Zoe Readhead, Principal of Summerhill School describes why she tries never to miss a school meeting! - National Democracy Week - July 2018


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This is the next in our series of articles for National Democracy Week 2018. Zoe Readhead, Principal of Summerhill School describes why she tries never to miss a school meeting! For more articles in the National Democracy Week series, see our campaign page here. We’ll be publishing new articles every day this week, so keep a look out for more takes on this important topic.




Summerhill’s founder, A.S.Neill wrote:

“ At Summerhill, the pupils would fight to the death for their right to govern themselves. In my opinion, one weekly General School Meeting is of more value than a week’s curriculum of school subjects”


This is still true today. Held thrice weekly, they are the forum in which we discuss issues, make, drop or change laws and run our day-to-day lives.


Being together in a boarding community it is probably more important that we have safety nets and expectations regarding behaviour towards one another. Thus anybody can bring a case to the meeting for help, to complain, or sometimes just because they are angry. Issues are discussed and resolved with great openness and honesty.


There is an elected Chair, who changes every third meeting, and a secretary who writes the minutes and takes cases for the agenda. Chairing the meeting is no easy task. You have to be assertive, confident, aware of the cases but still impartial, and able to control around 60 people (some of whom may be wriggling about or not paying attention). Our school laws say that the Chair has “ultimate power” so they are able to move people, ask them to leave, call them to attend for a case against them or even close the meeting.


Everybody has an equal right to be heard and to vote. Watching the new, younger pupils learn this process is a real delight. They begin by very tentatively raising their hands, usually with the majority and then gradually become more confident until they are able to manage the idea of voting proposals against each other (you only get one vote). The next thing that often happens, for a short while, within the first term or two is the moment when they really feel their power and vote against EVERYTHING just because they can! You don’t have to be powerful to have power....


Summerhill Meetings are the very heart of the school. They are practical, down-to-earth, humorous, sometimes a bit boring but mostly absolutely wonderful to watch. After over 70 years of association with Summerhill, I try never to miss a meeting...


Zoë Readhead

Principal A.S.Neill's Summerhill School


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