Summerhill and the DFE
Our continuing fight with the DfE.....
For the last two years or so we at Summerhill have been in correspondence with the Department for Education through our lawyers, the very supportive and capable Mark Stephens and Imogen MacLean who took us through our case in 2000 and in doing so learned probably more about Summerhill than anybody!
The DfE wrote to us saying that they no longer planned to follow our court agreement ratified by the Independent Schools Tribunal at the Royal Courts of Justice in March 2000.
Now I, naively it turns out, thought that an agreement was a mutual thing and that neither party would be able to back out of it without consent from the other party - but there was a clause in the Statement of Intent which says:
2. This statement of intent is on the understanding that the Secretary of State cannot and does not fetter his own discretion nor that of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools to exercise their statutory functions in relation to schools.
The DfE are saying that the agreement is now fettering their discretion because it singles out Summerhill for special treatment from Ofsted.
We feel, of course, that we cannot put our school at risk by running up huge legal expenses - and in an open court (the last time it was a tribunal). If we were to lose we would be liable for the government expenses as well so, sadly, we have come to the end of this particular avenue.
We are now preparing for our next inspection which will be carried out without our experts present to help guide the inspectors through what is, for them, completely new educational territory. The DfE have made it perfectly clear that we will be treated EXACTLY the same as all other schools.
Bearing in mind that the inspectors will all have attended mainstream education and probably have taught in mainstream education I think this puts us at a distinct disadvantage just as if our local doctor were to be asked to perform surgery on an elephant! We are not panicking, but I personally feel very bitter and angry that everything we fought for in 1999 has now been lost.
The one point that has always been a problem for us is that we cannot and will not track and assess our children when they are not in class, and of course our classes are not compulsory. This has caused huge problems for us in the past and we can only hope that it will not do so in the future.
We are working hard on this. Summerhill is a precious place that ought to be under the auspices of the National Trust or a United Nations World Heritage site, not pilloried by an Education Department too shortsighted to value what it can offer the future, nor respectful enough of its importance in the history of education.
I might be jumping the gun here but I am fearful of the way the education system seems to be heading and if it impacts on Summerhill the way it could - then we could be in for trouble. . . .