The Bearded Theory Festival School – Education Without Walls

Since its first edition 10 years ago, Sally Booth has held various roles with Bearded Theory Festival – from site manager to artist liaison and PR. As a qualified lecturer, Booth currently spearheads Bearded Theory’s UK Festival Award winning Festival School.

When I tell someone that I run a 250-place Ofsted approved school in the middle of a field for a day, I usually get one of three reactions: “Why?”, “How?” or “Cool!”


Since the very first Bearded Theory, we have always aimed to be a family festival. A large portion of our usual demographic of attendees – from the 250 in the first year to the 8000 now – have children. Our ethos is simple: happy children make for happy parents.

As the festival grew so did the need for a varied children’s area. We also changed the date of the festival to be more family friendly, either being at the end of half term or at the start, depending on where you live. We had a very large and popular children’s area but due to limited resources many of the activities were charged for. We decided that not only as festival organisers but as parents that we were putting extra financial pressure on parents attending and quite possibly excluding some families from coming along. We therefore made a vow to ensure that all children’s activities would be free of charge from then on.

Around the same time, many education authorities and local councils decided to fine parents who took their children out of school for holidays, registering those absences as unauthorised. Whilst this would only potentially affect the children not on half term, we decided to challenge it. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an anti-establishment protest, it was done to make life easier for parents and ensure that children could be exposed to alternative methods of education. We hope to ensure that children are engaged with the learning activities that take place onsite, and in some instances more so than in regular schooling.

Obviously the fact that we enable the parents to have a child-free few hours at a festival is a bonus for them too.


I would like to say it’s simple but as with any event you organise, there is a lot of background work by a team of volunteers who are passionate about education and festivals.

All members of the team are from educational backgrounds, including headteachers, lecturers, SEN specialists and support workers. Therefore they have DBS checks and go through additional safeguarding training for the unique environment the classes are held in.

Planning for the next year’s school starts as soon as we get back to normality and a decent Wi-Fi signal. Through our dedicated Facebook page and the festival’s website, we ask for feedback from the children and their parents so we can make improvements where necessary and continue to do the things which work well.

This follows the whole ethos of our festival. For the last 10 years we have always been responsive to attendees. Confirming staff for the following year also takes place in the early summer and we have been very fortunate to retain many of the same staff over the three years we have been running the school. One member of staff is responsible for heading up the subjects which will be taught and they coordinate with their team. Usually we have one lead teacher, one teacher and another support worker.

Enrolments will open at the same time as ticket sales and this year, all 250 spaces were filled within a matter of weeks.

Early in the new year, the teachers will send me their lesson plans and schemes of work so that they can be agreed and compiled into one document. All lessons are planned in accordance to the national curriculum and key stages. We then send all the documentation directly to the the respective headteachers in support of the parents’ application for absence to be recorded as ‘education off-site’. For the 500 children we have taught in the school we have only heard of three refusals. We even had a headteacher contact us asking if they could come and teach!

One of the aspects of the school I am most proud of is that we have such a fantastic Special Educational Needs team from the local Pegasus School. This means that we are fully inclusive and accessible to any child with SEN and disabilities. All children who require it will be allocated a one-to-one support worker to stay with them throughout the day and introductions are made before the festival to ensure the child is comfortable with their worker.

Over the years we have taught festival Maths, including how to calculate how many loos are needed for a certain number of attendees; English, where songs have been written and performed; Science, where the children have made slime to take away; and History, including that of our hosts at Catton Hall. For PE the children can choose between Can Can dancing or football with Derby County Community Trust. We even had Mr Motivator doing a wake up assembly session last year. We also teach mindfulness as we believe it’s never too early to start.


Yes, yes it is. We are the only festival to offer this service. The children have a wonderful time with us – they have fun, learn things they would never experience in mainstream education and make new friends. We provide this completely free of charge so it’s no wonder our spaces fill up quickly.

In addition to the Festival School, we also provide a pre-school and new for 2017 we will utilise the beautiful woodland around the festival site to have a ‘Wild Things’ forest adventure.