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The Origin Of The School

Philip O'Carroll

QUESTIONS: Albury, 1975

We asked each other, “Where shall we send our children for schooling?”
We decided to approach the question rationally, and asked first, “What is the purpose of schooling?”
"To enable the child to participate in the world confidently, competently, and happily,” we supposed. “By what method does schooling achieve this goal?” we wondered.

We mumbled the usual things like the teaching of reading, writing, arithmetic, etc., and then summarised this as the development of various skills.

We then asked ourselves, “What are the most important skills for a child to grow in?”

Reflecting on our own life experiences and on the causes of unhappiness that we could see in the world around us, it did not take us long to agree that the most pressing aspect of development for any young human was interpersonal communication skills. This was the key to long-term success in both personal life and career satisfaction.

This then was our first strong conviction on the subject of schooling.

With a sense of relief that we finally knew what we were looking for, we settled back into our armchairs and asked the innocuous question,

“Which schools best serve this need of children?”

But our comfort was short-lived as it soon became painfully obvious, mentally scanning the selection of schools available, that the school industry largely neglected children in this most important of all areas!

If you compare a group of school beginners with a group of school leavers you have a stark demonstration of a hidden curriculum that actually robs children of their expressive and communicative powers – and with it the all-important self-confidence.

Help! It was becoming obvious why parents generally avoid examining school life too closely. You have to give your children over, but if you discover that you don’t approve of the system, you have given yourself a heavy cross to bear.


We expressed our concerns to anyone who would listen and soon found ourselves joining a group of parents to form an alternative school. High hopes. A great pool of parental energy. Several eager meetings.

But dark clouds again... We found that, meeting by meeting, the parent group was becoming more harshly divided. These parents were dedicated, concerned, and like us, opinionated. It is after all the right and duty of parents to raise their children according to their values and beliefs. But there were so many areas of conflict. There were as many theories as to how the school should be run as there were parents. Even spouses were divided!

The movement collapsed before our eyes. Unbeknown to us at the time, the same distressing experience was befalling earnest parents all over the country. We shifted to the big city.

Melbourne, 1976.

We joined an established alternative school. We contributed our goodwill, our time, our fees and our children. But alas, the same problem of in-fighting was eating up this school too.

We investigated and soon came to discover that “community” schools everywhere were collapsing from within. The committee system, (which might be essential in some large organisations) when applied to small-scale, self-governing schools was shredding any hope of effectiveness – or even survival. All around Melbourne, these new alternative schools were falling like flies.


We were on the verge of giving up all hope of finding a school that truly served the child, when a bold thought entered our heads – START YOUR OWN SCHOOL.

Faye had been a secondary teacher and a social worker. Philip had been a philosophy lecturer and had often written on education. We knew what we wanted in a school. In a nutshell – a happy lifestyle which encouraged interpersonal communication skills and self-confidence.

We could bring this about through:

1. smaller, conversation-sized classes,
2. a wider circle of adults for the children to relate with, and
3. greater involvement in the world outside of school.

How shall we break through the obstructive and exhausting tangle of red tape associated with the founding of a new school? We could not. But we judged that our obligation to children was greater than our obligation to bureaucracy.

So without even rising from the kitchen table, we declared the school open. Four years later, it was officially registered.

But wait, how shall we avoid the internal strife that has befallen the other community schools? Here we had to seriously depart from the common practices of the day and say “not run by committee”.

We shall have an identifiable individual responsible for each aspect of the school. We shall be in the market place. We shall offer a package. Parents who like it will embrace it.

The committee system on paper appears to give parents power, but all they tend to end up with is a tense, low-morale, den of intrigue. True power lies in being able to choose or reject a school. Choice is meaningless without diversity.

Our approach offers parents a school which can actually get on with the job and offer a predictable direction and a happy place to work - good for children and staff.

Within 2 weeks, we had a full house of 20 children. 2 years later, we got the house next door and accepted 40 pupils. In 1994, we sold our home to the school, thereby opening up all rooms, and bought the house next door (on the other side). Thus we can take 65 pupils. Since our first week (in 1976), we have never advertised and have always had people waiting to join us.

We hope now that many more educators with vision will open their own small primary schools, and that parents everywhere will have the right to choose their own school for their own children.               POC


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