When Sarah and I first started working together on an education setting, it wasn’t specifically The Cabin and the Lodge. Where we started, was answering the question: What would the education system look like, if it had been originally designed through a lens of children’s rights?
What we knew was that the education system that exists, was not designed through that lens. We knew that schooling had been designed through a different lens, that did not include an awareness of children as people, not property. Then, many years into its functioning, children’s rights emerged as a clearer concept.
But it was never designed or built with that in mind. The idea that children are people, with the right to a voice, and other human rights, came later. Any attempts to try to catch the current system up with that, is massively limited by it’s underlying building blocks and the beliefs and expectations that underpin its interpretation of what ‘education’ looks like, that has nothing at all to do with children being seen as full people with human rights.
So we wanted to know: what would an education system look like, if you started from scratch, and designed it through a lens of children’s rights, right at the start.
We worked on this for a number of years, and it led us to the theory, principles and practices, that you can now see in part at the Cabin and the Lodge.
Before the Cabin opened in January 2018, we had spent over a year working on another plan that would see our theory and ‘new system’ in place.
Originally, we had thought the way to get the practice up and running as a model, was to register as a private school. We knew we couldn’t register as a state funded school due in part to the level of restriction that exists in that route, that would mean we couldn’t create the practice we wanted.
So we thought maybe, we could create the space we needed by going the private route, where there is more flexibility and freedom to ‘do differently’. Accepting this was the first compromise we made, as of course our hopes always had been to be able to create a free to access setting, and this is still something we believe in being crucially important as part of the process of change.
In 2017, we happened upon an extraordinary site, that could have been perfect for what we were hoping to achieve. It just so happened, that this site was owned by a very special person, who fully understood and supported our aims. She was in the process of selling this property, and agreed to take it off the market for us, so that we could use the site to run a pilot of the setting for an agreed length of time, so that we could have the model up and running, to test it, and then be in a position to seek investment.
However, in the summer of that year, we realised that this wasn’t going to be a workable solution. There were many reasons for this realisation, that made proceeding with the pilot phase in this way unethical – the small scale pilot itself would have been great, but we knew we wouldn’t then be able to evolve it into the bigger scale project that the pilot was meant to achieve, the outcome on which the pilot agreement had been made. We very sadly had to end this project moving forwards, which, at the time was a massive disappointment and blow.
We knew our plan and theory was good – there was never a problem with the theory or the plan of the actual setting. The block was in being able to arrange everything else around it to help make it happen in the way we had hoped to. The physical space and infrastructure to bring the theory and practice to life.
At this point we got connected again to what mattered the most: getting the practice of this new model up and running, as soon as possible. We knew that ideas on paper are no where near as good as something being up and running, when it comes to affecting change. Not least because we could then explore the practice and develop it way more deeply and meaningfully than you can in concept stage.
So, we did a massive pivot. In the Autumn of 2017, we focused on ‘get it up’, and found a new solution and way to do this, with way less barriers, where rather than being stressed on a big project and lifting the massive weights that would have come with our original plan of the ‘independent school’, we could do what mattered – getting the practice going – in an easier, and more accessible way, within months.
That January, the Cabin opened it’s doors for the first time.
Since then, we have been able to work through and refine this new way of holding learning community, of supporting young people in a way that affirms their own agency, autonomy, personhood and human rights. We have been able to experience what it feels like to be in this ‘new way’, have seen what skills, tools and systems you need for it to run healthily, and have worked to develop these things.
We are now at a point, 5 years since the Cabin first opened, where we are able to share this more with other people outside of our own setting – which was always the aim. To build on the influence that the work has already had over the years on people and places – both new settings, and settings changing their culture and practices to be more consent-based. To help people in finding the language and nuance to better describe and create the culture and environment for consent-based education.
This has never been about just our own setting. We have, from the start, been in it for systems change. We have always known that we need to get our practice and principles right, test it, get it great and in a fit start to be shared and adopted by others – both in and outside of the mainstream system – in order to be part of the process of change. We’ve worked hard to do that, and it’s paying off.
It was never just about our setting or one setting. Change is coming, and for some, it’s already here.