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Summerhill School

Page history last edited by Andrea Brownstein 11 years, 12 months ago

The following is from the Summerhill School home page

(http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/pages/)

 

Return to Teaching and Learning

 

Introduction to Summerhill

“All crimes, all hatreds, all wars can be reduced to unhappiness” wrote A. S. Neill, founder of Summerhill School.

Today, all over the world, education is moving towards more and more testing, more examinations and more qualifications. It seems to be a modern trend that assessment and qualification define education.

If society were to treat any other group of people the way it treats its children, it would be considered a violation of human rights. But for most of the world's children this is the normal expectation from parents, school and the society in which we live.

Today may educationalists and families are becoming uneasy with this restrictive environment. They are beginning to look for alternative answers to mainstream schooling.

One of these answers is democratic or ‘free' schooling. There are many models of democratic schools in all corners of the globe, from Israel to Japan, from New Zealand and Thailand to the United States.

The oldest and most famous of these schools is Summerhill, on the east coast of England.

Summerhill School was founded in 1921 at a time when the rights of individuals were less respected than they are today. Children were beaten in most homes at some time or another and discipline was the key work in child rearing. Through its self-government and freedom it has struggled for more than eighty years against pressures to conform, in order to give children the right to decide for themselves. The school is now a thriving democratic community, showing that children learn to be self-confident, tolerant and considerate when they are given space to be themselves.

Summerhill School is one of the most famous schools in the world, and has influenced educational practice in many schools and universities. The democratic schools movement is now blossoming internationally, with many schools far and wide being based upon the philosophy of A. S. Neill or inspired by reading his books.

Summerhill is a community of over a hundred people. About 95 of these are children aged between 5 and 18. The rest are teachers, house parents and other staff. It is situated in a large much loved, Victorian house and grounds, two miles from the east coast of Suffolk.

Most of the children board during the term time, though there are day pupils as well. Usually as the younger ones grow older, they prefer to sleep at school! Summerhill is co-educational and enjoys the diversity of pupils from throughout the world.

There is a wide choice of subjects, up to and above GCSE level. A new timetable is created each term when the older children have “signed-up” for classes, through there is no compulsion to attend.

As well as the structured timetable, there is free access to art, woodwork and computers. There are also open areas where kids not in classes can hang out, amuse themselves, socialise, play games, be creative etc. Adults are not there to create things for the children to do- they need to create things for themselves. So sports, games and other amusements are all generated by the pupils and adults, according to need.

The staff meet daily to discuss any problems or concerns. A Special Attention List monitors new children, and those who may have problems with lessons. Staff will consider various actions that will assist the child in learning. For example, if a child is nervous of the classroom, one-to-one lessons can be offered. This is the case for fast or slow learners. Pupils can take exams early if they wish and most pupils take some GCSEs before they leave, but of course, some prefer not to take any at all.

The important freedom at Summerhill is the right to play. All lessons are optional. There is no pressure to conform to adult ideas of growing up, though the community itself has expectation of reasonable conduct from individual. Bullying, vandalism or other anti-social behaviour is dealt with by specially elected ombudsmen, or by the whole community in its daily meetings.

The school is set in twelve acres of garden and woodland with plenty of space for cycling, hut building, tree climbing, bonfires, camping, imaginative games. There is a swimming pool for use in the summer time, a tennis court, playing field, basketball area as well as table tennis indoors.

During the winter and spring there is a Social Committee elected by the community to organise games and activities in the afternoons and evenings. These include capture, word games, board games, spontaneous acting, story telling, cinema trips, etc.

Summerhill is a happy and caring community that recognise the importance of expressing emotions and learning through feelings. There is a general openness and honesty among the community members. Staff do not use adult authority to impose values and solve problems; these are solved by the individual with the help of friends or ombudsmen or by the community in meetings.

The school has an outreach programme with its own external affairs person and an elected committee of pupils who regularly take part in conferences, children's rights programmes, workshops in schools and colleges, etc. As well as this the school endeavours to allow as many people as possible to visit and see the unique system in action.

There are further plans for sharing Summerhill's long and unique experience of freedom with other schools throughout the world. The principal and daughter of A. S. Neill, Zoë Readhead, and her husband Tony are regularly invited to lecture abroad. The enthusiastic response reflects increasing recognition of the school as a beacon of enlightened, pupil-centred education. Recent visits have included Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Spain and Greece.

The community atmosphere at the school is very strong. To an extent it must be, wherever 100 people live in close proximity for over half the year, if there is not to be unbearable strain in their relationships. But it is fostered at Summerhill by the fact that all the inhabitants are considered equal members of the community. All are equally entitled to citizenship of the school - teachers, big kids, and little kids alike - and this is reflected in their interactions with each other. There is an ease of manner between equals that cannot exist in a hierarchy, however friendly and informal.

What makes the equality real rather than mere rhetoric is the Meeting. Everyone knows, for instance, that a member of staff has no sanctions against a pupil that the pupil does not have against the member of staff - and that a teacher bringing a case against a pupil is neither more nor less likely to succeed just because of the relative status of the people involved. Here, everyone has the same status.

     Quote about Summerhill by Zoë Neill Readhead , Principal & daughter of A. S. Neill

      – Zoë Neill Readhead

The result is a strong feeling of solidarity with Summerhill in all its diverse members. And they are diverse: besides the age differences, Summerhill is an international community. Many nations are represented including France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Switzerland, US, Korea and Taiwan; the UK accounts less than half of the pupils.

Of course, everything in the garden is not always rosy. Sometimes a pupil with an urge for rebellion - usually a newcomer - will behave in as destructive a way as possible, deliberately breaking as many of the community's written and unwritten laws as he or she is able, and generally wreaking havoc.

It is interesting that these rebellious children are generally those who have recently arrived at Summerhill from a more `conventional' school. They seem to be rebelling against the unfair and authoritarian structure they are coming from; when they were there, rebellion was not possible. Obviously, they can be disruptive, but they usually settle down and begin to enjoy the freedom of Summerhill in a more constructive way.

A visitor who recently stayed at the school has written:

Summerhill School There may be bullying at Summerhill, but I have not seen it. It may be that the older kids set themselves up as kings over their juniors, but I do not perceive a hint of it. What I do see is children of eight jumping unexpectedly on the back of fifteen-year-old boys, and being carried round with perfect good humour; younger kids upset by some sudden reverse being comforted by an arm round their shoulder from an older kid; kids sitting in odd corners talking eagerly about the matter of the moment, with entire disregard for whether their interlocutors are their own age, or younger or older by a year, three years, or six years ... It would be stupid to suggest that they do not all have their own special friends, but I do not think any of them have any special enemies Summerhill School

 

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