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No rules, no homework and students choose what they want to study – inside Ireland’s alternative schools

Offering a new approach to mainstream education, a range of schools have opened across the country with a focus on child-directed learning. So how does a system without a curriculum, principal and exams work? Our reporter finds out 

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Ciara Brehony in a class in Wicklow Democratic School. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Brehony in a class in Wicklow Democratic School. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Brehony, staff member at Wicklow Democratic School. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Brehony, staff member at Wicklow Democratic School. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Brehony pictured with pupils Catherine O’Kelly, Little Rose Shipman and Madlin Prem. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Brehony pictured with pupils Catherine O’Kelly, Little Rose Shipman and Madlin Prem. Photo: Gerry Mooney

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Ciara Brehony in a class in Wicklow Democratic School. Photo: Gerry Mooney

It’s the start of the school day in the village of Rathnew, but students at Wicklow Democratic School aren’t heading into classes just yet. First, there’s the small matter of a school meeting: a get-together where their voices will be heard and respected as much as those of the adult staff members.

Because at this school, there is no principal, no hierarchy, no homework, nobody is ‘in charge’, and students follow a course of what’s called ‘self-directed learning’. If they find something interesting, they study it. If they don’t, then they don’t.


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