CELEBRATING THE INDIVIDUAL
“Normal” is not something that the Lancaster School aspires to. From its educational focus to how it is governed, the 36-year-old school, which is based in Mexico City, prefers to celebrate diversity.
“We have banned the word ‘normal’ at school,” laughs Alan Downie, who was Headmaster of the Lancaster School, or La Escuela de Lancaster as it’s known locally, for 23 years before becoming Executive Officer of the Latin American Heads Conference in 2015. “We try to recognise the individuality in every single person by developing the social, spiritual and thinking self. The worst thing to tell any child is that they are normal!”
This means inverting many traditional ideas of education, such as using academic results as an indicator of success. If a child is inclined towards academia, this is nurtured. However, exam results are not the school’s primary objective. Rather, each student is encouraged to discover and develop his or her individual talents and interests. “Like the Ancient Greeks, we see education as a process of human development,” says Downie. “It’s only in recent centuries that people have seen education as a purely academic activity.”
The school’s model of governance is also unique. Set up as a non-profit, private “Association”, or cooperative, every parent is a member, with equal say on its evolution as a community of learners.
In fact, parental involvement was one of the reasons the school was set up in 1979. A group of parents, mainly non-Mexicans married to Mexicans, found that the international schools their children attended were too UK- or US-focused. So they established the Lancaster School with two main principles – to expose children to a balance of British and Mexican education and culture, and to celebrate their community of parents, teachers and students.
Today, around 840 pupils aged three to 19 attend its primary and secondary schools, following the International Baccalaureate curriculum. There is a strong focus on community and social justice.
“We were the first school in Mexico to have an Amnesty International group,” says Downie. Standing up and saying “Exam results are not our primary objective” is, as Downie says, a big risk. But, with students progressing to Ivy League colleges and acting classes at RADA, the school’s places are consistently oversubscribed. The Lancaster School may not be “normal”, but that’s why people like it.