After Summerhill


What Happened to the Pupils of Britain's Most Radical School?

by Hussein Lucas


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. This title is shipping from England and cannot be guaranteed by December 25th.

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.

Additional information

Weight 1 lbs


  1. amyinbarc

    This book is a surprisingly warm and inspirational read, and it really is “unputdownable” (as Bristol’s version of Time Out put it). Far from a dry textbook account of pupils’ lives after school, it is really a collection of short autobiographies by very interesting, warm, and vibrant people who have lived life to the full, unfettered by the type of insecure baggage that can attach itself to children in more mainstream education. I started reading it just as I was beginning to think that I needed to be more authoritarian with my 3 yr old in order to get him to be adequately ‘obedient’. I feel genuinely grateful to have read this book in time to realise that children must at all times be treated with respect – obviously not over-indulged, which isn’t what it’s about either- but that they should be gently guided and nurtured so that their own personalities can flourish, and always treated with respect in order to generate and receive their reciprocal respect, rather than trying to physically or psychologically beat it into them! This respect is what the pupils in After Summerhill (one from each decade of it’s 90 yrs in existence) experienced and their lives and personalities clearly blossomed for them as a result. I recommend it to anyone interested in children, education, human well-being, or just interested in a good read – it’s great!

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