After Summerhill is the much anticipated compilation of interviews with former Summerhill School students. The pioneering democratic school founded in 1921 by A.S. Neill in Leiston, Suffolk, England has been the subject of many books and research projects and now some former pupils’ reflections are collected in one volume.
AERO is the exclusive North American publisher of After Summerhill.
All orders ship with a copy of the original Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child-Rearing by A.S. Neill. Read the book that ignited a movement and then learn what happened to those students after graduation.
It is one of the most famous schools in the world; a place where every lesson is voluntary and where youngsters can vote to suspend all the rules. Founded by the liberal thinker AS Neill, Summerhill turns 90 years old this year.
Famous alumni of the democratic or “free” school include actress Rebecca de Mornay, children’s author John Burningham and Storm Thorgerson, the rock album cover designer. Now a new book, After Summerhill, tries to answer the question: what kind of people do Summerhill’s pupils become?
Author Hussein Lucas describes the 68-pupil Suffolk school as “a small place but a big idea”. At its heart is the thrice-weekly school meeting, at which laws are made or changed by majority vote; staff and pupils have equal votes. For such a small school, it has sparked huge controversy. In 1999 then-Education Secretary, David Blunkett, issued the school with a notice of complaint, demanding mandatory lessons. Failure to comply with such a notice within six months usually leads to closure; however, Summerhill chose to go to court. The Government’s case collapsed and a settlement was agreed. This not only annulled the notice of complaint but also made provisions for Summerhill to be inspected using unique criteria, to take account of its special philosophy.
AS Neill himself described his vision, saying: “I would rather Summerhill produced a happy street cleaner than a neurotic Prime Minister.” His belief was that conventional schooling and anxious parents caused immense emotional damage to youngsters.
After Summerhill follows the fortunes of 15 former Summerhillians, recording their memories and charting their progress. Mike Bernal, who joined in 1932 aged six, is the son of J D Bernal, an eminent Cambridge physicist well known at the time for his Marxist views. Mike spent much of his eight years at the school doing arts and crafts and playing sports. After leaving school he got some academic coaching and went on to get a first class degree from Imperial College, London. Now emeritus reader in mathematics at Imperial College, London, he recalls: “I was incredibly lucky to have gone to Summerhill and I don’t seem to have suffered academically because of the fact that it wasn’t a traditional school. Quite the reverse, I would hope. It may be that anybody who’s not been put off subjects wants to go on finding out about the world. It’s forcing people that puts them off. Neill was always seen to be very keen that we shouldn’t do Shakespeare, for example, because he was afraid – I think quite rightly – that if you did it would put you off.”
Read the Independent’s (UK) full review of After Summerhill here.