Student Voices

Amy Hartmann and Amira Hamrat – Students at Democratic School, Summerhill

Amy and Amira are both 16 years old and attend Summerhill School, which is the oldest democratic school in the world today. Amy has been there for nine years and joined the school as her mother had gone there and loved it. Amira has been at Summerhill for four years following a disappointing experience of mainstream education.

Summerhill School, Leiston, Suffolk

How does Summerhill differ from mainstream school?

One of the main principles of Summerhill is “freedom not license”, which means everyone has freedom to do what they want; however, they do not have the license to inflict upon anyone else’s freedom.

We have community meetings where we make decisions and deal with conflicts in a democratic way. We also embrace equality between teachers, students and all sub-categories.

Another difference is that we have the freedom to choose what we would like to learn and there is no minimum number of lessons we must take. We learn all the basic lessons such as maths, languages, history, art etc. We also have a lot of side activities including many games. For the most part however, the learning that happens at Summerhill is beyond the academic and is more focused on social and emotional development, which we both agree is far more beneficial.

What are the benefits of this approach to learning?

We have the freedom to experiment with our preferences, expression and opinions without judgement. This plays a key role in the process/journey of self-acceptance and confidence. When it comes to academia, we learn to take control and responsibility of our own education, with the complete support of the teachers. By doing so we tend to be much more committed to our subjects and are able to progress further in them over shorter periods of time.

“The future of Summerhill itself may be of little import. But the Summerhill idea is of the greatest importance to humanity. New generations must be given the chance to grow in freedom. The bestowal of freedom is the bestowal of love. And only love can save the world.”

Summerhill Founder, AS Neill, 1963

In your opinion what are the main challenges of our current state school system?

We think that by forcing children to do so many subjects at once, schools are weakening their pupils’ ability to focus and absorb information. This also makes it incredibly difficult for them to excel in any one subject and to discover what they truly enjoy.

We think that a huge problem in modern day teaching is the significant hierarchy that puts a barrier between students and teachers and in turn upsets the learning environment.

If you could make changes to the state education system, what would be your top priorities?

  • Creating equality between the students and teachers (any punishments to be discussed and agreed upon by a mixture of staff and students).
  • Giving everybody within each school a voice (including teachers).
  • Giving students complete control over their learning from an early age.
  • Allowing children and staff to express themselves (clothing, language etc).
  • Removing reward systems.

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The Summerhill Centenary 

To celebrate their 100th birthday, Summerhill School launched the centenary website where you can gain insights into the Summerhill story, find out about events including the Summerhill Festival of Childhood 2022 and the opening of the new AS Neill Archive and Research Centre. 

You can also join this Facebook Group to connect with others in celebrating and being inspired by 100 Years of AS Neill’s Summerhill School.

Festival of Childhood 2022

To mark their centenary, Summerhill is holding a festival on 5th – 10th August 2022. You can keep up to date with the festival plans as they unfold on the following platforms:

Facebook: @summerhillfestivalofchildhood2021

Twitter: @SHillChildFest

Instagram: @summerhillfestival2021