A Dominie's Log

A. S. Neill


Celebrating the Centenary of A.S.Neill’s A Dominie's Log

Read about The Special Edition
A Dominie's Log

The Special Edition of A Dominie's Log


This is a special edition of A Dominies Log by A.S.Neill with a new introduction by Michael Newman, a teacher at Summerhill School and a children’s rights advocate.

We have published a few hundred copies to be used to send to eminent writers, artists, educationalists, thinkers, leaders, organisations and institutions. We are inviting them, you, to celebrate with us what this book stands for.

It is one man, and not a famous book. One man, a state school headteacher, and later founder of the oldest and one of the most influential democratic schools in the world, Summerhill. A man whose writings have led thousands upon thousands to go into teaching, and millions of adults and children to change their views on what teaching and schools are about. The Children’s BBC created a drama called Summerhill to change people’s, especially children’s, conceptions of what a school can be.

In this centenary of industrial warfare we need to remind people, especially our children, of the culture of success and happiness that this book is a part of, that we still have a long way to go to have happy schools based on the dignity of our children.

To remind people that this book, and the culture and history it is a part of, will help us all in the struggle for our rights, for human rights, for rights of men, women, ethnic groups, the poor, the dispossessed, the bullied, the disabled, religious groups, groups of different sexuality… all of whom were children once. And as children need a culture and community of equality and justice, and the rights we all hold so precious, the right to make decisions, to express a voice, to be a part of humanity.

Help us with the centenary of the book, published in late 1915, read it, quote it, take part in events linked to it, invite people to comment on it, reference it in your events, find out more about the other schools and heroes of liberation in schools… and celebrate them.

Together we can help to strengthen our culture of rights and weaken those in power who wrongly believe that children should not have rights but are trainee human beings.

We intend to republish this book as a best seller with added commentary, short chapter introductions from eminent people in their fields, on its relevance to now. All profits from these books will go to the charity, A.S.Neill’s Summerhill Trust, which supports Summerhill School and promoting the ideas and philosophies of A.S.Neill.

Michael Newman

Read the introduction to the special edition

Introduction to the Special Edition of A Dominie's Log


We create centenaries, and heroes, and books and stories, and ultimately, possibly, ourselves. The diary is a great symbol of the creation of an individual’s life. This Log, this diary, this centenary, is about the importance of that creativity and how can our schools and communities nurture children into free human beings with values of respect, justice, dignity, joy and peace. To celebrate the creative nature of our humanity. We find the answer as we remember the centenary of the beginning of industrial carnage, World War I. We find that answer not just in the possible answers given by our writer, A.S.Neill, but in the way he asks questions, seeks answers and sees the children he is teaching.

In this book you will not find techniques, or pedagogy’s, or technologies, you will find a man who believes in children’s rights, and a man who is figuring out how to help them live a life of freedom, happiness and dignity. A man who would, six years later create a school, Summerhill, that still, today, allows children to live in freedom.

We start with a teacher, A.S.Neill, in a small village school in Gretna Green, famous for its ‘across the border’ weddings that did not need the permission of English parents. A symbol of the liberty of the child from the rule of their parent, and all for love! Young couples eloped from England to Gretna Green to get married quickly. This was due to Gretna’s closeness to the Scottish border and the difference between the law in Scotland and England on marriage. An interesting aspect of the village’s history given what Neill wrote about the two areas of women’s rights and sex education.

We are to follow his first year running the village school and day after day challenging the values of schooling. Though he does not refer to precursors, indeed he states at the beginning that “there has been no real authority on education”, this reflects the sense of individualism and personal development happening in the then growing field of progressive education. Indeed the summer before Neill starts his job we find the creation of a national community who share his values of freedom for the child.A community that would go on to define the primary schools of the future.

Norman McMunn, who published in 1914 his book on his classroom experiences of introducing freedom to children, The Pathway To Freedom, stated at the conference that founded the New Ideals in Education annual meetings, that he felt ‘something like a shipwrecked mariner who has reached land at last’. Neill was to visit his war orphanage later.

