgement. What children lack is experience, which can be gained […].”

Therefore the central function of these schools is to provide an environment in which children can grow and find their own particular paths to living and flourishing as adults.

And second, that:

“having full democratic rights in childhood is the best way to become an adult who is comfortable functioning within a democracy.”

Nowhere other than in a Sudbury school are the rights of children taken more seriously. As a consequence, there is no authority other than that granted by the consent of the governed, and everyone, adult or child, is equally bound by the rules and procedures of the collective. All decision-making processes, without exception, are in the hands of the whole school community via the democratic assembly that is the School Meeting. Students of all ages and staff are welcome to participate and have an equal vote in all decisions. Thus students’ sense of ownership is fostered, not just over their own learning but also over their environment and school community.

Although SVS does not recognize any authority or the existence of an an actual Sudbury “model” that might be copied and pasted from one school to another, there are now over 70 “Sudbury schools” around the world, claiming direct inspiration from SVS, the first and oldest, which has been running and generously helping other schools for 50 years.

Each Sudbury school operates independently, and no two are identical in terms of exact policies and procedures. Each has its unique atmosphere and culture. Yet they all share a common set of core values, which are: freedom, trust, respect, responsibility and democracy.

In Sudbury Schools you will find no predetermined educational syllabus, no prescriptive curriculum and no standardised instruction or testing. Learning is 100% self-motivated and self-regulated, mostly informal or self-directed (which does not necessarily imply that it is exclusively autodidactic).

Essentially, students are trusted to individually decide what to do with their lives and their time, and they tend to learn as a by-product of their day-to-day experience rather than through coursework.

Sudbury schools continuously confirm through their experience that children are born curious and ready to learn and explore. Whether students are debating with a friend, playing football, contributing in meetings or pursuing any other activity that is meaningful and relevant to them, they are always learning.