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Atelier 21 Future School, Pease Pottage

A unique educational offering inspired by Reggio Emilia, self-directed learning and other progressive approaches that promises to equip children with the skills they need for the future.

WHAT? WHERE?

A brand new ‘revolutionary response to school’ housed in a stunning manor house overlooking the tranquil lake of Broadfield Park in Pease Pottage. Atelier 21 opened its doors to its 50 pupils last September and is set to grow to a capacity of 120. Offering all-through education for children aged up to 16, it promises a unique and groundbreaking approach that gives children the skills and qualities they need to thrive in a 21st century world.

Head Hayley Peacock, founder of the award-winning nursery chain Little Barn Owls, is passionate about the inquiry-based Reggio Emilia approach to learning and Atelier 21 is inspired by the most progressive pedagogies around the world, brought together with the UK’s National Curriculum.

Launching a school in the midst of a pandemic, with a subsequent two-month lockdown, brings a whole new definition to the word ‘challenge’ but Ms Peacock and her team seem to have met this head-on, and although new, the school feels established and fully inhabits its enviable space.

FACILITIES

Although this is undoubtedly not your average independent school, the white 19th century villa-style manor house that Atelier 21 calls home certainly fits the mould. Broadfield House has had a number of occupants over the years, including Radio Mercury and a couple of schools and at one point planning permission was granted to turn it into apartments. It feels naturally suited to a school site, and the surrounds of the Broadfield Park nature reserve are as idyllic as the grounds of any traditional private school. The school has just taken over its own private forest nearby for outdoor learning and children are currently competing to design and build a base camp.

Inside, the central piazza of the building provides a focal point and acts as the school hall and setting for whole-school gatherings. Early Years have their own space with free-flow outdoor area accessed through beautiful glass doors in one of the building’s many bay windows. Currently children within the main school are grouped into two classes, one for years 1-3 and one for years 4-6 with senior classes being established as the school grows.

The classrooms are bright, airy and interlinked, meaning children can move around the spaces as required. A key principle of the Reggio Emilia approach is the environment, often called ‘the third teacher’, and this principle has been applied beautifully at Atelier 21. The spaces are filled with interesting and beautiful objects, lots of plants, books and learning stimulus on top of the usual classroom equipment. It’s a very aspirational environment and Ms Peacock’s background in early years has translated well to more grown-up spaces for older children.

A STEAM space houses microscopes, white coats and the usual scientific equipment, but is not (and doesn’t claim to be) a purpose-built lab. Plans are being made to create a science suite in an annexe building as the school grows. Each class has its own atelier – creative workshop space – and these are stunningly lit and beautifully laid out with equipment and resources. A separate ‘tinker lab’ houses stimulating sensory materials for children to explore and is updated with the theme of the school’s overall learning topic.

SPORT

There are no bespoke sports facilities on-site and the school makes use of the wider Broadfield Park nature reserve, which features flat fields ideal for sport, a lake and a nature trail. The school is directly opposite the K2 sports centre which has a huge range of facilities including a swimming pool and climbing wall that children can make use of. However at the current time the school isn’t able to access the centre due to Covid and is using facilities from other schools in the area, including Astroturf.

PE and sport are taught by the former head of sport at Windlesham Prep and Ms Peacock intends fixtures to begin as soon as Covid restrictions allow.

Ms Peacock says what the school lacks in its own dedicated facilities it makes up for in creativity, using what’s available to it in the local area. This in itself is a revolutionary approach, and begs the question does a school really need rolling acres of high-maintenance playing fields, courts, all-weather pitches and Olympic-sized swimming pools when they stand empty for a large part of the day? For those who answer yes, Atelier 21 is unlikely to suit at this time.

CREATIVE ARTS

Creativity is undoubtedly at the heart of the school. Each class has its own atelier and these are presided over by ‘atelieristas’ – professional artists, in one case – and fully set up for all kinds of techniques and skills.

A separate music room houses instruments including drums, and there’s a smaller practice room for individual lessons and sessions. The drama space features professional lighting and a green backdrop.

ACADEMICS

The school covers the National Curriculum and intends to register for iGCSE courses from 2023 when the oldest pupils are ready to sit them. Children learn through ‘mastery workshops’ (lessons in small groups that encourage independent learning, to you and I) and each class has two teachers, one a qualified teacher and one with a more diverse background for example, in early years, Forest School or a profession or creative discipline.

In addition children undertake project-based learning via a whole school cross-curricular Big Study, which follows an overarching theme – current themes are My Body My Brain, and Rights and Responsibilities. At the end of each term, children take part in a Big Share where they present their learnings and are assessed.

Timetabled academic and project-based learning takes place in the mornings, leaving afternoons free for self-directed learning. Here children are supported by staff to carry out research projects of their own design, in areas that interest them.

Every Friday the whole school spends most of the day outside in a mix of contextualised learning, adventure days, Forest School and other outdoor activities. Ms Peacock says WILD Fridays are resoundingly the most popular day of the week.

Until GCSE age, children do not sit exams but are assessed through portfolio work.

THE HEAD

Ms Peacock is a passionate entrepreneur as well as an educator. Having enjoyed a track record of success with Little Barn Owls, she has established Atelier 21 as her first all-through school and to have done this within a global pandemic is a hugely commendable achievement.

In person she’s extremely likeable, engaging and a superb role model for her own principles and values. Her own children attend Atelier 21 and she’s been very influenced by her experience of traditional private education which she feels is good at teaching children ‘how to be taught’ over how to learn.

As the school grows she plans to continue to use the existing unused spaces to house more children. She also has plans to honour the building’s broadcasting heritage with a studio for recording and podcasts.

She outlines her values and approach in our interview.

QUIRKS

Well, where to start? The whole school is intentionally unique and even runs a whole-school business, to develop children’s financial literacy and entrepreneurial spirit. Cognitive scientist and prolific education author Guy Claxton, creator of the Learning Power Approach, is a patron of the school.

The school day is longer than average, from 9-3.15 for Reception and 8.30-4.14pm for primary and secondary age children. Wraparound care is available from 7.30am – 6pm.

FEES

From £2,850 a term in Reception to £4,350 a term for the senior school.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Families looking for an alternative to mainstream education that still offers the security blanket of academic learning. Atelier 21 feels like a bridge between traditional approaches and more radical home education and unschooling.

Not for: Traditionalists may find the approach too ‘out there’. No uniform is required and teachers are known by their first names. Ms Peacock is also careful to emphasise that while the school may well suit children who don’t thrive in traditional independent or state schools, it is not a school for children with many additional learning or behavioural needs.

Dare to disagree? To request to join a parent tour contact the school on 01293 265417 or email info@atelier21schools.co.uk

Atelier 21 Future School, Broadfield Park, Crawley, West Sussex, RH11 9RZ, 01293 265417

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