Our journey started when we turned our back on Lewes as we were struggling to afford this lovely town and felt like we needed a bigger home. However, we returned to our small abode because we missed the vibrant community and rich culture of Lewes. During our time away we gained a new perspective on schooling and had our eyes opened to a real alternative.

Before moving I may never have truly discovered what I now consider to be a bit of a gem: Lewes New School. I had always agreed with the general consensus that all schools in Lewes are good. I still think that. However, if we hadn’t moved away I wouldn’t really have had the motivation to go on a new adventure and seek new horizons.

Beliefs and values

I worked in the NHS for over 10 years as a child therapist. I have always held strong beliefs about education, health and social care being free for all. I value the diversity and parity state provision offers. I was more or less adverse to private education.

My job entailed working closely with state schools and I have been in the privileged position to undertake many observations in primary schools in Sussex. What I learnt was that there are many good teachers who are constrained by the National Curriculum to such an extent that they are, quite often, fatigued and have had all their creative juices squeezed out of them. Although there is often the desire, there is very rarely the time for staff to truly get to know individual children and provide the individual care they often need. It seems this is likely to be due to the demands of the job and high class numbers. https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/31/secret-teacher-yoda-stormtrooper

My doctorate focused on developing creative and playful ways for children to express their opinions of play and art therapy. I spent countless hours studying, documenting and analysing children’s non-verbal communications. During school observations I have witnessed many children who aren’t noticed as they are fearful or anxious and their internalising coping strategies aren’t picked up as a cause of concern. They’re often labelled as the ‘good girl’ or sometimes ‘boy’. Then there are those who use externalising coping strategies, often labelled as the ‘attention seekers’ or the ‘naughty ones’. Often their ideas have been thwarted because it’s not ‘on task’, or they are bored, perhaps not sufficiently challenged or not ‘keeping up’ , or they simply need to expend physical energy and be in their body.

Lastly there are the many who are seemingly coping and are doing ‘just fine’. I often wonder though that if a test of their cortisol levels were undertaken whether their stress would then become apparent. I know of studies in nurseries demonstrating just this result.

Ideas worth sharing

Watching Ken Robinson’s now infamous TED talk further convinced me that state education was headed in the wrong direction and had changed significantly since I was at school myself. https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

In standardising education, a lot has been lost. I felt there was no choice within the state sector. It was a one size fits all option.

I was in a strong internal conflict. Rather than stubbornly following my belief system around sending my child to state school, our move and my son’s character, forced me to be more open minded about ‘private’ education and at least take a look. I focused on my son and considered what I thought he actually needed at this time. My son is a creative, imaginative, sensitive, articulate, and highly active boy. He needed somewhere small, where he felt listened to and taken seriously. I wanted him to experience sophisticated  and creative approaches to any ‘challenging’ behaviours.

Naïve assumption

I felt there was one last hope. Maybe, just maybe, a small village school would fit the bill. After all, that had been my own experience and maybe in that setting it wouldn’t feel as if school had changed quite so much. However, I soon learned that mixed aged classes in the state setting meant 30+ children in a class. Within the older school building in one village school I visited the children were sat back to back at their desks and I could hardly squeeze into the room. After speaking to the teachers I realised the same issues around rote learning, partly in preparation for tests, would dominate my son’s life.

Hello Lewes New School

As my husband and I talked about what to do we remembered two highly articulate, engaged and interested piano pupils my husband had taught and realised they’d both attended a little-known school in Lewes: Lewes New School in the Pells. We didn’t know too much more about it back then other than that anyone we knew that had connections with the school did not fit into my ‘private education’ box. It seems others also make this assumption too: a friend asked me what my son’s blazer would be like. LNS offers an entirely different alternative.

When I came to visit I was relieved to experience both myself and my son being truly listened to. We were given time, space and warmth. We visited all the different classes and chatted to confident and open children about the projects they were clearly enjoying. I breathed a sigh of relief: school can be different.

Since then I have continued to marvel at the magical threads the teachers at LNS weave around the children, gently encouraging each child to become involved in a joint project whilst valuing each child’s individual interest. For instance: one child was interested in robots, another in cars and my son was fascinated by skeletons, and definitely not cars! They were all intent on their individual interests. Julie managed to skilfully weave these threads together so my son and the other two children were soon all enthralled by the inner workings of a robot designed to make cars. Other children joined the group who were more interested in painting so a live model was soon in the making. Julie has the time to get to know each and every child in class well. She has a genuine interest in each child and truly listens carefully to their thoughts and ideas each morning.

As my son moves up the school I have continued to be impressed by the staff’s willingness to be flexible in meeting his needs and ensuring that he has a voice, even when he is feeling quiet and unsure. I am relieved that his exuberance and curiosity are not being quashed or slowly but surely pushed into a box, and his uncertainty at times is being understood and cared for. In this environment he is sure to learn on a deep and fundamental level.

We chose LNS because we want our child to thrive, not just survive. For us LNS is the happy accident that brought us back to Lewes, but with new horizons.