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    Frequently Asked Questions 2009

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  • Название: Summerhill School - the thirty most asked questions:
  • Автор: Zoe Readhead

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During the course of a year we receive many enquiries from all over the
world about our school and the philosophy behind it.
These are answers to the most often asked questions. We hope they will
be useful to you. Updated January 2009
1) How do pupils fit into the outside world after what is, surely, a sheltered
environment at Summerhill?
We feel that Summerhill pupils are better prepared for the outside world than most other
young people. Pupils at Summerhill are used to being in control of their own lives and
making decisions for themselves – just as all adults do in their daily lives. They decide
what to do, when, and how to do it.
Critics say there are many things in the outside world that have to be done, such as
earning a living. They believe that our pupils will find it difficult to adapt, as there is no
compulsion at Summerhill. Summerhill pupils face similar situations in their everyday
lives at the school all the time. There are many, many things that need to be done in
order to keep the community running. If we, the members of the community do not do
them, then they do not get done at all. Instead of being compelled to do things by
somebody else, you have to take responsibility for yourself and the community around
you. You have to be self-motivated. This is true of all of us in adult life. We have no
big “teacher” standing by to tell us what to do. We have to get on and deal with things
by ourselves.
At Summerhill we feel that children in other schools are being disadvantaged by the fact
that they have no decision making processes to learn from, making it very difficult when
they subsequently leave school and have to start living in the adult world.
The popular belief that Summerhill is a wild, unstructured society is untrue. Because of
the many laws at Summerhill that govern our lives (they usually vary in number between
about 150 to 230) the pupils are used to a strong framework. Living in a democratic
society where grievances are aired in the school meetings gives the pupils a strong
sense of justice as well as an ability to listen to, and understand, the other person‟s point
of view. Thus they are well prepared for interacting in the outside world. Although
when they move to colleges and university, like many others, they may find some rules
petty and unnecessary, they are tolerant and understanding enough to deal with it.

2) Do Summerhill pupils take exams?
Yes, we take the standard English school leaving exams, GCSEs at ordinary level,
though they are not compulsory. We do not provide for “A” levels at Summerhill. Pupils
wishing to take them will have to go to college afterwards.
Almost all Summerhill pupils take some exams before they leave, but some prefer not to
take any at all.

3) What particular qualities do you expect Summerhill pupils to acquire?
Obviously this depends to some degree upon the personal circumstances of the child
before and during their stay at the school. Some children who have come to the school


with problems are still going to have to deal with many of them into their adult lives.
Summerhill has a very good record of helping such children, but it is no magic “fix” or
utopian cure-all.
Qualities we typically see in Summerhill pupils are: Self-esteem, tolerance, integrity,
fairness, understanding, sensitivity, compassion, assertiveness, creativity, individuality,
humour, self-motivation, and common sense.

4) Why do parents send their children to Summerhill?
Most parents believe in the philosophy of the school, but we also inevitably get some
pupils who have had problems at other schools and come here to get away from them.
Unfortunately many parents do not contact us until their child is having serious problems
at school. Often these children will be teenagers. Our experience tells us that
latecomers, though sometimes successful, can find the change too challenging and this
can cause problems for themselves or for the community. At the present time we do not
take pupils over the age of 12, with only rare exceptions.

5) What kinds of people send their children to Summerhill?
There is no typical Summerhill parent. People from all walks of life send their children
to us. Because it is a fee paying school they are predominantly professional people, but
this is not always the case. We try to keep our fees as low as possible so that more
families can afford it – some manage on very low incomes.
The A.S Neill Summerhill Trust aims to provide bursaries for the school so that a greater
number of families with financial limitations may apply.

6) Summerhill pupils are mostly from pretty wealthy backgrounds – could it work
in an inner-city school?
It can work anywhere - all children respond to freedom and self-government. There is a
lot of work being done in various quarters (see the link page) to educate the public about
freer environments for children. Summerhill assists in this by inviting visitors to see the
school in action as well as giving lectures and holding workshops both in UK and
The A.S Neill Summerhill Trust is funding this work as well as providing assisted places
for pupils.

7) Is Summerhill suitable for all children – or do some need more structure?
All children respond to personal freedom and self-government. The only time it does not
work is where there is friction between the school and the home. Children sense when
their parents are not happy with them being at Summerhill.
Occasionally a child who is struggling with their own personal difficulties in life may find
the freedom at Summerhill so captivating that they are unable to differentiate between
freedom and licence and take responsibility for their actions. This can lead to problems
with violence or bullying, creating fear in other children. It can also lead to the
development of other children being impaired due to the negative influence upon them.
In such cases, sadly, the child will have to go elsewhere.

8) Is bullying a problem at the school and how do you deal with it?


