The Very Basics - Information for Parents
Summerhill School is in Leiston, Suffolk, in the United Kingdom. That’s in the countryside of East Anglia, 10 minutes from the North Sea. Three hours from London.
It is a boarding school, but we do have day pupils. Most have moved here specifically to be near the school. It is common for parents of younger children to move here for the first few terms so that the child can start off as a ‘day pupil’.
Day pupils may come at five years. Some children are very happy to board about six or seven. Others need more time and come later. Many children begin at 9, 10 or 11 years of age. A complete Summerhill education usually ends at 17 years of age. Leaving early is not advised because it is important to have the whole experience of Summerhill which means going through the whole age cycle. This is not a school for a ‘temporary’ break from the mainstream. A Summerhill education offers each child a sequence of important social, emotional and intellectual experiences that should not be missed. Those pupils who leave before their 17th birthday are considered to be leaving early and very often regret it in later years.
Summerhill does not enroll children over 11 years of age, though occasional exceptions are made.
Summerhill is an international school with, at varying times, children from England, Germany, Norway, Holland, Switzerland, Poland, China, Israel, America, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, France, Russia, Lithuania etc. This makes for a wonderful multi-cultural environment.
There are usually between 65 and 75 children and 12 full time staff. There are several part time staff and many other adults who help keep the school running smoothly. Summerhill is a small community of children and adults who all live together. The school is set on 11 acres of woods and fields, with plenty of uncultivated areas to play.
There is no regular parent involvement at Summerhill. They are able to visit during term time on allotted weekends and the children get three weekends off each term.
In spite of this, many parents become good friends and participate from a distance with their approval and with 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 – but 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.
Most parents believe in the philosophy of the school, but some parents are looking for an alternative option for their children after dissatisfaction with mainstream education. Generally, the mix of children at Summerhill is the same as at any other school. Summerhill is not a school for problem children. Having said that, Summerhill’s ability to allow children to experience natural emotional, social and intellectual growth often has an extraordinary effect on self-esteem and positive personal development.
The qualities that Summerhill pupils to acquire obviously this depend 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. Children begin at Summerhill, once accepted, at the beginning of any new term. ( September , January, April ). With many international students, there are generous holidays to allow all students to travel home for realistic periods of time : 4 1⁄2 weeks at Christmas, 4 1⁄2 weeks in the spring and 9 weeks each summer.
Parents interested in sending their children to the school may visit on specially allotted days when they will be able to talk to staff and see a school meeting as well as having a good look around. There are no formal interviews with parents or prospective pupils as we rely a lot on viewing the children around the school, talking to both parents and children, and reading the information required for enrollment. As there is no training ground for Summerhill we have to rely on our considerable experience when making decisions about which children we can take. This will take into account the present climate, number of children of certain ages and gender groups as well as the sort of problems we may be experiencing in the community at the present time. A live-in democratic school such as Summerhill is an organic process which makes it likely that some children will not be admitted for no reason other than the fact that the dynamics of their particular area would not be good at the time in question. The freedom of Summerhill can be very beguiling and one has to bear in mind that the people who will very often be dealing with any difficulties with children are themselves children, so the community has to ensure that this does not impact negatively upon those already present as well as to protect new pupils from the very negative experience of having to leave because things are not working out for them.