Alexander Sutherland Neill


(A.S. Neill)

1883 - 1973

Radical educationalist. Born in Forfar, the son of the strict Calvanist who was schoolmaster at Kingsmuir. Neill had a difficult and protracted education. This involved him leaving school at fourteen, taking jobs which frustrated him, and the returning to school to serve as pupil-teacher with his father and then in Bonnyrigg (Midlothian) and Kingskettle (Fife). He then became an assistant teacher in Newport-on-Tay and finally was able to attend the University of Edinburgh, where he gained confidence. Here he developed his ideas on education. After army service during the First World War, he went on to help set up a progressive school in Hellerau (Germany), where he was joined by Edwin and Willa Muir. Neill wrote about his experiences in A Dominie Abroad (1923).

Neill returned to Britain in 1924 to found Summerhill, a school run by its pupils on self-governing principles. Rules were agreed by democratic vote and the school gained a reputation for giving a second chance to 'difficult' pupils, many of whom thrived under the freedoms offered. After his publication of Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing in 1960, which proved enormously popular in the USA, Neill gained a reputation as one of the world's most progressive educators, although did not seek plaudits. He died in Suffolk.


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