East Kent Sudbury School defends use of Cliftonville Community Centre

Elaine Phillips, Kezia Cantwell-Wright, Katie Coleman and Rev. Nick Ratcliffe

The founders of a radical independent school have responded to criticism after moving into Cliftonville Community Centre.

East Kent Sudbury School opened in January as an education provision for home-schooled children and is not yet officially recognised by Kent County Council.

It is the only learning provision in the UK styled the same as the Sudbury School in the US -where children self-direct their learning.

Founder Kezia Cantwell-Wright, of Ramsgate, says there needs to be an alternative method of learning for children who do not fit into mainstream education and that the school is fulfilling a need in the area.

She said: “We looked everywhere for the right place. We looked everywhere in Canterbury and Folkestone but the demand was here in Margate – and not from DFLs (Down From London).

“We have 19 children from all different backgrounds.”

Co-founder Katie Coleman,  who went to school in Westgate, added: “We believe wholeheartedly in this model. My son struggled badly at school and it really damaged his self-esteem.”

Area of deprivation

But some critics say the lowest annual fees of £2,450  mean the provision is out of reach for the poorest families. They also question whether a community hall in an area of deep deprivation should be used as its location.

Kezia said: “Around 80% of students come from the lowest bracket income. Parents have made sacrifices for their children to come here. We would love to be funded but the model is so radical that we won’t be able to get funding until is proved to be successful. Not even through a free school application – we’d still have to have certain restrictions.

“This (fee model) is the only way we can get started and build it, we hope one day to be able to offer free places.”

Katie, whose three children attend the school, added: ““We have to fund it somehow.  We have six members of staff and they are all volunteers. All our furniture was donated and the start up costs were self funded, mainly by Kezia.

“Around 60% of our income goes on rent which benefits the community centre.

“We have the option of paying monthly  (over 10 months) and some parents have made not bought cars and forgone holidays to pay for their children to attend.”

Kezia added: “It takes a huge leap of faith to come here but it’s growing. One of the reasons we wanted to sign a lease here was Elaine’s enthusiasm.”

‘All walks of life’

Elaine Phillips has run the community centre for 18 years and organises a range of  services for people and families in need. She said: “Even though we are the fourth most deprived area in the South East, we are open for all walks of life; we do rent the hall here to ABC (residents group) and offer others at a peppercorn rent. Sudbury uses the former nursery who were here for 2.5 years and eight years before that.”

What is the Sudbury model?

Devised in the US in 1968 there are around 60 Sudbury-style schools around the world.

Children self-direct their own learning and and all ages mix together.

The community is managed by the Community Meeting where issues are debated and voted upon including rules and policies, budget, facilities and even the hiring of staff.  This ensures that the community exists in peace and that the facilities are maintained for everyone’s continued use.

Any member of the community can bring issues or proposals to the meeting for discussion and to be voted on; examples might be planning a field trip, organising a group show, purchasing new equipment or discussing where all the pens keep disappearing to.

 Each member of the community is respected and treated equally and fairly. Students are trusted to make decisions for the benefit of themselves and the whole community.


When rules are broken or conflicts occur a complaint is sent to the Judicial Committee (JC).  

Annual Fee for Phase 1 – Part-Time

Household Income1st child2nd child3rd child +
> £100k£7,000.00£4,900.00£2,800.00
< £19k£2,450.00£1,715.00£980.00