Sun shines through as Summerhill stays free

31st March 2000 at 01:00
SUMMERHILL'S policy of non-compulsory lessons has no long-term negative effect on learning, according to evidence prepared for the tribunal that helped reprieve the progressive Suffolk school.

The 63-page document described Summerhill as an "important exemplar, nationally and internationally" for its work on values education and preparation for citizenship (both goals of the current Government).

The evidence was not presented until after Education Secretary David Blunkett last week lifted the threat of closure hanging over the 78-year-old independent school. He agreed that complaints about the adequacy of tuition and assessment of pupils' progress at Summerhill should be annulled.

The evidence also questions the objectivity of the Office for Standards in Education, which inspected the school, and its relationship with the private sector.

The expert witness team was led by Ian Stronach, research professor of education at the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of the British Educational Research Council. His team spent 24 days at the school as well as drawing on data from Summerhill leavers, parents and ex-pupils and evidence collected from an independent inquiry.

OFSTED spnt a week at the school a year ago before complaining about inadequate accommodation and claiming that children's non-attendance of lessons undermined their learning.

Professor Stronach studied the school's GCSE results and confirmed that attendance was irregular, continuity difficult and progress was uneven. But he said: "If the nature of Summerhill intake is taken into account . . . my judgment would be that the results, even in terms of formal examinations, can just as easily be interpreted as remarkable."

The research team concluded that the personal, social, moral and political outcomes for the children seemed far in excess of "normal" schools.

The more surprising conclusion was that Summerhill's policy of non-compulsory lessons did not appear to have long-term negative effects. Pupils might stay away from lessons for a long time but when they decided to attend they were usually very committed and caught up quickly.

The position of the school, which has 12 full-time staff and 57 pupils list is now to be reviewed. Mr Blunkett said it had never been his intention to close the school, founded by A.S. Neill,

run by his daughter Zoe Readhead, and infamous among tabloid papers for its nude bathing.

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