Fight is on to save radical school

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Summerhill's defenders are preparing their case. Warwick Mansell reports.

THE CAMPAIGN to save Summerhill - the progressive Suffolk school where children choose whether to attend lessons - is gathering pace as supporters prepare to fight for its future at an independent tribunal.

An independent inspection report will challenge the judgment of Education Secretary David Blunkett, who ordered that the school must change fundamentally or close.

A self-appointed team of educationists and headteachers who spent six weeks at the 78-year-old school have concluded that it should be free to continue its policy of not forcing pupils to learn.

The inquiry team, led by Dr Ian Cunningham, a visiting professor at Middlesex University, will contest the findings of school inspectors who last May "failed" the school.

Their study, to be published later this month, will say that the inspectors failed to give sufficient emphasis to the school's above-

average GCSE results.

Inspectors' claims that pupils were "idle" when out of lessons were called ill-founded because there had been no systematic observation of pupils out of lessons, they will say.

r Cunningham said: "Parents are happy with what the school has to offer. We have seen no evidence to suggest that the school is operating any differently from the way it has done for the past 78 years.

"The Secretary of State should acknowledge the importance of different types of education in a pluralist democracy, and withdraw his notice of complaint."

Among those on the inquiry team are children's author Michael Rosen and Jill Horsburgh, head of a leading private girls' school, the Godolphin School, Salisbury.

The school, which was set up by the legendary AS Neill, is refusing to comply with three of six aspects of the complaint notice, including forbidding adults and pupils of both sexes from using the same toilets.

It has been told to ensure that all pupils either attend lessons or are given self-supporting study programmes. This is seen as an assault on the school's central philosophy.

The case will be considered by an independent schools tribunal in March. However, pupils recentlyn surprised their teachers by voting for more lessons in the afternoons. Until now pupils have opted only to have formal lessons in the mornings.

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