SUMMERHILL is a powerful emotional drama for children and adults .  It is a story of personal transformation set against the eponymous school’s battle for survival with Ofsted in 1999.

Summerhill school was founded in 1921 by world reknowned educator A S Neill on the principles of self-regulation. The unique Suffolk based boarding school runs as a self-governing democratic community. Pupils (aged 5 to 16), teachers, live-in houseparents and Headmistress Zoe Readhead, (Neill’s daughter) only possess one equal vote which they use during their thrice weekly school meetings to decide on all matters pertaining to the running of the school. The amending, abolishing and making of rules, matters of discipline, extra-curricular activities etc, all are decided democratically, with a rotating chairperson drawn from the school’s entire community. The children police themselves, dealing with infractions of their multitudinous self-imposed laws with compassion and wisdom. The only rule they cannot change is the prime principle upon which A S Neill founded the school; that no child should be compelled to attend any lesson that they do not choose freely by themselves.

Despite the fact that the school’s regime results in an exam pass rate that exceeds the national average, in 1999 Summerhill received a notice of complaint from Ofsted, effectively requiring it to abandon the key freedoms it offered its pupils. Facing closure if it failed to comply, the school instead took Ofsted to court and won a decisive victory allowing it to retain its philosophy and remain open, which it does to this day.

This fast-paced vibrant drama is aimed at a broad audience and offers the suspense generated by its compelling true story of a battle for survival with the emotion and humour of fictionalised stories of personal transformation. Partially filmed at the real Summerhill school, the drama is inspired by real events and aims to entertainingly contribute to the wider national debate around the fundamental aims and methodology of education in the UK.

  • programme details
    Alison Hume
    Jon East
    Stephen Smallwood
    Executive Producers
    Greg Brenman, Jon East
    Transmission Channel
    Transmission Date
    21 January 2008
    Number of episodes
    Episode length
    30 mins