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Summerhill to fight threat criticism

THE HEAD teacher of the country's most famous progressive school vowed to fight any government moves to close it.

Summerhill, in Suffolk, where pupils attend lessons when they want to and extra-curricular activities include nude bathing, is expected to face a notice of complaint from David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, following an Ofsted report. In the latest of a series of reports dating back 10 years, inspectors found the school had "drifted into confusing educational freedom with the negative right not to be taught. As a result, many pupils have been allowed to mistake the pursuit of idleness for the exercise of personal liberty".

The report also criticised accommodation at the boarding school, where boys and girls share toilets. It noted that there was "no resident adult to supervise senior boarders".

Following the issue of a notice of complaint - equivalent to declaring a state school "failing" - Summerhill would have six months to make changes or face closure.

But the head, Zoe Redhead, daughter of the educationist AS Neil, who founded Summerhill in Leiston 78 years ago, said she would fight closure. "We will fight it as hard as we can in whatever way is possible. One parent has already suggested that we should take our case to the European Court of Human Rights." She accused inspectors of "moving the goalposts" in their demands for improvements in its buildings. And she vowed that the school would not change its system of education.

"If they demand that we have compulsory lessons, we will be in a pickle," she said.

"That would strike at the root of our philosophy of freedom for the individual and self-government in a democratic community."