Progressive school could hold lessons for rigid British education

Kilquhanity House School

By Sarah Mackinnon

A school offering an alternative education is set to reopen in southern Scotland.

Kilquhanity House near Galloway is to open again as a private £1,200 a term day school for 15 pupils after closing 12 years ago. It is to be the only school of its kind in Scotland and former pupil Andrew Pyle is to become headteacher. The unique school will offer an education far removed from the UK’s mainstream, traditional system.

The curriculum offered at the countryside school will be creative and flexible, pupils will be able to choose what they want to study and whether to take part in exams or do homework. Kilquhanity was founded in 1940 by John Aitkenhead, headteacher for over 50 years who wanted to find an alternative to ordinary schools which he felt were too authoritarian and utilitarian.

The national education system in Britain has come under fire recently for having too rigid a curriculum and for being too much at the mercy of league tables. At a lecture to the College of Teachers last month Anthony Seldon, leading headteacher of private school Wellington college in Berkshire, England launched a scathing attack on Britain’s education system, he stated that,

Soulless schools cursed by league tables and dominated by formulaic exams are squeezing the lifeblood out of education.

Seldon, who is also professor of education at the College of Teachers goes on to say that he believes it is this rigid system which is having a negative impact on pupils,

They are showing more signs of depression, eating disorders, self harming and alcohol/drug abuse, than at any point in recorded history.

Pyle believes that the style of his school may provide some answers to this serious problem. The headteacher will garner much influence from his predecessor and follow a system called the ‘free school’ system which originated in Sweden. One aspect he plans to reinstate is the ‘School Council’ in which rules were decided in a weekly meeting where the youngest child had the same voting rights as the head teacher.

The idea behind ‘free schools’, of which there are only a few in the UK is based on an open structure without a hierarchy or the institutional environment of formal schooling. The main consensus is that children learn better when free from coercion. Many former pupils of Kilquhanity have gone on to become gifted artists, designers or writers. Pyle states,

I think more than ever, this sort of education is important, If Kilquhanity can offer you anything it is the ability to adapt to the uncertain futures that our children are going to face, I am not entirely sure that conventional education and state education is going to do that anymore.

In its previous life ‘past parents’ felt that Kilquanity offered three important advantages: having the staff and pupils on first name terms; the amount of choice which the children have as regards to subjects taken; and the experience of the democracy of the School Council. John Aitkenhead said,

The main purpose of education at Kilquhanity was the development of a whole person, a person who has learned to live with other kids, with other people, and to find out about himself/herself.

Seldon adds to this idea and gives the last word on what he believes the British system should accomplish,

Education should be the opening of the heart and mind. This is what education means;it is this, or it is nothing.