David Gribble, 'Worlds Apart'

IssueNovember 2006
Review by Jill Dimmock

Worlds Apart is a comparison of the dual worlds of formal and non-formal (or democratic) education. As the publisher's name implies, the book is written by a supporter of free education but it cannot be accused of being overly partisan in its approach. It seeks, rather, to cut through prejudice on both sides and to provide information through the words of the schools and the pupils themselves. It would be fair to say that positive and negative aspects come out of both accounts although the balance comes down in favour of the liberal approach.

The book is divided into three sections: school prospectuses and official statements, comments from day school pupils and comments from boarders. There is an additional section of photographs and the layout is the same throughout: formal schools on the left-hand page are matched against democratic ones on the right. Similarities and differences are therefore easy to spot. All schools have strict bans on alcohol and drugs, and smoking is frowned upon. On the other hand, free schools do not insist on attendance at lessons and the taking of exams is optional. They do, however, require pupils to do cooking, cleaning and even some repairs. One disadvantage of the study is that there are so few alternative schools to choose from and only Sands and Summerhill are referred to here - a total of 170 pupils - and, of course, they are both fee paying. Given this tiny and untypical percentage of children, it is hard to imagine, therefore, that anyone who had doubts about these schools' methods would be convinced. This is not a fault of the book, of course, but given the increasing numbers of home-educated children in the UK, it might be more relevant to examine this area of alternative education.

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