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Summerhill reins in the kids

Summerhill, the progressive school famous for its free-range pupils, is having to take on a "disciplinarian" role to cope with the results of permissive parenting.

Zoe Neill Readhead, head of the Suffolk "free school" where pupils choose whether to attend lessons, reveals the changes it is facing in a new book, exclusively previewed in The TES this week. "We see the result of parental interference and over-indulgence all the time," writes the daughter of AS Neill, the Scot who founded Summerhill.

"In the 1940s and 1950s, Summerhill was the place where children learnt that adults would not brutalise or frighten them. Now the Summerhill community finds itself in the role of disciplinarian, teaching kids that they can't do what they like and that they have to have regard for other people's rights and feelings."

Mrs Neill Readhead has been head of the school since 1985. She was a pupil at Summerhill, sent her four children there and two of her grandchildren now attend.

Summerhill, often described as the "oldest children's democracy in the world", still operates on the same principles on which Neill established it in 1921. Rules are decided at school meetings of pupils and staff where the vote of a five-year-old has equal weight to that of the head.

They are pinned up in the lounge and have included such gems as, "If you piss on the bog seat you have to wipe it off", and "You can't use animals as shooting targets".

Mrs Neill Readhead said that the school was now operating in a different social context with weakened family structures. "In the old days you brought children up in the same way in which you had been and your mother, and probably your grandparents, were around to see that you got it right," she said. "Today that doesn't happen and parents are really desperate to know what to do."


Readers can order Summerhill and A S Neill at the discounted price of Pounds 14.99 including pP (UK) on 01628 502 700 until July 31, quoting TESR06.

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