Visit to SML College Brighton - Esther Russo
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Visit to SML College Brighton - Esther Russo

Visit to SML College Brighton


As a teacher of formative cycles, during the last years my interest in new approaches to learning processes has grown, especially considering the contexts of my classrooms: lack of motivation, problems with time and goal management, stress, abandonment of studies, lack of social skills ... I observe all this in my students, who are over 16 years of age and who, supposedly, have voluntarily chosen studies according to their interests and which should generate motivation and desire to learn.

For this reason, when I met Dr. Ian Cunningham in 2018 and first heard about the SML College he chairs, I looked for a way to visit them in Brighton. The visit lasted 5 days and there I was able to observe his way of working with young people.

The Self Managed Learning College is attended by students between the ages of 9 and 17 , who are advised and assisted by the team to choose their own goals and challenges, using what they call Learning Groups and Learning Agreements. ).

Groups consist of a meeting where individual goals are reviewed weekly, and each student can receive advice from their peers on how to progress toward achieving them. Once outside the group, each student can decide whether to work with others or individually on these goals, or to join a group project that fits their interests.

One of the most interesting aspects is that students choose the subjects they want to learn about. And they are not afraid to choose, since there is no wrong option. Each choice will serve for learning. The only thing that is required of them is that they are part of a Learning Group and attend weekly meetings, since it is the space where they can help each other and where they can receive support and understanding, if they need it.

During that week I was able to observe students immersed in various activities: programming with SCRATCH, elaboration of art pieces to sell at an open house, preparation with an individual tutor for the GCSE exams (a kind of selectivity that in the United Kingdom is carried out to age 16), a debate on vaccination, research projects on ancient civilizations and their culture of death, exposition of findings from a search on luminescent living beings, construction of a sailboat, calculation and discussion of a loan plan and many others.

What I perceived during the observation of the Learning Groups was that the students felt totally comfortable in them to express any opinion or feeling, be it a new idea for a project or a complaint or a personal problem. This is a constant in the day to day of SML College, since the personal life of the students is not separated from their learning process. Each individual is seen as a complete being and can express himself as a whole. Students are appreciated in their individuality. Everyone counts, everyone can express their opinion, and everyone is respected and should lavish the same respect.

This is also the case with the so-called Learning Advisers . The advisors are the adults who accompany the process and moderate the Learning Groups. On a board each advisor indicates what kind of support they can offer. Beyond academic degrees or qualifications, personal skills or experience in certain “non-academic” fields are also offered that can serve as counseling for students. Each Adviser is not just a “teacher of” but a well-rounded person who can inspire young people.

The experience was very inspiring for me and I hope to be able to apply some of the learnings obtained in my day to day as a teacher.

I can only thank all the students, staff and volunteers of SML College for their welcome and patience in answering my questions. It was a pleasure meeting you.


A few days ago the Tumwaco Association offered a talk about this and other experiences, as part of a cycle. We will continue with our activities to present other ways of educating, so as not to lose our activities, follow us on


Esther russo