This conference, 25th to 29th July 1914, was attended by 250 teachers, professors, educationalists, inspectors and headteachers. In East Runton, England it was the birth of the movement for promoting freedom and humanity for the child, a community of practitioners who had developed their ideas from Rousseau, Froebel, Ferrer, Dewey, Owen and others. The hero of the conference was Homer Lane who oversaw a residential farm for teenage offenders, which they ran as a democratic community. It was called ‘the Little Commonwealth’ and was highly praised in Norman McMunn’s book. Neill was to be greatly influenced by the Commonwealth, its democratic meetings, and Lane’s philosophy of being on the side of the child. He was later to join this community of practitioners and theorists, and to edit the magazine, New Era, of its international offspring, the New Education International Fellowship.

In 1915 Neill published his first book, A Dominies Log, a semi-autobiographical novel, about his life running the village school, from September 1914 to July 1915. The start of the First World War led Neill to lose his London journalist job and to return to rural Scotland to replace a village headteacher who had joined the army. This book was to be the first of a series, the Dominie books, charting his life as a teacher, including the story of his foundation of a school in 1921 that was to become known as Summerhill. Part of this series of novels were not only based on his life as a teacher, but his favourite activity of telling stories to children, developing the involvement of the audience in his storytelling, in which he included his audience as characters and let them negotiate, help edit and suggest what should have happened or what might happen next.

We must remember that he had been a pupil-teacher under his father for four years, then an assistant teacher for five years. He had already taught for nine years before starting this new job. And he had been a University student, graduating in English having won a Carnegie grant that allowed impoverished students to go to Edinburgh University, and editing the student newspaper. He was a campaigning editor criticising the class system, snobbery, sexism, elitism and the University education system. His student editorials were known for their controversial and challenging humour.

The Log is the workings of the mind of a teacher as he thinks about his school during the first year of World War I. This teacher, sitting on top of his desk in the empty classroom, at the end of the day, thinking about children and schooling, is the image of the hero of children. He represents all those adults who ask themselves how do we treat children as human beings, and then act on their reflections, even though it will challenge and at times confront those people, who generally hold power, who still see children as trainee humans. This is the ongoing debate that has so recently been ruled by the authoritarians, those who talk about outcomes, results, leadership, discipline and effective methods with no references to the philosophy of education.

They rule because they follow the present dominant tradition, children growing up accepting their schooling as the best and what all children should have, and they fail to engage in the debate on the philosophy of education, ignoring the history of numerous successful progressive experiments, and relying on the history of the majority of conforming schools, that is conforming secondary schools. Every successful progressive school proves them wrong, but they are products of a system they defend, a system that seeks its justification on what they see as a ‘normal’ school, and the ‘normal’ child developed through its National Curriculum contents and skills, and tested to ensure their ‘normality’.

When I present Neill and his school, Summerhill, to successful sixth formers they are appalled. They angrily defend learning for exams, and being forced to learn and to behave well. They do not believe children under 16 can make responsible decisions, want to learn, can be moral without being told right from wrong. We condition successful academic children to be against children’s rights. This is what we sadly see as normal secondary school education.

This book is a journey through brainstorming, with reflections and actions, as he manages his first three terms at Gretna Green School. The book was successful when published after the end of the school year in late 1915 because of its humour, its humanity, its narrative style and its ideas, despite its questioning of the values of the war. Neill reads the war news to the children each day but gets them to question whose truth is presented, and even to think that democracy might be the rule of the mob. He quotes Ibsen, especially Dr Stockmann, from An Enemy of the People, who is hounded out of his town for trying to protect the people from polluted water. He gets the children to discuss how their village would respond, and ends by pointing out that if he campaigned for the children’s health in the school, with all the costs that would require, he would be marched out of town.

