Skater boy's fight to be different

11th April 2003 at 01:00
Parents want council to pay for their special-needs son to attend progressive school. Michael Shaw reports

PARENTS of an 11-year-old boy are planning a High Court appeal, claiming his disruptive behaviour can be treated only at Summerhill, the progressive school where lessons are not compulsory.

Joyce and Nicholas Wharton believe he should attend the Suffolk private school at taxpayers' expense because he has a high IQ but suffers from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.

They argue it would be cheaper for Kent County Council to pay Summerhill's pound;6,000 annual fees than to provide their son Tertius with a learning assistant and other support in a mainstream school.

The Whartons have been paying for Tertius to attend Summerhill for a year, but are considering High Court action because they believe their son's educational needs should be met by their local authority.

Teachers at Summerhill are also keen that Tertius should remain at the school and say it has received local-authority funding in the past for pupils with special needs.

Tertius dubbed himself "Tertius the Terrible" at Wouldham primary near Rochester, his last school, and teachers there said he frequently disrupted lessons by taunting other pupils and interrupting staff. The school placed him in a special-needs group and provided him with a learning assistant.

But his behaviour remained problematic and his mother moved him to Summerhill in April last year.

Teachers say the school's unique approach to lessons and small classes have helped Tertius take greater responsibility for his actions.

But these arguments have failed to convince Kent County Council, which insists it will only provide support for him at a local primary.

An appeal by the Whartons to a special educational needs tribunal last month also failed. In an interview with Tertius, submitted to the tribunal, he described Summerhill's teachers as "a bit weird" because they allowed him to swear.

"When asked what he particularly liked about Summerhill, Tertius repeated that he liked not having to go to lessons, being able to walk out of anything and being able to skateboard all day," the tribunal report stated.

The tribunal ruling has upset teachers at Summerhill, who say pupils plan to record messages explaining why they think Tertius should attend.

Michael Newman, a Summerhill teacher, said: "The tribunal had preconceptions that the school was anarchic. But I've seen Tertius attend hour-and-a-half long meetings with 80 other people where he has waited his turn and raised his hand to speak. His behaviour has changed here."

Mrs Wharton, a part-time IT manager, and her solicitor husband could continue to pay the school's fees but said they wanted to prove that Kent should name Summerhill on their son's statement of special educational needs.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today