Cottage schools are growing worldwide, due to the dissatisfaction over traditional schooling or the need to have more flexibility in children’s learning.
What is a cottage school?
1. A home-style private learning centre.
2. Not home based school tutoring; where a child is taught by a parent/private tutor at home.
3. Caters for families looking for a more nurturing and flexible school environment.
4. Individualised education in small groups.
5. Appropriate for children with special needs or circumstances: remedial children who need gaps closed in their learning, gifted children, children with physical, emotional and behavioural challenges or children who need flexibility to pursue sport or cultural careers.
6. ANY child can attend.
7. Majority of cottage schools take students from grade R upwards due to registration requirements with the Department of Social Welfare.
What should parents be looking for?
• Verifiable teacher qualifications, not everyone is an effective educator.
• Competent and nurturing support staff.
• Do the teachers/facilitators receive constant training to uphold the ever-changing research and teaching approaches?
• What is the classroom setup? Cubical setting surrounding him/her or grouped with other students within close proximity range?
• Is there a play area and equipment?
• Are the facilities clean, tidy, safe and homely?
• How long has the school been operating for?
• Is the school registered with an association to legally protect learners, parent, staff and the school, such as the Pestalozzi Trust in South Africa? Does the school have a rezoning certificate to prevent immediate closure threats from city council?
• Is the facility compatible to children’s physical barriers such as being wheelchair accessible?
• What curriculum is offered? Nationally or internationally recognised? Personalised according to a child’s strengths and challenges? Eclectic or set curriculum taught from beginning to end of a book?
• Is the school government aligned i.e. follows the national standards per grade level? If a cottage school is registered as an independent school, the Department of Education forces it to apply the government curriculum and approach.
• Is teaching practical and fun?
• What are the school leaving options available, such as Cambridge, GDE or vocational paths?
• What is the pupil/teacher ratio?
• Do remedial children get adequate support? Is there an IEP (Individual Education Plan) using a scaffolding method; where each child is assessed in each subject area and taught from that level onward? Are there sensory rooms, appropriate visual aids or other professional support systems? Is the school geared towards specific needs such as autistic or blind children, meaning that there is more behavioural rather than academic teaching?
• Is the school inclusive? Are neurotypical/average functioning children and remedial classified students accommodated in the same classroom?
• What is their outlook on alternative practices/remediating medicines such as Ritalin?
• What are their religious beliefs and how are they applied throughout the day?
• How are children assessed? If formal assessments are conducted, they should be appropriate and suited to a child’s learning style. Written assessments are not appropriate for every child.
• Tutoring/facilitation should be provided to students from 15 years onwards, to assist in areas such as study skills or time management.
• What is the homework policy?
• What are the school terms and fee payment structures?
• What is the school’s discipline policy?
• What meals are offered?
• Is there aftercare?
• Are life skills such as sex education and stress management taught?
• Are there extra murals, guest speakers/ instructors or outings included? What is the cost?
• What parent training does the school provide?
• What communication systems are in place for everyday announcements/parent networking?
• How often is a child’ progress reported back to parents? A child can progress in multiple academic areas in a matter of weeks.
Where can you find a cottage school?
• Join a Cottage Facebook Group.
• Search for cottage schools on the Internet.
• Ask other parents or professionals such as Educational Psychologists or therapists for referrals.
• Contact cottage school associations and ask for referrals.
• Contact any homeschooling curriculum provider for a list of cottage schools that use their curricula or ask for school referrals in the area.
Thanks to Leandra Van der Veen, Principal at Arden Academy Cottage School, for her contribution to this checklist.