It contrasts with the school descriptions from this period, images monopolising the historic and educational materials linked to the World War I centenary, for this is a teacher who does not believe in violence to control the children, who does not believe in blind authority and obedience, who would like to be seen kissing his wife, if only he had one, in front of the class! Who joins the children in their games, on their ice slide, and being taken prisoner by the children playing soldiers.

This voice of humanity towards our children is one of many that are sadly deliberately ignored and marginalised by those who control our schools, even though we will surprisingly find a number of their voices among this group, especially at the beginning of the last century and between the wars. To celebrate all of these voices is more than innovating a revolution in education, it is trying to raise the humanity of our children to the top of the agenda of our schools’ debate once again. For innovation alone will not bring about schools, a society and culture, that respects and promotes children’s humanity through their rights.

The problem with innovation is that it can ignore values and just rely on what is perceived as function or outcomes. It can therefore be parasitical, depending on the values of a learning foundation of liberty and creativity but becoming a technical support for the status quo. It allows those with family, environmental or internal yearnings to struggle to become cultural producers whilst the majority see themselves as cultural consumers, without the ‘flame’ of creative passion. A flame that otherwise could be seen as part of our shared humanity. It therefore helps to destroy the creativity of the human and instead supports an elitist, competitive environment of creativity, in which all has become saleable commodities, ensuring to the successes a wealth of rewards and cultural status. It is the innovation of an elitist world, in the command of those in power, and has, and will continue to support war and technological developments that will be used to destroy our planet and ourselves. The New Ideals in Education conferences fought against this threat, as well as the threat of education staying the same.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the outbreak of war came as a shock — that many of us sustained a mental upheaval, which overthrew the ideals and ideas of a life time. Those who laboured, it matters not how humbly, for the uplifting of their fellows, were filled with despondency; and I do not hesitate to say that some of us asked in weariness of spirit, “to what end have we toiled?”

“If education will not finally abolish wars, misery and cruelty, together with their parent, fear, then education is not worth another moments consideration. If the education of Man is to result in speedier and more complete methods of annihilation and enslaving his fellows, then I maintain that education of this kind is a curse, and not a blessing.” Mrs Hutchinson, Catherine Street LCC School, New Ideals in Education Conference, 1915

The traditionalists, the anti children’s rights ideologues, their ignorance of the progressive education successes even extends to their ignorance of the aims of the 1944 Education Act, and subsequent aims statements including, ironically, that of the National Curriculum. To help develop life long learners, active citizens…

We must challenge their power over the debate in two ways, through the image of the teacher reflecting on their school as a community of human beings, and through the numerous examples, historical and contemporary, that challenge and successfully contradict their views. We must challenge them in schools, in universities. We must get our children seeing what works, what is possible, and that they can have schools that deepen their humanity, their desire to learn, their desire to be respected members of their communities, their desire to have a just society, and ultimately to have a world without war.

How does a human being work in a school in which he sees the children as human beings? This is the central dilemma of the diary, and the ageless issue behind all the past and subsequent education debates. As patriotism and duty are dominating the British culture at the launch of World War One, a culture of dehumanisation, how does this headteacher, A.S.Neill, help to humanise his students?

Neill worries about his response to the human suffering when he becomes one of the rescuers to the over 100 dead and dying victims of the largest rail crash in this countries history. In ‘A Dominie’s Log’ he only mentions this horrific accident in questioning the scapegoating and imprisonment of the train driver. In the 1917 New Ideals Conference the doctor, Dr Arthur J Brock, who treated shell shocked soldiers including the two poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, talks about the need to humanize his patients through creative work and crafts, through engagement with their local natural environment and culture. He sees this as an immediate and necessary process for all mankind to stop us from self-destruction. Neill was a patient at the Drs Scottish hospital. At Gretna Green he got the children to build a pond, promoted craft and exploring nature and playing in the local landscape.

