THE contradictions of a liberal education have finally caught up with Summerhill, the free-thinking school where lessons are not compulsory and pupils set the rules. Its head has taken parents to task for producing “spoilt brats”.
Children, some of whose parents are graduates of the sort of “progressive” education the school championed, are arriving for their first term so badly behaved that the school has been forced to adopt the smack of firm discipline.
But the head, Zoë Neill Readhead, the daughter of the school’s founder A S Neill, says permissive parenting is producing a generation of over-indulged children more attentive to televisions and computers in their rooms than playing with fellow pupils.
“In the 1940s and 1950s Summerhill was the place where children learnt that adults would not brutalise or frighten them,” she writes.
“Now the Summerhill community finds itself in the role of disciplinarian, teaching kids that they can’t do what they like and that they have to have regard for other people’s rights and feelings, A bit of a role reversal that Neill would have found interesting.”
“Living in a community as we do, you have to learn how to behave. You cannot do what you want, you cannot do what you like. Children are used to having DVDs and computers and TVs in their rooms. Some are coming into school and saying, ‘Why can’t I do that, I am allowed to do it at home?’ “Children now come from homes where they have been overindulged. ‘I do not have to go to bed when you tell me,’ they might say. But then it is brought up at one of the meetings we hold three times a week. Everyone decides on the fine that is appropriate.
“Summerhill has 200 more laws than any other school,” she revealed. “It has been called the ‘do-as-you-like school’, but it isn’t. You can skip lessons, they are optional. That is part of your freedom as an individual.

From: The Sunday Times of June4, 2006

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