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This article originally appeared on Sydney Morning Herald on January 24,2019 by Jordan Baker

One of the new public schools opening next week has 3000 students on its waiting list, and some parents are trying to enroll their unborn children.

Lindfield Learning Village is attracting parents keen on its unconventional approach to education, which involves abandoning traditional grade levels, school bells and classrooms, and teaching in open spaces through collaborative, multi-disciplinary projects.

But an education expert is skeptical, warning that without good classroom discipline, the approach could do more harm than good.

One of the newly-built classrooms at Lindfield Learning Village, which will open in January.

One of the newly-built classrooms at Lindfield Learning Village, which will open in January.

The school will open to 350 students from kindergarten to year 10 next Wednesday. Principal Stephanie McConnell said there were 2500 children on the waiting list for this year, which would roll over to the year 2020.

There are a further 500 whose parents want them to begin at Lindfield next year and beyond.

“[The applicants are] from all over the world, actually,” she said. “I’m getting them from international locations everywhere, as well as the local area. There are people wanting to enrol their unborn child.”

A position on the waiting list doesn’t mean priority entry, but does mean their parents are the first to receive information. “They get the ‘we’re open for enrolment’ type thing, which means they are on the front foot,” Ms McConnell said.

Steve and Michelle McKenna's sons Travis (12) and Kurt (6) have secured spots at Lindfield Learning Village.

Steve and Michelle McKenna’s sons Travis (12) and Kurt (6) have secured spots at Lindfield Learning Village. CREDIT:DOMINIC LORRIMER

The school, which will eventually take students up to year 12, is opening in stages. It will accept another 700 students in 2020, moving towards an overall school population of 2000. It does not yet have an official catchment area, but will as it gets closer to capacity.

Until then, Ms McConnell will “recognise the importance of students that live very close by.” After the catchment has been decided, the school will only be able to take out-of-area enrolments if it is not at capacity.

There was also high demand from teachers, with some coming from the non-government sector. “It’s attracted the best of the best,” Ms McConnell said.

It is built on the site of the old Ku-ring-gai campus at UTS to take pressure off surrounding schools, such as a crowded Chatswood High.

The first 350 students were selected through an interview and represent a cross-section of needs and backgrounds, said Ms McConnell. “There isn’t a student that [the school] won’t suit,” she said.

Teachers will use an approach known as “project-based, multidisciplinary learning”, which means involving several disciplines in student-driven projects. For example, a robot project might use maths, science and design, plus English if pupils tell its story.

Students will be expected to take responsibility for their learning, and other aspects of the school, such as designing their own uniform. A year seven student has also come up with the likely school motto, “collaborate, thrive, inspire”.

An artist's impression of Lindfield Learning Village

An artist’s impression of Lindfield Learning village.

Comparisons have been made with the Montessori method, which involves collaborative play and “self-directed” activity.

Education policy analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies Blaise Joseph would not comment directly on Lindfield Learning’s approach, but said so-called inquiry based learning was not supported by evidence.

“Too much focus on student-centred learning and student preference doesn’t appear to improve academic achievement,” he said.

To work, it required good discipline and an orderly classroom, Mr Joseph said. “But if you don’t have that, it actually has a very big negative effect. That’s not to say that there aren’t some schools employing it effectively, but it’s not an evidence-based approach.”

However, others say inquiry-based learning helps develop skills that students will need in a rapidly changing world, such as critical thinking and problem solving. Ms McConnell said the approach involved “incredible rigour”.

Education Minister Rob Stokes said Lindfield Learning Village has been one of the most anticipated of the new schools opening at the start of the coming school year.

“I’m excited to see how students and teachers embrace this new approach to education and we’ll be watching it closely to see what lessons or learning approaches could be adopted in other schools across the state,” he said.

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