Imagine a School... Summerhill
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by William Tyler Smith
color, 67 min, 2008
In 1997, Tony Blair's new Labor Government took steps to improve standards in education. Ironically, this would threaten the existence of an unusual little school in Suffolk called Summerhill...
So begins an extraordinary documentary about an exemplary school in England, in which the students, the staff and a few formidable barristers take on OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) and Tony Blair's Labor Government to fight for its existence and the lifeblood of alternative education throughout the world. It was a fight that not only saved the prestigious institution, but proved the very educational principals on which the school was founded. In the process, some remarkable young people were given a chance to see how they had grown within Summerhill's unique democratic system and an up close lesson in modern government.
Summerhill, the famous coed alternative boarding school, was threatened with closure by the British Labor Government because it refused to compromise its educational and social philosophy. Attendance in classes is voluntary, and children can play all day if they feel like it. The school runs as a free and completely democratic society. Rules are developed and adopted in weekly meetings, in which every member of the school community, from a five-year old child to the headmistress, has an equal vote. At Summerhill, the emotional development of children comes first, lessons second.
Imagine a documentary...
The filmmakers hand over to 11-year-old students three camcorders, to be shared amongst the community, with the instructions: here are the cameras - now shoot. At first the students don't even know how to work the equipment. Over time they are documenting their daily lives, capturing the life of Summerhill from an unfiltered and authentic child's point of view. Over the next six years, the filmmakers film and interview students, staff and alumni and chronicle the chain of circumstances that end in a most unexpected turn of events.
The film follows a number of students from the ages of eleven to sixteen as they grow up and make important decisions about life and their education at the same time that they become involved in the legal and political fight to save their school. We watch them work and play and see them develop as they take on the increased responsibilities that come with age and experience in a self-governing community. The film follows the same children who sneak out of their dorms at night and dance to The Spice Girls at the end of term party as they go on to help run the democratic processes of their school, give a press conference at the Houses of Parliament and, finally and triumphantly, turn the high court into an unprecedented and historical Summerhill general meeting to decide whether or not to accept the terms of the British government.
“Imagine a School... Summerhill is a film that challenges one's thinking on education and government's role in regulating it. This film illuminates alternatives as well as hope for the future. ” — Erik Sean McGiven, Film News and Views
“A must see for anybody interested in education, progressive, alternative, and humanist ideas.” — Personalised Education Now
418 Films presents a film directed by William Tyler Smith; Executive Produced by Julian D. Hoxter and W. T. Smith; Produced by Morris S. Levy, Emma Broomhead and Ann Jackman; Associate Produced and Sales by Jill Gambaro: Music and Sound Design by Justin Samaha; Edited by Ann Jackman.
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
11th Astra Film Festival, Romania, 2011
Jersey Shore Film Festival, 2009
Nomination, Kids First! Best Award in the category of documentary for 13-18 year olds, Kids First! Film Festival, 2009
Santa Fe Film Festival, 2009