Letters to the Chairman of the Sub-committee
from staff and students of Summerhill School (SQE 07)
Dear Mr Sheerman,
Last year, myself and three other pupils came
to see the Select Committee's meeting, to ensure that Chris Woodhead
was answerable to the committee on the failure of the inspectors
to listen to the children of Summerhill.
To our disappointment the committee did not
discuss the issue during its meeting, so afterwards we tackled
Mr Woodhead in the corridor. We asked him, "Why did the Inspectors
not speak to us during the school's inspection?" He replied
that they did. We told him that they had not, even though they
had been invited several times to talk and listen to us. He then
promised that they would in the future.
Last year, in March, we won the court case that
was the outcome of the inspection. Part of the agreement gave
us the right to be heard during any future inspections (Independent
Schools Tribunal IST/59: 8 a. The views of the school as expressed
in the Meeting . . . 8c. The pupils voice should be fully represented
in any evaluation of the quality of education at Summerhill).
Well, now what we want to know is; what is going
to be done about all the other children in this country and the
right they have to be heard by the Inspectors? Can the Committee
gain a statement from the new Chief Inspector of Schools, Mike
Tomlinson, that all children in Britain will have the same rights
as Summerhill children, to have their voices heard.
Looking forward to your reply, and to seeing
your meeting on Wednesday 21 March 2001.
Student (14 years old), Summerhill School
Dear Mr Sheerman,
Further to your meeting with Chris Woodhead,
last year, when he was questioned about his Annual Report, your
Committee published two letters in the appendix to the report
of that meeting. One was from the children of Summerhill, the
other was from myself, on behalf of the school.
In the intervening year Summerhill has won its
appeal at the Independent School's Tribunal in the Royal Courts
of Justice, in which a statement was agreed upon to annul the
complaints that had led to the Notice of Complaint, though the
school had expressed no intent to fulfil those complaints. I write
to express concern over the issues that arose during the Independent
Schools Tribunal. These are particularly relevant to OFSTED and
Firstly, even the judge, His Honour John Wroath,
expressed surprise and concern over the concept of a "To
be Watched List" (TBW). Summerhill had been inspected nearly
every year for the past ten years, and despite many requests to
the DfEE about why, were never told that it had been given a "TBW"
status. This secrecy and the consequences of a school going on
the TBW list, having to go through the traumatic experience of
inspections, putting staff and children under stress, far more
times than normal were of grave concern to the school and to the
judges of the Appeal. Due to its appeal Summerhill discovered,
through its Barrister's cross-examination of Michael Phipps, Senior
Registrar for Independent Schools, that we had been on the TBW
list and because of our protests we have now been removed.
What is the status of this TBW list? Why is
it not mentioned in the Chief Inspector's Report, and how many
schools are on it? And how many know they are on it?
The agreement between the School and the Secretary
of State for Education and Employment (IST/59) creates a number
of protective measures for the school with respect to its inspections;
the creation of a resolution mechanism for disagreements between
the school and the DfEE with appointed experts to liaise between
both; the right for the school to submit its own expert report
to the DfEE along with the OFSTED report, which the DfEE have
undertaken to take into account; that the pupils voice will be
listened to and fully represented in any evaluation of the quality
of education at Summerhill; that the DfEE acknowledges the school's
philosophy that the children have freedom to attend lessons or
not in accordance with Neill's philosophy; that learning is not
confined to lessons and inspections must consider the full breadth
of learning at Summerhill.
Is it not a sad state of affairs that for the
protection of the rights of some sixty children, and the rights
of parents and their children around the world to choose Summerhill,
that the school had to pay some £140,000 to defend itself,
using the best solicitors and barristers in the country. In reality
no other school could have fought and won. Summerhill has gained
international support and respect over the past eighty years,
and is referenced as a model of democratic education throughout
What have OFSTED and the DfEE learnt from the
case? In the future can a school be similarly threatened?
Will the protective measures implemented for
us be unique to Summerhill or will other schools, that feel they
have problems with OFSTED and their inspection, be able to use
Finally, how can the Chief Inspector's Report
ignore court cases that have severely questioned the attitude
and methods of OFSTED during the past year?
English Teacher, Summerhill School