Neill’s thoughts range over the function of a school, discipline, the three rs, sex education, citizenship and democracy, the war, the use of visitors, the use of cinema, the importance of music, the role of inspectors, what is truth, how to encourage creativity. But always coming back to questioning who he is, exploring his own identity, values and humanity. He feels that he must understand himself as part of the process of helping his students to develop ‘an attitude to life”.

“I am determined to tear all the rags of hypocrisy from the facts of life. I shall lead my bairns to doubt everything. Yet I want them to believe in Peter Pan, or is it that I want them to believe in the beauty of beautiful stories.” A.S.Neill (1915)

We need to read this diary, and to read it with our children, so that when the BBC website describes the brutality of 1914 schools, with the leather strap to beat children, the Tawse, learning by rote, sitting silently in rows, and they ask our children to compare their present schools with this stereotype, we need our children and teachers to reflect on how different Neill’s school is to their modern school, and why the issues he thinks about are still relevant and argued about one hundred years later. Why have we not moved on from Gretna Green School, 1914-15? Indeed we could use any of the many progressive schools of the period, including Montessori, or the state village school run by Harriet Finlay Johnson, and made famous through her book on teaching through drama, and her supporter the Chief Inspector of Elementary schools, Edmund Holmes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen — Experiment Day is for me the fulfilment of a long cherished dream. For five years I was what is called Chief Inspector of Elementary Schools in England, in which capacity I visited every district in the country and got to know every inspector. My colleagues showed me sport, in the form of interesting schools; and it did not take me long to discover that in many of our elementary schools experimental work of an original type was being done, and remarkable results…

“So far as the country was concerned, so far as the teaching profession as a whole was concerned, these pioneers did not exist. I felt then what urgent need there was for the establishment of what I may call a clearing house for educational ideas and experiences, so list unique work of this or that teacher might become known to all who were interested in education… with a view to its being studied and meditated on, and becoming a source of inspiration, or, to say the least, of stimulus, if not of actual guidance…” Edmund Holmes, New Ideals in Education Conference, 1917.

The 1914-37 New Ideals Conferences aimed to change schooling and education through examples, through the sharing and scrutinising of successful practice. As changemakers, as practising teachers, inspectors, head-teachers and professors they saw the importance of publishing their experiences, their experiments, the lives of their schools. They knew the need to challenge the orthodoxy.

Dominie is Scottish for teacher, and log was the official diary. What should an official teacher’s log contain? What was to be the public recorded face of the school? What would it be against the rules to write?

Neill’s log was to challenge the values, language, purpose of the official Log, starting with this challenge as an explanation for writing the book, and ending with the contrast, as a celebration of his success, between his joy at changing the school into a playground and what he wrote in conclusion to his official Log.

“The school was closed today for the summer holidays. I have received Form 9b from the Clerk.” A.S.Neill, A Dominies Log.

Published diaries, biographies and letters from travels and daily life have been used in the past as part of the fight for human rights. And this is where Neill’s diary fits. It is not just a log of ideas or thoughts or the daily life of a teacher, it is the daily struggle with the concept of children’s rights, from that simplest of questions, what am I and the children doing at school?

At the time there were numerous educators around the world developing and practising ideas of progressive education. Neill was one who would ultimately focus on children’s rights as opposed to methods of teaching. With humour, he would converse with his class starting from an ice slide on the road and conclude that the children should write a bill of rights. Rights as the expression of the individual, as the development of respect for our humanity, as the requirements for any society based on equality.

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote letters from her travels in Norway and Scandinavia, she wrote novels and short stories, to further the rights of women. One of her novels has a woman writing letters to her daughter from an asylum where her brutal husband has imprisoned her. She hopes the letters will help her daughter to understand the injustice of sexism and to fight it. Mary’s husband, William Godwin, wrote about the need for children to have rights at schools and in their communities as part of their development into free human beings. Their daughter, Mary Shelley, writes the ultimate novel of a new born man being denied all his rights, the creature in Frankenstein. Slaves such as Olaudah Equiano, wrote autobiographies as part of their fight for equality. To gain equality they had to express their humanity, to contradict the stereotypes and caricatures of sexism, racism, class, ageism.