Obviously we have bullying at Summerhill, but anybody, staff or pupil, can bring a case
against anybody else in the school meetings. Thus, we are all answerable to the whole
community. Our ombudsmen and self-government meetings ensure that everybody in
the school has a voice and can have conflicts resolved or perpetrators dealt with by the
community. The openness of the school environment brings things to notice so bullying
tends to be dealt with in the early stages.

9) Do you have problems with alcohol / drugs?
Drugs and alcohol are not allowed in the school. Obviously there are occasions when
an older child tries experimenting with alcohol or smoking cannabis. If pupils are caught
drinking or smoking dope they will be sent home for a period and this will generally be
sufficient. Because they have such a strong feeling for the school it is rare for a pupil to
Neither drugs nor alcohol ever reach “problem” proportions. However, in these
seemingly enlightened times occasionally a pupil will be persistant. In such a case it
would be appropriate for them to decide whether Summerhill is really where they want to
be, and perhaps move on to a more adult environment.

10) How do you recruit staff?
We usually advertise in the newspapers, either the „Guardian‟ or the TES, though
recently we have used this website. Our recruitment process is pretty conventional
although the interview is casual and friendly. We do all the standard UK checks (CRB)
against sexual offenders.

11) What qualities do you look for in staff?
First and foremost an ability to do the job. Although independent schools do not have
to employ qualified teachers, the job is so specialised these days that we rarely take
teachers who are not qualified, though it has to be said that some of our best teachers
have been unqualified. We look for somebody who will be adaptable, genuinely
interested in the school philosophy, and is a nice person.
Unfortunately, we cannot employ people from outside the European Union without a
work permit – and obtaining one of these is like extracting hen‟s teeth!

12) How much are parents involved in the school?
There is no involvement with parents at Summerhill. They are able to visit during term
time on a limited basis and there is a newsletter sent to parents each holidays. We do
not send school reports unless required for college entrances, etc and then only with the
child‟s permission.
In spite of this many parents become good friends and participate from a distance with
their approval and anything helpful they can offer. We also have a really nice summer
half-term weekend when parents are invited to come and stay for a few days and relax
and join in. The philosophy of the school is to encourage children to live their own lives,
and make their own decisions. The children value their independence and the vast
majority prefer parents not to be a part of it at school.

13) Do the children have homework?


As classes are optional it is a completely different situation to conventional schools.
Pupils have homework when studying for exams, but this is mutually agreed between
teacher and pupil.

14) Why aren’t the pupils responsible for the cleaning and cooking at
Summerhill cannot afford to let hygiene slip so we prefer to keep the school up to
standard by employing cleaning staff. This cuts out any adult-child conflict over an issue
that would be on going and unproductive. The older children with individual bedrooms
are responsible for their own washing and cleaning, and the whole community has to
take care of keeping the school grounds tidy. This usually involves a “litter pick-up”
every once in a while. There is a „Health & safety‟ committee to ensure that standards of
reasonable hygiene and safety are maintained, they visit all rooms (including staff who
live in areas adjoining the children) a few times each term.
Most children enjoy doing some cooking – but having to feed over 100 people every day
for the whole year is a different kettle of fish! We also have to comply with Health &
Hygiene rules, which make it impossible for the children to cook for the whole school.
We employ a team of professional chefs to look after the catering. However, there are
many opportunities for the children to get involved in cooking: cookery classes, kitchen
helping, bar committee, school café etc.

15) What is your relationship like with the local community?
Many local people are very proud to have Summerhill as a neighbour. During the court
case against the government in 2000 we received a great deal of encouragement from
Leiston people, including the local Town Council who wrote a letter of support to the
Department of Education.
Of course some people are suspicious and some are hostile, but usually this is because
they have not taken the time to find out about Summerhill‟s methods.

16) Do you have day pupils?
Yes, we have several. Most have moved here specifically to be near the school.
Occasionally parents of younger children move here for the first few terms so that the
child can start off as a „day child‟.

17) Nowadays many people consider it bad parenting to send children to boarding
school – how does Summerhill justify this?
Ask the children! Summerhill pupils are not forced to be here – they choose to be.
Ex-Summerhillians all agree that being away from home was a really positive and
important thing for them.
Summerhill is nothing like a “boarding school” in the traditional sense. It is somewhere
between tribe and family, a sociable, child-centred environment where the adults are
friends and where you can play all day if you want to. It is an enrichment of family life,
something extra that you can‟t get at home – lots of brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles
and friends.
Some people say they will miss their children‟s childhood if they send them to
Summerhill. My answer is that childhood is for the child, not for the parents. It can take


courage to give your children the independence they need, especially if this means they
will leave home. But Summerhill parents will agree that you don‟t “lose” your child, you
gain a special friendship with them that lasts a lifetime.

