Wednesday, 21 May 2014

⚽︎ Summerhill ⚽︎

We took off up the A12 at 5am on a busman's day off to visit Summerhill.
Picnic and raincoats at the ready.
Summerhill is a co-educational boarding school in rural Suffolk.   I saw a documentary about this school when I was a kid. A school where students could choose which lessons they go to or none at all. I thought it looked and sounded very cool. It was ahead of it's time then and I think it still is today.

"Founded in 1921, it continues to be an influential model for progressive, democratic education around the world"


And what a wonderful place it is. Idyllic, rural, relaxed, happy and charmingly eccentric. The students we met were all articulate, confident, mature and proud. We had the pleasure of a school tour where I was able to take these images. What beautiful and lush grounds for a child to wander and explore. alone or with friends or teachers. No school gates, everything open and gloriously free. I would have FLOURISHED here. Most people I know would have too.


The first stop was the art room. I didn't like art lessons much at school, I had no confidence in my creativity having had a few berations when younger for doing my own thing (when I look back I am appalled at those 'teachers') I loathed sewing because I was scared of the teacher as she used to be ferocious in her critisism. Yes, I am looking at you Mrs Bailey.




This art room was very ready to get stuck in, all kinds of equipment and an enthusiastic teacher ready to teach. Check out the cool sewing thread reel storage board. I need one of these. A lovely student explained to me how to make it. Bang nails in a board basically. 

The windows opened on to the school grounds. Children poke their heads in to see what's happening. Zooming around on skateboards and bikes. The rule that has evolved (the students make the rules democratically) is that if you are out of the school building you move your tag to the out board for health and safety reasons. Simple and Perfect.



If you leave your wheels out in the rain, I guess it is your loss if they go rusty.
But you can always nip over to the woodwork studio to fix things up.

Or you could sit and dream and design your next project.

I fell in love with the place, the charm and sophistication of the system appealed to every part of my childhood self. To every part of my teenage self longing for kindred spirits. This is the school you imagine when you dream of the perfect school. The quirky cross pollination of Enid Blyton adventures and a free festival.

I felt quite emotional remembering how much my education lacked at my school and that the antiquated Victorian system is still in place now but with even more attainment, rules and boxes to tick. THIS is the place that is the answer. A school that is like a family, a home and a beloved friend all rolled into one. A school that lets you become your very best self and if the best self is a bus driver or a politician or a nurse that self will be happy and fulfilled. I think Summerhill is doing an amazing job in the face of adversity and constant criticism. I long for it to continue, for it to grow more beautiful people in it's quiet understated way. I hope that one day the model of Summerhill will be replicated and chosen as the ideal after they have finished experimenting with attainment and success driven models that aren't a measure of a human's happiness but a measure of what mainstream society is being brainwashed into thinking is successful. 
Phew. I'll shush now.
I wish I had gone to Summerhill, I would have reached the same ideas about being alive but a lot more quickly. Oh well, I am here now.

Looks like they made a chair for my arrival.

I love these assorted notes on the back of the classroom door for the teacher to utilise.


Looking out of the science classroom.

Another delicious aspect of the school.
Skateboard ramp built by previous students
Every child should have access to a tree house

Heaps of outdoor fun.
Everywhere we went, students zoomed past us running, skipping, cycling, skateboarding, stopping to bounce on the trampoline or to collect their break biscuits. The whole place was full of vitality and collective energy. I didn't see any feral grubby anarchists at all.


I love the wheels strewn and abandoned, ready to be taken up again.
One of the few rules the students have made for visitors: not to touch abandoned wheels as the owner might be coming back for them. A Very Good Well Thought Out Rule.


Dog guarding the school

Plants and flowers in abundance

I loved all the little notices and signs I came across


Upon graduation, all students sign the brick wall.
I wonder what Mark does now and whether he thinks his school days were beautiful?

After our school tour, we were lucky enough to attend one of the famous school meetings.
The students and teachers all have an equal voice, issues are raised, suggestions are gathered and then a democratic vote is led. The maturity and wisdom of the students was inspiring and delightful.
A huge thunderstorm broke out when we were listening and the rain teemed down outside the old wood panelled room. I felt transported and aligned to a historic democratic practice which sent a shiver down my spine.
This is the way everything should be decided.
There was always the FOR vote and show of hands count and there was also a chance to vote for NONE of the suggestions. I wish we had that as a vote in the upcoming elections. A NONE OF THE ABOVE vote to show we don't want any of them. I guess more people would vote knowing their collective distrust of a dreadful system would be counted.

I wish I had gone to Summerhill, I wish I had been able to send my children and I wish for a similar concept in every town as an alternative to what we have now. Summerhill is so ahead of it's time, the world just hasn't caught up yet. Remember when only a handful of people had Apple computers? It was considered slightly dippy, slightly hippy. I think Summerhill will come of age and become what it should have become 50 years ago. 
A universal model to grow beautiful thoughtful people. 

If they had jobs for me and Mr LouLOuLoves here we would gladly take them.




5 comments:

Alex Seaford said...

Ooooh, you are so right! I would love to visit. I saw the documentary way back when, and thought how fabulous it looked.... Your photos have just confirmed the beauty of the idea in action :)

Mum Seeks Life said...

love this loulou. wish it was closer.

maz hawes said...

It looks truly amazing, doesn't it. I've just read 'A Conversation about Happiness' by Mikey Cuddihy about here school days at Summerhill- completely fascinating! Especially resonant for me as my son (now 16) was almost destroyed by the school system until I took him out to home educate him age 6-10. If only Summerhill had been closer.... if only he decision makers in education were more open minded. I loe your photos by the way, they really bring the place to life :))

louloulovesbooks said...

Thanks Maz, I'm all for a new system, at least another one we could run alongside the one we have for the differing needs of our children. There really is a need for it. See Mum Seeks Life blog above, a similar situation for her and her son.

Sarah said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have said in this post. I read a book about Summerhill years ago and thought it sounded amazing. It demonstrates that trusted children will behave in a way that repays that trust. Shame it is a rare example when it would be so great if it was the norm!