The expression of the humanity and dignity of those whose rights were suppressed were portrayed in stories, articles and images. These were the cultural weapons in the war for human equality. Indeed it could be argued that our cultural milestones are all pleas for our humanity. Neill’s writings and his legacy of Summerhill, alongside his progressive education colleagues, are major parts of the ongoing cultural struggle for children’s rights.

‘It is a youth which is not afraid, which is sensible of its inalienable spiritual right to liberty, and which walks with the dignity of comradeship in our midst and will meet and mingle with us on no other terms.’ Josephine Ransom, Schools of Tomorrow in England, 1919

Just as importantly was the story of an individual’s fight for their humanity against the libellous and degrading descriptions in stories, or broadsheets and leaflets, that denied their equality. One historic novel that epitomises this struggle in literature is William Godwin’s ‘Caleb Williams’ (1794), now an archetypal storyline of an innocent man on the run, continually having to fight public portrayals of him as a dangerous criminal. But unlike the modern thrillers it examines and criticises the processes of portrayal and the resulting effects on, not just the individual hero, but the groups of human beings who are also stereotypically destroyed, the poor, the powerless. This is a book about a society and culture that creates the dispossessed. There is no happy ending, even when the two antagonists face each other across the courtroom, and Caleb finally gets a public platform to describe his story to reconstruct his humanity in the eyes of the community. Modern thrillers, like Walt Disney fairytales, end happily ever after, with no cry for political or social upheaval.

To challenge injustice in one case, or several, or alternatively to challenge the system that creates the injustice, that is a moral decision faced by us all in addressing what happens to our children. Neill’s diary pivots again and again on the individual story widening to the general issues, how a simple problem can become an exploration of the politics of power.

Salting the ice on the road is seen and portrayed as a political act. The farmer needs a safe road for his horses, he votes, the policeman listens. The children, who use the ice as a slide and the road as a place to play, do not have the vote and therefore have no power. In his classroom he parallels this with the wages and rights of women, who then lacked the vote. His lesson raises awareness of how power and a tension of interests effects the day to day lives of the children. This is seen in the Bursted School Strike story when the married teachers challenge the farmers who take away the children from the lessons to work in the fields, or the school board, who refuse to spend money on heating and repair of the school. Indeed this story reflects Neill’s use of Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People, but in which the children support their much loved teachers against the adults in power.

The New Ideals in Education Conferences were a majority of women, of women reflecting their fight for equality, for women’s rights, for the rights of the poor. The practice of kindergartens, Montessori, and primary schools reflected this struggle for women’s rights. Rev Bertram Hawker (1919) thanks the women and their colleges who made the conferences possible.

Neill challenges the use of advertising, and wants his children to understand how it works. The exploitation of the poor by quacks selling ointments and pills that are very cheap to make and do very little. He bought as textbooks for his class ‘Secret Remedies’ and ‘More Secret Remedies’ published by the British Medical Association debunking the contents and costs of medicines. He wanted his children to learn how much is paying for advertising, and how truthful the claims are. He thought every school should teach about the workings of the quack medical industry.

He wants to challenge the children to look at the way society allows economic injustice and how it punishes the poor for small crimes and lets the economically powerful destroy the lives of the powerless, and even rewards them with knighthoods for doing so. Though he is aware that these are his interpretations of what is happening.

