Summerhill is a democratic, self-governing school in which the adults and children have equal status. The daily life of the school is governed by the school Meetings, usually held twice a week in which everybody has an equal vote. The school's philosophy is to allow freedom for the individual - each child being able take their own path in life, and following their own interests to develop into the person that they personally feel that they are meant to be. This leads to an inner self-confidence and real acceptance of themselves as individuals. All of this is done within the school's structure of self-government through school meetings which are at the core of the school and emphasise the distinction between freedom and licence. Living life in a community is of great importance to the pupils here. Through this they learn to compromise, communicate, negotiate and assume responsibility. It also teaches them empathy and a consideration for the feelings of others. The adults and children have equal status in the school but, of course, they have very different roles. Everybody in the school is aware of the responsibilities that the adults have and which the children are not subject to. The atmosphere of the school is informal and first names are always used. The school is international, reflecting the extent of A.S. Neill's continuing influence in the world.
Summerhill School provides an environment where children can grow up happily, free from many of the anxieties and neuroses of the outside world. They can take part in a caring and active community and assume real responsibilities as they learn more and more about the running of their school. There are good quality lessons for children to go to if they choose, but the real strength of the school is that these lessons are not the central concern.
The Summerhill School curriculum embraces everything that happens here: there is not always a clear line between learning inside and outside the classroom. Summerhill strongly feels that much important learning takes place outside the classroom and is of a more casual nature than is allowed by most schools. Thus we would consider the time that a group of teenagers spend sitting together and discussing topics of their choice to be a valuable learning experience. Just being part of the Summerhill democratic community, living with others in this uniquely free environment and helping one another to do so is an invaluable learning experience.
The freedom to attend formal lessons or not at the school is a central feature of the school's philosophy. Children have the opportunity for unlimited play, which we believe is good for both their physical and mental health. Children are allowed to fill their time with freely chosen actions. This allows them to develop at their own pace, enjoy what they do and achieve the results they want to achieve. Individual responsibility in learning means that children can continue to work and use spaces whether or not an adult is present. Classes with structured learning are available for all children and organised in timetable format with flexible content and attention to individual learning needs and levels. There are also classes arranged so that children can go in and access materials and resources to pursue individual activities and projects. There are no limits on the achievements in independent learning: children can do something they want as much as they want.
Children in the school feel safe. Through daily involvement in the democratic community they feel the value of their own needs, desires and opinions. They can make a positive contribution regardless of classroom performance and are well-prepared by their education for taking responsibility in their adult lives. Because of our curriculum and its noncompulsory nature, children develop into life-long learners.
Pupils gain a real sense of achievement from managing their own lives and therefore their self esteem and confidence grows at Summerhill. Noncompulsory lessons ensure that children are motivated to learn for their own reasons and they progress at their own speed. Summerhill provides quality environments, opportunities and support for both formal and informal learning and then allows each child to control their personal learning choices, styles and progress. At Summerhill good progress is defined as a personally chosen developmental narrative that is not obstructed by issues that prevent free choice of action.
The process of being at Summerhill as both part of the community and as an individual making personal choices enables the pupils to develop holistically i.e. to develop their self-knowledge, self esteem and self confidence.
The Meeting is a clear example of children's involvement in their community. All the laws that govern the community are made in the school Meeting. Many of the most important functions in the school are organised through a system of committees, elected by ballot. Books go around regularly so that everyone can vote for those who will stand on committees such as ombudsmen, beddies officers, visitors committee, café committee etc. There are some age and experience qualifications for committees but there is generally no distinction between adult and child. Witnessing the pupils manage themselves in the Meeting supports our belief that the children are happy at Summerhill. Realistically nobody can ever be happy all of the time and it is an important part of learning to experience negative outcomes from time to time. However, the school meetings allow a forum for difficulties to be aired and solved communally. All members of the community are equal and can bring grievances to the school meetings. Elected ombudsmen also act on behalf of the individuals to help resolve disputes. School Meetings provide a medium for pupils to bring inappropriate behaviour such as bullying to public notice and suitable action is taken. Bullying is rare and is mainly low-key harassment like name-calling, which is swiftly dealt with in the school Meetings.
Being part of a community fosters important work-related skills. Some examples of work-related skills that contribute to the broader development of children at Summerhill School are: work on committees; Taking an active role in the community through the Meeting; Interacting on equal terms with adults; Running shops and working with money; Managing their own poc and paying fines when required. They develop skills and awareness of decision-making, teamwork, co-operation, market awareness, budgeting, financial literacy, customer service, marketing and promotion, planning and organising.
Children also learn to take responsibility for their own actions and their impact on others, to consider others' points of view, to make decisions about what they want to do and follow these decisions through to a conclusion. They are able to spend significant amounts of time on project ideas that interest them: this leads to very high levels of self-directed work.
The accommodation and grounds form an integral part of the values, culture and history of the school, necessary for the quality of learning and care provided. The grounds allow for creative, imaginative play, individually or in groups; the development of a relationship with nature; the sense of being alone, space for reflection and relaxation. Its layout of wooded areas, trees and diverse areas of paths, undergrowth, grass meadows, playing field, tarmac, permits a sense of exploration, of wilderness for camping and children's games based upon empire building or chase, and treasure hunting; and supports a range of games, sports and leisure activities.
The accommodation is different in the different areas, reflecting the needs of the children's ages. Dormitory accommodation allows for the learning of boundaries, tolerance, and mutual support. The bed areas are personalised by the children, expressing their character, and making them a personal space. For the younger children, lack of privacy is compensated for by the various places in which they can be alone. Children have power to control access to their own rooms using school laws, room ombudsmen and the school meeting. Every pupil has their own bedroom space and lockable cupboard which may be individualised to accommodate their individual preferences. The school grounds are such that there is access to areas of privacy at all times. A highly valued aspect of the school is that lives of the pupils in the community are private.
The space, importance of play, decision-making, individually and as a community, contribute to the mental, physical and emotional health of the children. Children sort out their own problems, use friends, ombudsman, or if that does not work, the meeting. Empowerment within a supportive community using restorative justice ensures that children are not only solving their issues but are learning together how to solve them.
The community has a culture of learning values though experience, community discussion and living, participation and active citizenship, values that are based on the rights and dignity of the child. The community uses ombudsmen, responsible friends and older children, staff, and full community meetings that express care, stability and the need for security. There is an ethos of involvement and mutual care, together with speaking out about problems and dangers. The community creates laws to protect its members, when they are within and outside the community.
Summerhill is the oldest school in the world based on community decision making addressing issues including bullying, creating laws and abiding by them. This leads to the development of self-confidence in children speaking their views, representing others, acting as a witness and contributing to decision making.
Our students, due to their self-managed learning, community living, decision-making, representation and responsibilities are able to engage in what they would like to do with their lives after school, either in terms of study, employment or training. Among the skills needed for work: teamwork, co-operation, decision-making, communicating, taking responsibility for yourself and others are all learnt in the daily life of the school. School meetings, ombudsmen and the community as a whole offer support and care to its members. The Summerhill community has been a trendsetter in participation and care for over 90 years.