History of the college
The Self Managed Learning College is the culmination of various projects undertaken by local parents and young people. In 1999 Professor Ian Cunningham started a series of meetings with parents and other interested people who were concerned about school provision. Some of the parents attending these meetings had been home educating; others wanted to see their children attend a school that really catered for their needs.
A new kind of school
At these meetings people realised that the ideal of a new kind of school might not be feasible but that at least some activities could be initiated. Ian Cunningham and colleagues from the educational charity the Centre for Self Managed Learning explained how they had been using Self Managed Learning principles with adults for over 20 years and suggested that this approach could work with school age young people.
Democratic educational principles
In order to further the discussion of democratic principles in education Ian Cunningham organised a seminar in 2000 with Yaacov Hecht from the Institute for Democratic Education in Hadera, Israel. The previous year Ian had been invited to work with democratic schools in Israel so that they could learn how to use the Self Managed Learning approach. This visit had been a great success and since that visit the approach has taken off in democratic schools across Israel.
Following these meetings Ian Cunningham held two workshops in local secondary schools to demonstrate the approach. This proved something of a false start and it was clear that this approach was, at the time, too radical for teachers in secondary schools to grasp. However as a result of the implementation of Self Managed Learning approaches in schools in East Sussex (see www.uctc.e-sussex.sch.uk/person_centredfor a film of the use of Self Managed Learning in Uckfield and Crowborough) the Council did in the end part fund a project at FalmerHigh School in 2005/6.
Difficulties with the official system
Despite the difficulties of dealing with the official system, parents with young people out of school wanted to see something happen. So a weekly Self Managed Learning programme was launched in 2001 using Hanover Community Centre as a venue, hired for each Monday morning. In 2007 it became possible to use a house in Preston Park and the South Downs Learning Centre was opened there in September of that year with 12 students aged 11-16. This has meant that a programme could operate Monday to Friday in one premises. However programmes for home educated young people have continued on a fortnightly basis as well.