Abigail Higgleton


I first came across A.S.Neill’s ideas as an undergrad studying Psychology at the University of Sussex. It was such a relief to read about Summerhill, the philosophy made complete sense to me; I felt the combination of reassurance and inspiration that you get when you discover someone else’s well articulated ideas, which you had always felt to be true but hadn't been able to clearly imagine or express them into words. In my early 20s I only knew about Neill’s work from an academic perspective, and hadn’t realised Summerhill was still in existence as a school, let alone somewhere I could potentially work. Luckily in 2016, at a point when I was looking to move away from Brighton and change my life around, I was fortunate enough to find out about a vacancy for a Houseparent. My work up until this point had been a patchwork of pastoral care roles in education, play work and various creative odd jobs, so this opportunity was a perfect fit. I am still a Houseparent at Summerhill (for the ‘House’ boarding area - the infamous gangster age), and I love it very very much. Alongside this role, I have been fortunate enough to try my hand at many other jobs within the school; for a year I was joint Art Teacher with the San Houseparent at the time. For one incredibly intense year I co-lead, what turned out to be, an enormous scale production of the musical Grease. I also still teach Drama, Psychology, Textiles, and run the Sex and Relationships Education workshops. This list only scratches the surface of things I’ve been involved with in my time at the school; it’s easy to be busy all of the time with the huge range of things happening in the community at any one time. I am very grateful for my time at Summerhill, it’s a hugely unique place to work. When I first started at school, I became aware that the job would smash the work/life binary; even when times are intense or stressful, it rarely feels like ‘work’, and when things are going well, days can be full of such variety and fun. As an adult living in the community, I have learnt so much from the kids about how to function and live collectively, I have been challenged to dismantle my ideas around power and authority, and I continue to deepen my understanding of justice, freedom and equality. It’s a privilege to be part of the community living at school, as we approach the celebration of it’s 100th year!


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