I established Liberty Woodland School in 2019 after I had already set up seven successful forest school nurseries – Little Forest Folk – across South West London. They had been launched out of a desire for my own and other children to enjoy an exemplary early years experience, and I loved watching children flourish in the forest.
But as children, including my own, started transitioning to primary school, I became more and more disillusioned with the primary years education available to them. I saw their creativity start to dwindle and watched them become children who answered questions instead of asking them.
“I became disillusioned with the primary years education available.”
I researched education systems around the world, worked with developmental cognitive specialists and many other experts and toured schools around the world. Following this two year period of research, I launched Liberty Woodland School in September 2019, initially as a primary.
My vision was to create a school for the future. I wanted my own and other children to be happy and develop into young people who could succeed in the 21st century through a strong focus on skills and attributes as well as being grounded through a deep connection to the natural world.
We are a predominantly outdoor school, something that makes us pretty unique, and the majority of our time learning is spent outside, as the connection between spending time in nature and positive mental health is irrefutable.
We opened LWS with 25 children, all of whom had attended Little Forest Folk nurseries previously. We opened in a temporary one acre site in Worcester Park and had a team of eight teachers. We had only been open for five months when in March 2020, Covid hit. We had to instantly adapt from being a fully outdoor school, to an online school, along with the whole of the country.
“We had only been open for five months when Covid hit.”
What was incredible was that due to our strong focus on relationships, community and personal development, our children were resilient and adaptable enough to adjust to our temporary new way of operating and continue to flourish.
We were always searching for our “forever home”, which would allow us to continue to grow and develop as a school and as a community. In March 2021 we relocated to our permanent base adjacent to Morden Hall Park, a glorious three acre campus situated around a historic building.
We were able to really put our mark on the campus and with our strong drive to environmentalism, we installed a water turbine, ground source heat pump and solar panels to ensure our hot water, heating and electricity comes from renewable sources. It is very important to us, despite the expense, to ensure we are as sustainable a school as possible.
“We prioritise an in-depth and wide-ranging environmental curriculum.”
There are many things that make our school unique, not least our incredible, passionate and dedicated teaching team. One such unique aspect of our school is our strong focus on environmentalism.
We prioritise an in-depth and wide-ranging environmental curriculum because we know that the children need to be equipped to make informed and positive choices in an unknown future.
Today’s children’s actions will leave a lasting legacy on our planet and, if educated well, we believe that the climate crisis, instead of being a race we are destined to lose, can transform into one we can win.
Our priority in our school is that children feel safe, have positive mental health and physical and emotional wellbeing, and feel grounded and connected to the world, knowing and deeply feeling their place in the world.
“The majority of our time learning is spent outdoors in nature – essential for good mental health.”
Our learning is experiential and project-based, working towards an ethic of excellence through a cross-curricular approach which is intellectually challenging, dynamic and exciting.
Projects are selected for their contemporary or community resonance to be meaningful and purposeful to students, with an authentic audience to develop self-motivated and empowered leaders of their own learning.
Our school is four years old this year and has been on an incredible journey this far. We began with 25 primary age students in 2019 and will start September 2023 with 100 primary age students and a teaching team of 20. We recently even won the Independent Schools Association’s Excellence in Sustainability Award for 2022.
We have written our own curriculum for our primary students, based around core competencies and skills our children need to develop.
For our secondary school, launched in September 2022 we are using the International Baccalaureate curriculum to allow us to continue to challenge our students with intellectually challenging, project based learning through a concept driven curriculum.
Parents love that their children are so happy, resilient, positive, empathetic and emotionally intelligent. It’s also important to them that their children develop the skills to be adaptable to the unpredictable demands of what is to come. Our children are the scientists, entrepreneurs and changemakers of the future.
“Parents love that their children are so happy and resilient.”
We have encountered challenges along the way, as we are creating the first school of its kind and have no model to follow or example for prospective parents to look at.
A challenge we needed to overcome was the perception that due to our holistic development of the whole child and strong focus on skills and attributes, that this needed to come at the detriment of academic rigour.
Many parents assumed it was an either/or scenario, not understanding how focusing on physical and emotional wellbeing, positive mental health and high emotional intelligence actually increases academic achievement.
“It is thrilling to be able to take children on a full educational journey from age four to age 18.”
We are now four years old and so are able to share examples of pupil’s development over the years with prospective parents, allowing them to appreciate how powerful our educational model is.
As we launched our secondary school in September 2022, it is thrilling to be able to take my own and other children on a full educational journey from age four to age 18. When I look at what these children and young people are already capable of and achieving at such a young age, I can’t wait to see who they will become and what they will achieve in their lives.