‘I told them of the murderous system that allows a big firm to place a shop next door to a small merchant and undersell him til his business dies.’ A.S.Neill (1915)

What not to write in a log, a diary? In a diary of a teacher? The official log is a legal document charting the closures, the absences, the accidents.’ “No reflections or opinions of a general character are to be entered in the Log-book” — Thus the Scotch Code.’ From the first line Neill confronts us with the teacher’s voice which officially should be absent, of the lack of importance in the official world of what a teacher thinks. As Margaret Thatcher expressed, there is a big tradition in believing that teachers must be good communicators and disciplinarians, but not educational thinkers. This is expressed in the organisation of Universities and places to train teachers. Research into education is in a different department, different buildings and staff than those training teachers. The concept of teachers as thinkers, as experimentalists, as researchers is still treated as if it is innovatory. This is what makes Neill’s book so important, so important for the history of education and to the development of teachers. It argues for the teacher as thinker, philosopher and active researcher. His books had influence on teacher’s practice and how their classrooms and schools worked because they responded to his image not just of children but of the teacher.

Neill epitomises Rodin’s The Thinker, as he sits rebelliously on his desk, not at his desk, at the doorway to ‘hell’, where all those who do not obey end up! His posture is one of defiance but not an act of protest, it is an act of work.

This is a teacher who thinks about the philosophy and values of his work, who embeds this thinking in his classroom as a reflective teacher. A teacher who after nine years of working in state schools asks not only ‘what works?’, but ‘what does it work to do?’ This reflects the lives, thoughts and work of the community represented by the New Ideals in Education Conferences.

Before the world went to war people were campaigning within schools for freedom for the child, this was put into action, struggling with the inhumanity of industrialised warfare. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were numerous individuals who optimistically saw children as human beings, as people learning how to live, to live together in communities, to express themselves through art and language and craft, to celebrate their humanity, to be members of their communities, school and village and town and nation. Their views became more important as people asked how could we prevent another war.

But the progressives had been in opposition to violence before the war, the barbarity of ignorance, of ownership, of child labour, of regimentation and indoctrination for work or poverty or death.

Robert Owen, the father of co-operative politics and thought, a successful cotton industrialist in the late 1700’s early 1800’s, a self-taught man, hated the inhumanity of child labour, and the industrialisation of schooling; Lancaster and Bell’s training mass numbers of teachers in repetitive tasks and skills of control and teaching, effective and efficient transferring of knowledge that can be measured through exams and tests. Neill’s story is nearly a century later but it is the same story. He observes the destroyed face of childhood on the children returning from work in the fields.

‘I see farmers growing rich on child labour: fifteen pence a day for spreading manure. I meet the poor little boys of 13 and 14 on the road, and the smile has gone from their faces, their bodies are bent and racked.’ A.S.Neill (1915)

To sit on the desk of the classroom and not ask how can I teach or measure the success of that teaching, but why do I teach. To ask this question seriously, not as a reflection of the values of your own schooling but as a challenge, as much a political question as one of method and outcome.

Robert Owen had wanted children to learn geography through questioning and learning from each other, using large wall sized maps, without labels, through following their inquisitiveness, but more importantly than anything else he wanted children to experience what is now called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Through learning the lives, cultures and beliefs of people around the world he felt, with questioning, rationality and thought, they would realise they could have become someone else, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a German, a Japanese… That they had been constructed and could therefore re-construct themselves. This awareness could only come about through the shock of realising you could be someone else. This ‘cognitive dissonance’ is now used in educational materials to challenge racism and sexism by such projects as Open Space for Dialogue in Education.

Neill welcomed a visitor from West Africa at his school and allowed him to talk to the children. Afterwards he wishes that he could have visitors from all over the world talking to his children about their lives and cultures.

At least every third page Neill addresses an issue, and each dilemma is relevant today. Why after one hundred years are they still so contemporary, even in the language he uses to describe them? Why have the Inspectors, the politicians, the farmers not changed, why has nothing changed over the last century in terms of their ideas on education?

