Our School

All of our team are fully Garda Vetted

We are a passionate group of committed parents with a goal to inspire children to learn freely in a safe environment.  We opened Cork's first Outdoor Playschool in 2016 and have seen firsthand the benefits of allowing children the freedom to play outdoors at an age when they need it most.  We have introduced the children to our native language and continue to encourage the immersion of the Irish language in our young children.  When it comes to immersion, we believe that all children should experience the freedom to immerse themselves in what they are learning with little or no time constraints.  We are wholly inspired by the work of Peter Gray and Daniel Greenberg and are proud to be in a position to provide a space for self-directed learning for our youth.  At OAK Sudbury School we build the right team for our children, and then give that team the chance to fulfill their own career ambitions.  Our staff are active and enthusiastic and passionate about giving children the freedom to learn, they are career focused also: which means their desire and passion to be the very best benefits our students, every day.  Their experience and dedication to our ‘child-led’ approach is paramount for self-directed learning to take place.  The team look forward to welcoming you and your children to OAK Sudbury School.

Our Mission 

Our mission is to provide a safe space where students can participate in self-directed learning, choose their own learning targets and proceed at their own pace, while participating in a community of autonomy and fairness where each member’s opinion is equally valued and heard.  We strongly believe in Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs and Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences.  There are many distinctive approaches to learning and each child can be supported in their chosen path.  We are dedicated to providing a model of education where children have responsibility for their own learning, where they have freedom to go about their pursuits, and time to explore and create without time constraints or pressure.  Our aim is to share this space with the community; a place where autonomous, self-directed learning can happen

Core Principles 

We respect the fact that children are curious in their very nature.  When they are motivated intrinsically it leads them to learn exactly what they need to know. At OAK Sudbury School children have the freedom to explore self-chosen pursuits even if and when this means making mistakes.  With freedom and rights comes responsibility and the need for resilience.  Resilience is paramount in the day-to-day quests of self-directed learning.

A Typical Day 

Students can arrive to school anytime between 8.30am-10.30am and are free to move about the building and outdoor spaces.  There are no allocated spaces or age groupings and no set lesson times.  Students may leave the school between 2.30pm-3.30pm. Adult staff members are on site at all times and are there to ensure students’ well being and safety and to perform tasks that are necessary to run the school. They are also available to facilitate learning or discussion, or to support students with accessing the resources they need. We have dedicated spaces for Art, Cooking, Science, Technology, Music, Carpentry, Reading areas, Gardening etc.  Classes in specific subjects are offered when children request them and continue for as long as there is interest. 

The Democratic Process

The School Meeting is the group decision making mechanism of any Sudbury School. 

At OAK Sudbury School, both Founders and Staff will open with a set of laws and policies which are necessary to ensure the safety of all our members.  These laws and policies are established in the OAK Sudbury School Policies and Procedures.  School Meetings will occur weekly and follow formal procedures.  Students are encouraged to attend so that they can learn about and act upon the democratic procedure.  As matters arise, the School Meeting will makes amends to polices as necessary.  Each member, staff and student will have one vote.  Similar to the Sudbury Valley School, committees and clerkships are created when needed.  Responsibility for specific duties will be entrusted to them by the School Meeting. Clubs may be founded depending on the special interests of the students.  Such Clubs can work towards obtaining required resources.  If necessary, School Law breaches and sanctions, will be dealt with by the Judicial Committee (JC). There will always be at least one adult member on the JC. The JC listens to all complaints, hears all sides of the story, and then decides on an outcome.  In this way everyone gets an opportunity to express their opinion, share their feelings and have their voices heard. 

