IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


IOE hosts exhibition of art by A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School alumni

24 August 2022

“Freedom to Create” is an art exhibition celebrating the centenary of A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School by honouring the creative work of ten former students who attended the school between 1930s-1990s.

A boldly coloured mixed media drawing of a king holding up a hand. Reproduced with kind permission of the John Burningham Estate

The ten alumni, or their families or estates, have said their education at Summerhill School set them on course for their later successful careers in the arts.

Summerhill School was established in 1921 by A.S. Neill, in a decade which saw many experiments in progressive education.

Tom Woodin, Professor of the Social History of Education at IOE, wrote:

"For the past 100 years, Summerhill School has been a beacon of progressive and child centred education. Freedom, autonomy, play, democracy, the arts and creativity have been at the heart of its educational vision and practice. Pupils choose which lessons they want to attend and the school meeting offers an open forum to discuss and determine issues relating to daily life and relationships... Despite its small size, the school was to have an extraordinary impact upon the world."

Held at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, the exhibition also celebrates school children everywhere having the freedom to create, which was a central part of Neill’s philosophy and remains core to the School’s practice today.

Original artwork by children’s author and illustrator John Burningham, work by graphic designer Storm Thorgerson, known for creating album covers for Pink Floyd over four decades, and painter and author Mikey Cuddihy feature in the exhibition.

Judith Suissa, Professor of Philosophy of Education at IOE, said:

"Summerhill is famous as a school where children’s freedom is paramount. But what do we mean by ‘freedom’? How can it be combined with living in a community? Can there be any pedagogical interaction without authority?

"These are the kinds of questions that radical educational practitioners and theorists have grappled with for generations. John Dewey wrote: ‘Democracy has to be born anew in every generation, and education is its midwife’. But can and should schools be democratic spaces? Where else can democratic education take place?

"A glimpse of the theory and practice of Summerhill, perhaps the world’s most famous democratic school, can, we hope, help to open up these questions and lead to broader conversations about the value and meaning of democratic education."

Curated by IOE academics Annie Davey and Professor Claire Robins, with Mark Vaughan from the Summerhill Trust, the exhibition opens free to the public from 31 August to 6 September.

The exhibition also launches a term-long events programme, ‘Freedom, Community and Democratic Education’, which explores a broad variety of ideas and practices around art education, creativity and democracy within different educational settings, past present and future. The events bring together expertise across disciplines ranging from art, design and museology to the history, philosophy, and sociology of education. Watch our events calendar for more events in the series this autumn.



K k KING (mixed media) by John Burningham. The original illustration for 'John Burningham's ABC', first published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1964. Reproduced with kind permission of the John Burningham Estate.