Summerhill School: The Ideal?

Being, amongst other things, British, I have heard about Summerhill School and wondered if my kids were missing out on an incredible experience by being homeschooled rather than enrolled in a really alternative school like Summerhill. Dubai has nothing that’s remotely comparable, but then nor do many places in the world. I do like the idea of being part of a close knit community of similarly like-minded alternative folks and I like the idea of the kids having so many opportunities open to them at a school like Summerhill. Although, when if it ever came down to it, I don’t think I could part with them to be boarders!

The article is, I’m afraid, below ‘The Guardian’s’ unusual standards and is fairly vacuous but it does give us all some idea about the school. The ‘comments’ section below the article is, as always, very revealing. I like this one from ‘Tony Park’, “I think Wilby has a point when he describes Summerhill’s direct influence on mainstream education as ‘slight’. This is not a valid criticism of Summerhill though; rather it should be seen as criticism of mainstream education”. I agree with that. And the comment section gives a useful website/directory of worldwide democratic schools – 

I also like another comment by Tony Park, this time talking about the founder, Neill, that, “…he’d rather the school produce a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister. The point is that he is interested in the happiness of the person, rather than other measures of ‘success’. I am sure Neill would have been quite pleased if Summerhill produced a happy prime minister (though – my addition)”. 

‘nataleks’ talks about how positive her/his child’s experience is at the school, gaining skills and a life perspective I would very much like my kids to get from my homeschooling, 

” I suspect he developed such skills as evaluative, analytical and critical thinking that others struggle to develop even at the university.
I suspect he learned about human rights, and about such global concepts as racism, nationalism and sexism, etc.
I suspect he can smell hypocrisy, manipulation and blackmailing from a mile away.
I suspect his emotional intelligence skills are richer than some people’s who are in their 60s.
I suspect Summerhill kids are able to create their own success formulas by living and learning in the school that is successful even from evolutionary perspective, because it has such features as fixity, change and adaptation.
I suspect Summerhill is not perfect, but it’s real and open.

Tony Gough says, “I read AS Neill’s book about Summerhill when I was at university, and the ideas put forward totally transformed my own teaching philosophy to the point whereby I don’t consider myself a ‘teacher’, but as an ‘enabler’. My students are allowed to choose what’s important to them. and its actual relevance to what they learn.

I’m an EFL teacher, and the only way forward is to give the student the freedom of choice and the responsibility to dictate what’s truly important to them. Give a child the freedom to learn and they will continue to learn their entire life. Educate the child and they cease being educated at the first available opportunity.” I love that term ‘enabler’, I should try that one on for size I think! I’m always uncomfortable calling myself a homeschool ‘teacher’ especially when we’re in our more ‘unschooling’ mode. 

I love homeschooling, I love having my kids with me all the time but in a parallel universe, I’d love them to attend somewhere like Summerhill.


About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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4 Responses to Summerhill School: The Ideal?

  1. aishaaarshad says:

    How interesting! Never heard of democratic schools before. Lovely concept. The philosophy reminds me a little of the Charlotte Mason method. I want to try to incorporate this type of thinking a bit in our home. Next year we are switching to a less rigorous curriculum, and my hope is that we will have more time for exploratory learning… wish us luck 🙂

    • I do! And please keep me posted! I am also interested in looking at the Charlotte Mason method in a bit more detail but I think it is still a little too rigid for us because it doesn’t allow, I think, for as much child-led learning as I’d like 🙂

  2. Jason Rhodes says:

    Hi, I stumbled upon your site when looking for elementary schools in Dubai. My wife & I are both teachers & are (very casually at this point) considering the possibility of teaching in Dubai. Our daughter is 4 and has been attending Montessori school since she was 2. I was looking to see if there might be some sort of alternative pre-K & elementary school in Dubai. I’m guessing you’re home schooling because you didn’t find anything that suited you, but was wondering if you could give some idea of what’s available for 4 years old through elementary school in Dubai. Thanks!

    –Jason Rhodes

    p.s. Reading Summerhill had a big impact on me a long time ago. Reading your post makes me want to read it again!

    • Hi Jason, Great to hear from you! I didn’t h/s because I didn’t like the schools in Dubai as such. I had already started h/s in Bahrain, not because the school was so awful – it was, in traditional terms, a very ‘good’ school but I realized my son didn’t like school in any traditional form and there aren’t any alternative schools in either Bahrain or Dubai (or anywhere in the Gulf). There are lots of schools calling themselves Montessori but there’s no way of knowing if they really are – at least that’s what I’ve heard. The fees for all schools in Dubai are really high so your decision may be based on your daughter going to school where you work and being given some price break. Dubai itself is very expensive and people get sucked into spending far more than they should on expensive rent, car/s and eating out and not saving very much. Are there other places you could consider? Thailand? I was told about a lovely place to live Chiang Mai, Thailand with a good IB school – (PTIS/PREM). I would have considered that had I known about it a few years ago. We now live in Granada, Spain (I must update the blog!) and we’re very happily continuing to h/s both our kids. Very best wishes and best of luck, Jason. Penny

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