Progressive Schools outside London

In the UK and globally, there is a steady increase in institutions that embrace progressive alternatives to conventional methods of education.  We have seen an increase in families looking for an alternative, less-pressurised education.  Most ‘progressive schools’ are forward-thinking and aim to equip pupils with the life skills and resilience for an increasingly fast-paced, changing global society.  

In this blog, we explore alternative or progressive schools, outside of London.  

Frensham Heights, Surrey

Frensham Heights, in Surrey (3-18 years); alma mater of Mark Frankel and Jamie Glover, takes creativity to a new level. The school looks and feels like an art college. Its campus is bursting with enthusiasm, colour and an impressive array of multi-media art displays. The school walls showcase the freedom students are given to develop their own ideas. The wealth of talent is matched by the incredible range of resources. Students can utilise kilns, a street art display wall, woodworking facilities and a dark room.

Classes in Frensham often diverge from the conventional idea of a teacher lecturing at the front of the room. Instead, pupils are encouraged to learn from one another, in a more relaxed setting, whilst the teacher moves from group to group.  Academic pupils do well here and children are encouraged to explore their musical, artistic and sporting talents to the full.  

Summerhill School, Suffolk 

Summerhill (5-17 years), alma mater of Rebecca de Mournay and Storm Thorgerson, is arguably the most alternative school in the UK- entirely child-led in its approach.  Lessons are optional and the approach to education is almost unrecognisable from the conventional British model.  Each member – adult or child – of the school community works to curate the school environment. Pupils have an enormous amount of independence and support.

The school provides its pupil body with a choice over its own weekly schedule. When the pupils are tired and don’t feel up to academia, they are free to use the school’s wealth of facilities.  They are encouraged to play in the woods, enjoy the school library, make music or art, or have some alone time. 

Zoe Readhead, the school’s headteacher, argues that by giving pupils the choice, they arrive at lessons saying: “I’m here, I want to learn – teach me.” The school provides its pupils with an almost pressure-free environment. One that nurtures their passions and teaches them the value of kindness and empathy.  

Whilst the school embraces freedom, they do not award licence; ‘this means that you are free to do as you like – but you must not interfere with somebody else’s freedom’. The school practices giving pupils a major voice in decision-making. This does not mean that it is a rule-free environment. 

Bedales School, Hampshire

Until the sixth form, Bedales  (3-18 years), alma mater of Daniel Day-Lewis, Kirsty Allsopp and Cara Delevigne, is inclusive and non-selective.  The school prides itself on offering a ‘progressive and liberal education’.  Laser-focused on creating a happy and welcoming school environment, vertical tutoring is used to help with multi-year mentoring programmes.  Older students are encouraged to help the younger ones settle in.

In years 10 and 11, pupils are given the opportunity to study a mix of GCSE, IGCSEs and Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs). There are five compulsory GCSEs (Maths, English, Sciences, and a Modern Foreign Language (MFL). BACs are well-regarded by universities and certified by UCAS.  Bedales’ teachers design them with the aim of bridging the gap between standard GCSEs and the skills needed for later in life. BAC options include global awareness, outdoor work, digital game design, and theatre science amongst others. In a letter to the Times, the Head urges fellow school leaders ‘who decry the lack of educational authenticity in GCSEs… [to] have the courage of their convictions and provide something else in their place.’

Bedales, whilst offering a progressive and unique education, is a strong academic performer. 2022 saw 72% of students get A*-B grades at A level. At 18, most students go on to top universities, with popular choices including Falmouth, Bristol, Manchester, and Glasgow, whilst four were admitted to Oxbridge. 

Bedales is also celebrated for its plethora of extracurricular options. Music, art and drama are particularly well renowned – there is a wide variety of orchestras, ensembles and groups for pupils to join.

These are just some examples of secondary schools that offer an alternative vision of education – there are many more. If you are looking specifically for progressive schools in London, please see our blog: progressive schools in London.

When choosing a school for your child, the range of options can feel overwhelming. If you are looking at alternative schools because your child has Special Educational Needs (SEN), our blog on London schools’ SEN provision may interest you. You can also read our overview of Montessori education if you’re looking to explore more progressive routes to education.

For further information and for supported applications to progressive, international and mainstream schools in London and nationwide, please CONTACT US.