How a democratic education is inspiring the next generation of changemakers
There is a simple, underlying ethos to Sands School’s approach to education: in order to learn effectively, students must be happy. Founded in 1987 by 14 students and three teachers, Sands has always believed that the key to ensuring students’ happiness is through social democracy.

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Sands is a non-hierarchal, democratic school, based on equality and respect, where students and staff make decisions on the running of the school together – from every day rule breaking to the hiring and firing of teachers.

Students, ages 11 to 17 years old, are taught up to GCSE level and are allowed to choose what they study and whether they attend lessons, and are allowed to sit exams when they, as individuals, are ready. In addition to academic subjects, Sands also focuses on practical life skills such as cooking, debating, cleaning and building.

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What are the effects of an alternative, democratic education like the one offered at Sands? Two students – Esme Shea, 20, a former student who now studies Contemporary Dance at university, and Megan Bellamy, 16, who is in her final year and studying for 9 GCSE’s – reflect on how their experiences at Sands have shaped their personal development, their approach to learning and their life outside of the school.

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