Atelier 21 Finalist in Gatwick Diamond Business Awards

-The UKs first future school is a finalist for the New Business of the Year Award-

In recognition of the many challenges, Atelier 21 Future School has faced in opening shortly after the pandemic began in September 2020, the school has been nominated as one of the finalists for the ‘New Business of the Year Award’ in the Gatwick Diamond Business Awards, which take place on Thursday 17th March.

Whilst unfortunately many organisations and independent schools in particular have struggled during the pandemic, Atelier 21 Future School is now positively thriving because its unique offering as the UK’s first ‘future school’ is proving to be so highly sought after by parents. This is in part due to the pandemic leading to a panic over the UK having a knowledge-based curriculum where the focus is on children remembering facts and information rather than other skills valued by businesses and society as a whole. It has also highlighted the importance of mental well-being, entrepreneurship and outdoor learning which have historically been overlooked areas in education. As a future facing school Atelier 21 that is not driven by high stake testing and the focus is on exams and instead delivers a creative curriculum designed to encourage thinking skills collaboratively, without compromising academic rigour in any way. As a result Atelier 21 is increasingly popular and a waiting list is developing.

Hayley Peacock, Head of School,  Atelier 21 Future School comments: “Starting a school in COVID and convincing parents to buy into a progressive school, at a time of grave national insecurity (with the knock-on effect of a potential recession) has been extremely challenging. Although we knew there was a thirst for progressive education, West Sussex already has excellent independent and free state schools. The pandemic brought with it high levels of uncertainty for businesses and subsequently families, which made it a difficult decision for parents to commit to a long-term investment in their children’s education.

We had to encourage parents to take a huge leap of faith away from traditional education to a progressive education, not commonly known about in the UK, and yet we have hit 100% of our target occupancy since we started in September 2020. We see this as a huge achievement.”

The school offers what is described as a ‘revolutionary response’ to school. It re-imagines the school day with academic workshops taught in groups of 10, cross curricular project-based learning for real world experience and self-directed studies on research projects. Its personal responsibility model gives the children more choice over how they learn, for example by offering them the opportunity to present their learning with portfolio work rather than tests or exams. The school’s approach is far more self-motivational for pupils and gives them the opportunity to present their work more creatively and demonstrate more than just academic skills. It also holds immersion weeks when the whole school collapses its timetable to deep dive into a particular subject. For example, in the last year the school has run a DT week to build a base camp in the forest, a performing arts week to put on a Seussical Musical, an ICT week and most recently a space themed science week.

The school care about the same things as businesses today – entrepreneurship and personal growth and runs a ‘Passion Pays’ initiative where business entrepreneurs visit the school to give inspirational talks to the children about potential future careers. The whole school community operates their own school business to learn the principles of entrepreneurship and participates in democratic school groups to make decisions on various aspects of running the school.

The most popular school day is ‘Wild Friday.’ The one day a week where the whole learning community of children and adults go out to places of natural beauty such as the local forest or to the beach for outdoor learning and exploration. They also take part in purposeful ‘Adventure Days’ – from rock climbing to Forest School, crabbing to wild swimming, raft building, kayaking, surfing and more.

The school started with 43 children, which was a huge achievement given they opened during lockdown, when they could not show parents around the school building in real life. Parents were essentially buying into the idea of the progressive school based on virtual meetings with the proprietor. Over the period of a year this intake increased to 80 pupils, which is the maximum the school could have in this year.

The school plans to grow to 100 pupils by next September and then will have 10 more children joining the school in Reception in 2023 and 2024, to hit its capacity of 120. There will be increased capacity again in 2025 when the 1st year group of 16-year-olds leave the school. They plan to offer free bursary places to two children from disadvantaged families living near our school in Broadfield by 2024 and every year after.