Founder Members

In 2014, Bernadette O'Brien completed an MA in Teaching and Learning.  With mentorship from Home Education expert Alan Thomas, and Kathleen Burke, her research into Home Education led her to look at different ways of learning, specifically through outdoor education. Bernadette  established an outdoor playgroup for children aged 3-6 years.  With the encouragement and support of many parents along with hard-working and understanding staff, OAK playgroup provides an outdoor sanctuary for young children where they can explore and discover the world around them.  Bernadette is an advocate for allowing children the freedom to play and in turn the freedom to learn .  This has led to many conversations and plans to provide a space which extends this freedom to older children. The aim was to provide a space where school-aged children could learn in a self-directed learning environment with a large emphasis on learning outdoors.  Over the last number of months Bernadette, along with her husband Seán O'Brien have met and spoken to many people who are interested in, and seek a democratic model of education.  Encouragingly , East Cork Democratic School is in progress and West Cork Sudbury School is planning to open in 2020.  

 Bernadette O’Brien (Director) 

Bernadette O’Brien (Director) is from Co. Mayo.  She is a busy mother with young children and is acutely aware of the importance for children to learn everywhere they go, particularly outdoors in nature.  She is a Primary School Teacher with a MA in Teaching and Learning.  She completed her research in Home Education and is an advocate for allowing children the freedom to play and in turn the freedom to learn. Bernadette opened Outdoor Active Kids in 2016 in the hope of providing  a space in the future where older children could continue to experience this freedom to learn.  This takes the form of a Sudbury style school.  'A Sudbury School is a type of school where students have complete responsibility for their own education. The school is run by a direct democracy in which students and staff are almost equals'.  For more information on giving children the freedom to learn see:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/freedom-learn 


Kathleen Burke (Founder Member)

Kathleen Burke is originally from London.  Kathleen is a trained nurse, mother and grandmother and has been working with children for over forty years. She has been responsible for the care and development of many children from infant stage into adulthood. Kathleen is a firm believer in affording people the inevitability and luxury of making mistakes in order to learn. In fact, she considers it to be a vital element of the learning process. She facilitates and guides children in their learning of values in a very unique way.  Kathleen has been instrumental in her knowledge and support as a Founder Member.

Seán O'Brien (Founder Member)

Seán O'Brien is a busy father and Dairy Farmer with a Hons Degree in Mutual Business.  He is from Midleton, East Cork.  Seán was diagnosed with Dyslexia during his studies in UCC.  For years he had wondered why certain tasks were so difficult for him e.g. spelling and communication.  The Sudbury Model of Education is of particular interest to Seán, as students do not present with Dyslexia in this model of education (Free at Last, Daniel Greenberg).  The reason for this is because there is no compulsory reading or writing age for students.  They learn how to read and write when it is important to them and often grasp the fundamentals of reading and writing at a much quicker pace than if they were forced into it an earlier age. 

Derrick Cooney (Early Childhood and Education)

Derrick is from Midleton, East Cork.  He loves film and soccer. He is certified with level 5 QQI in Early Childcare and Education.  Derrick has two years experience working in the childcare sector and enjoys using his cúpla focail as Gaeilge with the younger children. Derrick enjoys being outdoors and is a strong believer that outdoor play is essential for children to build friendships and healthy relationships.  He understands the value of how the outdoors helps our immune systems improve and is passionate about the benefits of being outdoors everyday.

Ana O'Brien (MA English Literature)

Ana O'Brien is currently completing her second MA in Early Years Education and Leadership from UCL.  She has seven years of teaching experience in the UAE.  Throughout her practise and studies she has developed a keen interest in student-led learning, learning through play and development of listening, speaking and writing skills through 'Talk for Writing'.  She is an advocate for learning outdoors and recognises the importance of drama as a methodology for learning.  Ana was involved in developing a play-based indoor and outdoor learning environment to increase student engagement.  She supports teachers and students in using technology for teaching and learning.  Ana believes that children learn best when they are intrinsically motivated, follow their interests and engage in hands on activities.  She enjoys supporting student's learning through STEM, art and inquiry based learning to build lifelong learning skills.


OAK Sudbury School is a registered Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG) and we are in the process of applying for Charitable Status.


At OAK Sudbury we adhere to protocol as defined by the Health & Safety Act 2005, and we engage a qualified professional to support us with risk assessment procedures, safety checks and training.  We have formulated a Child Safeguarding statement as required by the Child Care Act 2015.  All staff are trained in Children’s First Guidelines 2011.