Life at Summerhill

Here you can see new and unprecedented insights into the oldest children’s community in the world. We want you to get a real sense of what happens within the school on a day to day basis.

To fully get a feel for life at Summerhill as you take a look around, it is important to understand the values that underpin our community’s way of life.

Summerhill life is based on A.S.Neill’s core principle of “freedom not Licence”, this, put simply, means that every member of the community has individual freedom but they cannot infringe on another’s freedom. This principle is self-governed through democratic meetings held three times a week. In these meetings absolutely everything to do with our daily lives is discussed and decided, and every member of the community, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, has an equal vote and the right to be heard.

Another fundamental and renowned aspect of life at Summerhill is non-compulsory lessons. This element nurtures a self directed, purely individual, emotional and positive relationship to learning. In this environment children have the time, space and facilities to do what children naturally do best… play, play, play and, well, play!

When given this freedom, children spend time doing what is right for them, relevant to the specific stage of development they are in; this is fundamentally done through forms of play.

“Arrive on any day at Summerhill and the first thing you will see are children playing. Spontaneous, wonderful play. They play indoors, they play outside, they play the right way up and they play upside down. Some games are sensible and seem to have a point, some are totally silly in every way. Playing is what Summerhill kids do, like kittens tumbling out of a box.”

– Zoe Readhead, Principal of Summerhill School

Children of all ages play at Summerhill, not just the little ones. As they get older this play evolves through many different forms; imaginative games, finding and following an interest or hobbie, socialising, emotionally engaging, physical risk-taking and much much more… these are all essential aspects of a child’s journey through self-discovery, resulting in self-understanding, awareness and empathy towards others, and in turn, self-confidence and independence. This process is taking place in every moment of everyday life at Summerhill; it is spontaneous, instinctive and individualised, and is arguably the most important aspect of A.S.Neill’s educational philosophy: a fulfilled childhood leads to a happy child, a happy child is a happy adult – “Being happy is what matters most” – A.S.Neill, Founder of Summerhill School 1921

Below are just some of the things that happen at school on a daily basis. Please take some time to have a look around, we hope you enjoy this window into our world.

Celebrations, Events and Trips

Generally we like to have fun and celebrate whenever we can at Summerhill. This means we use any excuse for a good party, and have fun to the best of our ability... whenever possible! Our community celebrates all the usual holidays you'd expect, but also the wonderful international element of the school means many holidays and events are inspired by cultures from around the world, bringing merriment to Summerhill from far and wide. Events and trips at Summerhill are arranged by anyone with an idea and the inclination to make it happen, whether that be a cinema trip or protesting for global climate change, there's always interest and encouragement to be found in the community.


Games are a central part of life at Summerhill, while you can expect to see all the usuals there are many new games (like ramp tag for example) that have been devised purely by kids at the school. Some are whole community games that may take place over several days and some are purely individual or played in smaller group.! Below are a few that happen at Summerhill on a regular bases. We plan to add more to this list later on.

Subjects and Classrooms

The non-compulsory learning at Summerhill means children have the complete freedom to partake in learning if and when they are ready. This has often lead to the image that children don't learn at Summerhill. This is a myth as the non-compulsion means children naturally gain a positive relationship to learning. When a child enters a lesson, they bring with them; interest, motivation and enthusiasm. This in turn means they learn much faster and more deeply because their focus has come purely from them. This also means it happens when they are ready and so fits in perfectly to their own personal development and bespoke education.