Once labelled the ‘do as you like’ school, Summerhill prepares to pick up Government recognition
A Suffolk school is set to receive parliamentary recognition for its alternative approach to education.
Summerhill School, in Leiston, was established as a ‘democratic community’ in 1921 by Scottish educator and author, Alexander Sutherland Neill.
Since then, it has been recognised by the United Nations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and in numerous reports on the importance of children’s voice and rights in schools.
Next Tuesday, March 22, Summerhill will be among 40 schools to receive the ‘Discovering Democracy Award’, organised by the British Youth Council and funded by the Cabinet Office.
Assistant principal, Henry Readhead is due to pick up the honour with 16-year-old student, Tom Griffiths, from the Minister for Constitutional Reform, John Penrose MP, at the Houses of Parliament.
Mr Readhead, son of principal Zoe Readhead and grandson of AS Neill, travels the world to discuss Summerhill at international conferences.
He helps run the school, and is head of an innovatory music department that is developing and researching ways children learn to express themselves with music in a democratic setting.
In its last inspection, Ofsted found the school ‘outstanding’ in its personal, social, health education and its citizenship. Inspectors gave an overall quality rating of ‘good’ when they last visited the independent school, which provides boarding and day facilities for pupils between the ages of about five and 17.
Mr Readhead said: “Summerhill is the oldest school in the world based on children’s rights, democracy and active citizenship.
“The children and staff solve problems together and make its rules at their twice weekly democratic meetings. These are chaired by an elected child, with adults and children as equals.”
An example of an ongoing project is the Summerhill’s relationship with local state school, Aldeburgh Primary.
In 2013, the primary school was one of six to attend a workshop and tea party at Summerhill, celebrating the centenary of the Suffragist march to London.
The event included a visit to the local Long Shop Museum and a workshop on democratic meetings run by Summerhill students, during which children from Aldeburgh decided they wanted to run their own school meetings. After three years, they are looking at how to change their meetings, with help and advice from Summerhill children, who have also run workshops at the first children’s organised School Council UK conference, National Student Voice conference, Oxfam Active Global Citizenship Education Conference, Dover Secondary Schools Council Conference.