Summerhill documentary celebrates school's centenary


How Summerhill Works is a new film about the Suffolk school. - Credit: Pete Chadwick

A new documentary film has been released showing Suffolk's best-known school through a two-year period as it prepared to celebrate its centenary.

The 90-minute documentary "How Summerhill Works" was made by local film-maker Peter Chadwick at the Leiston school where pupils are famously allowed to make their own decisions, including whether to attend classes.

Peter Chadwick

Film-maker Peter Chadwick. - Credit: Peter Chadwick

Mr Chadwick was a pupil at the school many years ago when his parents worked there briefly and he has known it all his life.

He spent nearly two years filming and recording all aspects of school life before completing the film which is available to view online.

Summerhill meeting

School meetings decide how it is run. - Credit: Peter Chadwick

Mr Chadwick was a pupil at Summerhill but only for six months when very young.  His parents Paxton and Lee had been teachers at the school before the war.

Summerhill School, Leiston is celebrating its centenary this year.

Summerhill School, Leiston is celebrating its centenary this year. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Because of this connection Peter was given unique access to spend two years filming on and off at Summerhill and luckily finished just before the pandemic hit and then able to edit the film.

Mr Chadwick said: "When I tell people I went to Summerhill and that kids don't have to go to lessons and can wear what they want, do what they want, everybody always asks 'How does that work?!!'  

"To be honest I always found it quite hard to really answer them myself as I did not fully understand until I spent a lot of time at the school making this film - doing the filming was a voyage of discovery for me as well.

Summerhill school

Youngsters having fun at Summerhill. - Credit: Peter Chadwick

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"I filmed and interviewed pupils, teachers, parents and ex-pupils, and there was full input from Zoe, Henry and Will Readhead - daughter and grandsons of AS Neill, the founder of the school, who now run Summerhill.  

AS Neill at Summerhill

AS Neill founded Summerhill School in 1921. - Credit: Archant

"So the commentary or voice over is all told in the voices of those involved with the school from all different angles. This is woven into the unique footage of life at Summerhill. I really enjoyed being there with everyone and the youngest kids would say what they wanted me to film them next!"

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