King Alfred School pupils cut off from the outside world with Big Brother-style project

King Alfred pupils with teacher Stephen de Brett in The Village. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

King Alfred pupils with teacher Stephen de Brett in The Village. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A group of secondary school students have stepped out of the classroom and into the woods for a week-long learning experience they will never forget.

Year 8 pupils at King Alfred School, off North End Road, Golders Green, lived for five days and four nights in a village they built themselves, as part of an innovative project dreamed up by a long-serving teacher.

It marked the return of The Village project for the first time since 1994 when design and technology teacher Stephen de Brett last oversaw the Big Brother-style initiative, aimed at exploring the concept of community and developing independence.

Mr de Brett, 65, now in his 26th year at King Alfred, came up with the project upon his arrival at the school and organised three instalments before the birth of a child diverted his attention elsewhere.

Speaking ahead of entering The Village for the first time in nearly 20 years on May 20, he said: “My son was born and it became very difficult to put in that amount of energy. But we had been talking about bringing it back for about five years – it came to a point where there were enough teachers asking for it to happen again.”

Last Monday, 50 pupils from Year 8 entered The Village, a congregation of 12 wooden huts erected by the students from easy-to-assemble flat packs in woodland behind the school.

While living in The Village, none of the youngsters was allowed contact with the outside world and technology of any kind was banned.

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“They haven’t got music at night, they haven’t got games – they haven’t got any of the electrical distractions they are used to so they have to think about what they do have,” said Mr de Brett. “For some it is a liberation and for some it may be a torment. It’s part of our aim to form community.”

During the project, Mr de Brett and other staff members stayed with pupils on the site, supervising activities including bushcraft, rough science and the production of a village newspaper.

However, responsibility was put firmly in the hands of pupils for cooking evening meals and making decisions – each day village meetings were held to discuss issues arising in the camp, with elected representatives offering the views of fellow villagers.

“They are learning about politics in the way they wouldn’t unless it really mattered,” said Mr de Brett. “What they choose to do will affect them personally.”

Speaking upon his arrival at The Village, Year 8 pupil Angus Van Pelt, 12, said: “In Year 7, Mr de Brett showed us some pictures of The Village and we all said, ‘Please, please, please, can we do it next year!’”

Another pupil Mia Young, 12, added: “I don’t think I’ll miss the absence of technology because I’m with all the people I usually text!”