18) At what age do you first accept pupils?
Day pupils can come at five years, though this would depend upon how many younger
ones we already have. Some children are very happy to board at about seven years,
others need more time and come later.

19) Do you ever expel pupils?
Occasionally, but not in the usual sense of being expelled for doing something
“naughty”. In Summerhill someone will only be asked to leave if their general attitude
shows that they are not really interested in staying.
Occasionally a child who is struggling with their own personal difficulties in life may find
the freedom at Summerhill so captivating that they are unable to differentiate between
freedom and licence and take responsibility for their actions. This can lead to problems
with violence or bullying, creating fear in other children. It can also lead to the
development of other children being impaired due to the negative influence upon them.
In such cases, sadly, the child will have to go elsewhere.

20) What do Summerhill pupils do after leaving?
When children leave Summerhill most go on to study for appropriate qualifications (Alevel, BTEC, GNVQ) at Colleges of Higher Education. Some will go to university, some
will not – it is a case of personal choice. Because of the unconventional schooling they
have had they tend to look at it with a balanced view, not just thinking that “you have to
go to university to get anywhere”. They know that it is not the only answer to happiness
in life!
Their careers are very varied. We have artists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, university
professors, carpenters, scientists, musicians, chefs, actors, gardeners, farmers,
newspaper reporters, filmmakers, technicians, photographers, dancers, computer
programmers, writers, illustrators, carers for the handicapped, and entrepreneurs. . . .

21) What is the school’s attitude to sex?
Under British law it is illegal for children to have sex under the age of 16. In line with
many other establishments that deal with teenagers in a real-life setting, we are
supportive – providing them with information and advice wherever possible. We are
proud of the fact that our children are unafraid to approach us to discuss anything. To
our knowledge there has never been a pregnancy.

22) Can I work at Summerhill?
If you are legally able to work in UK, have the skills for the job offered, are prepared to
live on a very small wage, and are enthusiastic, humorous, hardworking and adaptable –
you could be just what we are looking for!

23) May I visit the school?
Yes, we have visitor‟s days during all three terms of the year. We have a visitor‟s
committee to look after them. Obviously we get a great many so we prefer them not to
stay longer than a day. Contact the school office for details. (Address at the end).


24) How can I obtain books by A.S.Neill?
Most of Neill‟s books are out of print in UK now. Some copies of Neill‟s early books
can be found in second-hand bookshops. We occasionally have one or two spare
copies at the school, which are for sale. The web site www.abebooks.com is very
A new book was published early summer of 2006. 'Summerhill & A.S.Neill' , edited by
Mark Vaughan OBE with chapters by A.S.Neill, Zoë Neill Readhead, Professor Ian
Stronach and Tim Brighouse. Published by the Open University Press. It is obtainable
from our website.

25) How many pupils are there at Summerhill?
In 1995 we were 68, in 1998 we were only 61, in June 2001- 75, in November 2002 –
94, in January 2006 – 80, January 2009 - 71

26) What nationalities?
English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Swiss, Israeli, American, Korean, Taiwanese,
Japanese, Brazilian.

27) How many staff?
There are three full-time house parents at the moment and 8 full-time teachers for Class
1(6-10), Class 2(10-12), Maths, Science, English, Languages, English as an Additional
Language, Woodwork and Art. There are part-time teachers for Japanese, Chinese,
Music (drums, piano, guitar, singing, violin), Music Technology, recording, Djing.
All full-time staff live on the 12-acre school site, either in single rooms alongside the
children or in caravans. When the Houseparents take time off they are covered by the
teachers. The full-time staff meet several times a week to discuss any issues which
We also have a team of “day” staff, including teachers, cleaning staff, chefs, etc.

28) What subjects do you offer?
Subjects offered at the moment are:
Science - Biology, Physics, Chemistry
German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese
Art, Photography
Music technology, DJ work, Studio Sessions
Information Technology
swimming in our own outdoor pool and at the Leiston leisure centre
A range of activities including crafts, life drawing, sports- tennis, football, basketball,
volleyball, table tennis-, writing for the school newspaper and games in the cafe.
Music – piano, singing, drums, guitar, violin, saxophone.


Various sports (by arrangement)
There is an outdoor swimming pool, a well equipped computer study room, games field,
skateboard ramps, tennis court, theatre, music rooms.

29) How do I enrol my child in the school?
We take pupils at all three terms of the year. You must write to the school office
(address below) to obtain details of fees etc. The next step is a visit, preferably with
your child.

30) I cannot afford the school fees – are there any funds available to help?
Unfortunately the school has no bursary fund to assist with fees. We receive no help
financially from outside the school and must rely entirely upon our fees, which are
among the lowest in the country. There are various charities that support some of our