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Research Listing

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Recommended research on democratic, self-directed education, Sudbury schooling, homeschooling and problems in mainstream education

See also:

Sudbury Schooling

Sudbury Schooling

Sudbury Alumni

Sudbury Alumni
  • Jim Rietmulder (2015) Circle School Graduates in College, Circle School Blog

    • Our graduates go to college at high rates: 84% of those who were here for 4 years of high school, and 91% of our “lifers.” Nationwide the rate among same-age peers is 60%. Our graduates also earn more Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees than their peers. And 21% are currently pursuing degrees that aren’t even counted in this study.

  • Gray, P., & Chanoff, D. (1986). Democratic schooling: What happens to young people who have charge of their own education? American Journal of Education, 94, 182–213

    • Graduates reported that for higher education and careers, the school benefited them by allowing them to develop their own interests and by fostering such traits as personal responsibility, initiative, curiosity, ability to communicate well with people regardless of status, and continued appreciation and practice of democratic values. 

    • ... the graduates who had chosen to go on to higher education reported that they had no particular difficulty getting admitted to the schools of their choice and adapting to the academic requirements. Collectively, they were pursuing the whole range of careers that are valued by our society, but especially careers that require high levels of creativity and self-initiative. They believed that their self-determined education had led to a number of lasting benefits, including a continued passion for learning, a high sense of personal responsibility, and a continued drive to live in self determined ways.

    • Subsequent follow-up studies, conducted by the school itself, resulted in similar findings: 

      • Greenberg, Daniel; Sadofsky, Mimsy (1992) Legacy of Trust: Life after the Sudbury Valley School Experience, Sudbury Valley School Press

        • Data show that Sudbury students engaged in a wide variety of occupations, including management, teaching, the trades, and the arts; 87 percent of Sudbury students attended postsecondary schools; and 39 percent received college degrees, indicating that Sudbury students enjoy the full range of life choices available to other young people.

      • Greenberg, D., Sadofsky, M., & Lempka, J. (2005). The pursuit of happiness: The lives of Sudbury Valley alumni. Framingham, MA: Sudbury Valley School Press. 

Sudbury Style Benefits

Sudbury Style Benefits



Unschooling has similar principles to Sudbury schooling:

Unschooling refers to the educational practice of not sending children to school or requiring them to do school-like activities at home, but, instead, allowing them to take charge of their own education. Unschoolers generally believe that most learning occurs naturally, in everyday life, and that activities undertaken specifically for learning should be chosen by the learners, not imposed on them. from Gray, P., & Riley, G. (2015)

  • Gray, P., & Riley, G. (2013). The challenges and benefits of unschooling according to 232 families who have chosen that route. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 7(14), 1-27 (International)

    • The reported benefits of unschooling were numerous; they included improved learning, better attitudes about learning, and improved psychological and social wellbeing for the children; and increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family.

  • Gray, P., & Riley, G. (2015). Grown unschoolers’ evaluations of their unschooling experiences: Report I on a survey of 75 unschooled adults. Other Education,  4(2), pp. 8-32 

    • A high proportion of them— especially of those in the always-unschooled group—had chosen careers in the creative arts; a high proportion were self-employed entrepreneurs; and a relatively high proportion, especially of the men, were in STEM careers. Most felt that their unschooling benefited them for higher education and careers by promoting their sense of personal responsibility, self-motivation, and desire to learn. 

Alternative Schooling

  • CfBT Education Trust, Achieving successful outcomes through Alternative Education Provision: an international literature review - excellent resource of a host of studies and other info:

    • What works [in effective AEP] … Key to success is a stable group of caring, knowledgeable and committed staff, supported by ongoing professional development, within a wider ‘safety net’ of links to multiple agencies, partners and community organisations. This enables them to foster relationships based on respect, with careful and thoughtful use of appropriate incentives and rewards, and to cultivate a sense of ‘community’ among students and between students, families and teachers. This in turn ensures that students have the support they need to persevere and make progress, characterised by listening, caring and respectful relationships, with teachers perceived as honest, sensitive and understanding.

    • Schools are finally teaching what kids need to be successful in life

Alternative Schooling

Mainstream Schooling - Problems

Mainstream Schooling

Mental Health

40-60% of students are disconnected from mainstream school, which is second only to family disconnectedness in predicting future substance abuse and emotional distress.1,2

Rates of depression and anxiety among young people have been increasing steadily for the past 50 to 70 years. This has been linked to decline in young people's feeling of control over their own lives and corresponding rise of emphasis on extrinsic rather than intrinsic goals.3

Human Rights

Traditional schools typically disregard several articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially Article 12: the child’s views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting them.4

At Dáil na nÓg 2017, the 325 delegates of Ireland's youth parliament decided that inequality in schools was their most pressing issue.5

A corresponding Comhairle na nÓg survey of 3,242 youths found that less than half of students believed that students have a say in the classroom.6

Ineffective System

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation found that the most common teaching methods - reading and lecturing - are the least effective for retention.7

75% of Irish students say they learn best through active learning, but only 30% said teachers make learning interesting and fun.6

1 in 6 students, 6,200 students per year, drop out of university in their first year.8  Focus on the leaving cert is a contributing factor to this, since students are learning for the test rather than exploring and developing skills for independent learning.


1. Jenny Anderson (2016)  Schools are finally teaching what kids need to be successful in life, Quartz

2. Michael Strong (2016) Are Public Schools Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness?,

3. Peter Gray (2000)  The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders, Psychology Today.

4. Children's Rights Alliance (2010)  The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Booklet (Irish)

5. Delegate Report Dáil na nÓg 2017 

6. Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2017) So, how was school today? Report of a survey on how young people are taught and how they learn (Irish) 

7. Approaches to Teaching & Learning, INTO Consultative Conference on Education (Irish)

8. Carl O'Brien. Irish Times. More than 6,000 students drop out of college in first year (Irish)

  • Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2017) So, how was school today? Report of a survey on how young people are taught and how they learn (Irish)

    • Conclusions:

      • Students are very dissatisfied with the style of teaching used and with the way compulsory subjects are taught. In order of priority, students in all years are most dissatisfied with the teaching of mathematics, Irish and English. 

      • There is a mismatch between how teachers teach and how students feel they learn best. Young people prefer active learning, but only 30% of students think their teachers make learning interesting and fun

      • Exams

        • Most students have a lot of stress because of exams.

        • Exams are the biggest source of stress, along with doing difficult tasks and homework.

        • Students think there is too much emphasis on exams. 

      • Students have little autonomy (self-rule) and control over what happens to them in school.

        • Only half of students felt encouraged to give their opinion in class

        •  Most students did not feel they could explain themselves without conflict. 

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