Letter to the Minister of Education in Croatia
Ms. Vesna Hrvoj-Sic, dipl. Politolog, Ravnateljica uprave za srednje obrazovanje, Ministarsvo znanosti obrazovanje, Donje Svestics, 38; 1000 ZAGREB, Croatia.
RE: Proposed Democratic School in Croatia
Dear Ms Hrvoj-Sic,
It has come to my notice that Dragana Boljesic-Kezevic, representing the Free- School Association for the Promotion of Democratic Education, has applied to you for permission to launch a democratic school in Croatia. I would like to make the following points in support of this application.
I have been the acting headteacher of a secondary school in England and a school inspector. Since retirement I have acted as a researcher/adviser to the UK government, UK NGOs, and the Council of Europe in the field of Education for Democratic Citizenship.
As a teacher and acting headteacher I always tried to involve students in decision- making about their own learning and in the general running of the school. I found that taking responsibility in these ways developed a growing maturity and commitment to themselves and to others. We attempted to use the school as a microcosm of a democratic society in which the students could learn how to participate effectively. I was convinced that this approach enhanced learning and the quality of relationships between people of all ages within the school. The enhancement of learning was measurable in improved examination results and the improved quality of relationships was measurable in the decline in the numbers of students needing to be reprimanded for aggressive behaviour to others.
14th August, 2010
In 2001 I was asked by the then English minister of education as part of the planning for the introduction of Education for Democratic Citizenship into the English secondary curriculum to carry out research to see if this pattern was replicated in other schools. This was indeed what I found and the results were published as the ‘Hannam Report’ which is available online at www.csv.org.uk. It was also what I found in my inspections of some 80 secondary schools in England.
While working as an inspector and researcher it came to my attention that there were schools known as ‘democratic schools’ in a number of countries. As part of my work I was able to visit some of these schools and found their work to be an extension of that which I had been attempting in an English state school. I was especially impressed by my visit to Hadera School in Israel where the headteacher was a Mr Yaacov Hecht. This state school of 350 children from 6 to 19 years of age school offered a curriculum in three forms. A regular subject based timetable, subject specialist areas staffed by a specialist teacher to which students go whenever they chose, and courses provided at the specific request of groups of students. The students could construct their study day out of any combination of these learning opportunities that suited them. Some chose a regular timetable as in any conventional school. Others chose a mix of methods. Others chose to totally self- direct their learning. All had the opportunity to learn experientially about the workings of a democratic community through attendance at the regular meetings of the school parliament and its associated governance and judicial processes. It is now well known that different students learn in different ways and that what is best for any individual can change over time. This knowledge was perfectly operationalised at Hadera School and the results in both personal development and examinations were impressive. I am delighted that Mr Hecht is now working for the government of Israel in developing much wider programmes of democratic education in the school systems of whole cities.
At one point my work as an inspector led me to advise a well-known democratic school in England known as Summerhill School. The school was causing some anxiety to the ministry as it allowed attendance at lessons to be at the free choice of the students. I found in fact that not only were most students attending classes from free choice but that the examination results of the school were better than the average for the whole state system despite many Summerhill students having had very bad previous experiences of ‘schooling’ in regular schools.
All over the world there are criticisms of school systems as they currently exist. This is true even in countries such as Finland where the existing system appears to be performing comparatively well. In my judgement all school systems should contain a wide variety of approaches to learning in a wide variety of schools. Certainly for some students the approach of the democratic schools appears to be highly effective. It is interesting that experimentation with more democratic approaches is in fact happening in Finland and I would urge you to both permit and support the proposed school in your country.
I would be delighted to discuss further with you any issues arising from the application for the proposed school or from this letter.
Yours sincerely, Derry Hannam
Consultant/Researcher in Education for Democratic Citizenship to UK Government and Council of Europe