The Lewes New School has been an unexpected and always surprising journey for me as a parent. My husband and I first heard about it when our daughter was a baby and we were thinking of leaving London for a different sort of life: more open space, less pollution, a slower pace, less crime. A friend said they thought we would like Lewes with its close-knit community and beautiful downs. And, if we were interested, it had this great school…
Initially we didn’t know LNS was an independent school. When we came to check Lewes out, we happened to coincide with an open day and so we went around, daughter in sling, and were blown away. A huge messy art room with every type of exploration on the walls, students writing endless stories, journals and scientific write-ups, passionate parents and lively, engaged, interested children, enthusiastically talking about whatever project they were working on at the moment. It felt right and grounding. Even if we never sent our daughter there, a town that produced a school like this couldn’t be bad.
We moved, and put her name down for a place in the nursery. We could check it out close at hand while thinking about other schools too.
The rest is sort of history. Through the nursery we witnessed first hand the teachers engaging with our daughter and other children as inquisitive, morally curious equals in learning. Within clear safe boundaries our daughter explored, got messy, and learnt how to get along. Games that used numbers and letters, volumes and time became building blocks for her more formal education to come.
By the time she finished nursery we were hooked. We could see children progressing on through the school with a joy of learning and exploration intact, and a firm grounding in analytical thinking. If I want to build a life size python, how do I find out how long it is? What materials do I need? How do I make sure it will fit in the classroom? When I plant a seed upside down, does it still grow? What do you do when your friends disagree? How do I make a book? How can I express my feelings and feel safe?
As a daughter of two scientists with an academic education behind me, I had some niggling concerns about pursuing a course outside the state system. I knew LNS was a lovely creative place, but would our daughter learn what she needed to? Would it be rigorous as well as creative, challenging as well as warm? These worries were soon dispelled. Our daughter was racing through chapter books, writing pages and pages of stories and mastering basic arithmetic. She was designing basic science experiments and evaluating their outcomes. Children who were ready could go as fast and far as they liked. Those that needed more time were given support and tailored learning for their needs. I have watched as later years students are given space for deep learning on projects that ask thoughtful and thought provoking questions about the world and our place in it. I can see them growing into engaged, morally responsible young people who will question the world and contribute.
Our daughter, now in year 1, is thriving. She is stretched academically and supported emotionally. She is deeply curious about the world and growing strong within herself. She is a joyful and passionate learner. I couldn’t ask for more.