Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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.

Yours gratefully,

Alex Coad
Student (14 years old), Summerhill School

March 2001

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 the DfEE.

  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 the world.

  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 similar procedures?

  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?

Yours sincerely

Michael Newman
Curriculum Adviser,
English Teacher, Summerhill School

March 2001

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