After the third conference the New Ideals in Education committee decided to create ‘Experiment Days’ to share cases of good practice that had been actively searched for and researched for promoting to other teachers, trainers and schools. These shared teachers’ observations and research into their use of drama, craft, art, children’s voice, restorative justice, environmental education, learning by doing and exploring, learning using nature and the landscape, learning through play, learning to express through music, learning through clubs, learning citizenship, learning through farming and growing, learning by doing. They were determined to change our schools through the spread of good practice, good practice built on the foundation of liberating the child. They succeeded. The liberal education agenda as defined by the values and aims of the education acts, and the practice in our primary schools reflected those of these heroic teachers. The enemy, as they recognised them, was the exams and testing, inspections and parents, and these held our secondary schools by the neck.

“Most of us realise that something is wrong with our ideas on sex. The present attitude of education is to ignore sex, and the result is that sex remains a conspiracy of silence. The ideal some of us have is to raise sex to its proper position as a wondrous beautiful thing. Today we try to convey to bairns that birth is a disgrace to humanity… In reality I can do nothing. If I mention sex in school I should be dismissed at once.” A.S.Neill (1915)

Like those classicists who read Aristotle and Plato, and claimed there was a golden age, and just to repeat their phrases, their science, their writings, was to be highly educated and to know the world; those people in power in education reflect back to a golden age. Knowledge was certain, it was due to the great Greeks, Latin was a poetic language of the gods, the smell of chalk in the air, the Master with his gown, respected but also feared, with no children disobeying his authority, the authority of the school. Tests and exams were honourable contests to compete with your fellow students for the honour of the school, alongside cricket and rugby.

“I have been thinking about discipline overnight. I have seen a headmaster who insisted on what he called perfect discipline. His bairns sat still all day. Every child jumped up at the word of command. He had a quiet life.” A.S.Neill (1915)

Neill reminds us, through his school, of a tradition that is more powerful, that has created thousands of happy schools, with confident, self-respecting children, who can see themselves as a part of the change our world needs if it is to become more just and happier.

This book is a small part of that tradition, and it evokes, through the personal, the questions and ideas that can help us all to allow our children to be active members of their communities. As Montessori telegraphed to the ‘Montessori Conference 1914’ in East Runton, Norfolk let us ‘liberate’ the child. A conference that aimed to and succeed in revolutionising schools to become places of joy and freedom, and where learning was for developing the whole child into a healthy, happy, active human being.

When we meet to discuss change, revolution or innovation in education, let us remember the same debates that took place one hundred years ago, and this conference that was pivotal to the history of adults supporting children’s rights in education, culture, expression and health. It gave birth to an annual gathering of educationalists. These were practising teachers, headteachers, inspectors, founders of schools. They were the changemakers in education. This meeting one hundred years ago included Lord Lytton, Homer Lane, Edmond Holmes (too ill to attend), Beatrice Ensor, Rev Bertram Hawker, Norman MacMunn, Clara Grant and Lillian de Lissa. These practitioners came to share their experiences and to seek to change the way our schools worked. They asked the question what do we want children to learn at school?

The event directly gave birth to the New (World) Education Fellowship, and annual international meetings and their magazine, New Era. Beatrice Ensor organised in Calais in 1921 an international conference on the ‘Creative Self-Expression of the Child’, with nearly every eminent educationalist from around Europe. In 1929 the conference was held in Kronborg Castle, Helsingör, Denmark and amongst the delegates and speakers were Maria Montesso


School Activities

New Ideals in Action [Now] through school workshops


Below are links to activities done with over 40 schools in Tower Hamlets on the theme of the culture of rights of the child, and empowering children through that culture. Some are specifically about the New Ideals heroes, and values, there were several activties about Summerhill School, how it works, should it be closed down (a role play of its trial against the DfE). Many more activities are being planned, if you would like your school to take part please contact us via the contact form.


School Councils

All the help you need to set up a school council in your school.

State Schools - Using Summerhill as a practice model

A powerpoint about Summerhill and work in which the school is used as a model of practice to explore by state school children.

Balancing Rights - Teachers TV

Michael doing a rights assembly based on the story of Frankenstein, and then training primary school teachers. 13 - 16:50 minutes.


Need more information or want to get involved?


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