For many years, the issue of anxiety among school students has become increasingly prevalent, the most recent article in February 2024 from The Guardian indicates that nearly a third of UK secondary school pupils avoid school due to anxiety. 

This follows a long line of similar reports detailing the crippling effects the school system is having on our young people, not just today but since the founding of the educational system. 

 A.S Neill took action against this emerging trend over 100 years ago when he set out to make a school that would fit the child rather than forcing pupils to do what parents and educators thought might be best for them.Summerhill School is founded on the belief that children flourish in an environment of autonomy, respect, and trust and has been at the forefront of educational philosophy and practice for over 100 years.

Despite over a century of practice at  Summerhill School, as well as the proliferation of alternative education models and a wealth of academic research, the traditional authoritarian classroom of a century ago remains the prevailing model in the majority of European schools today.

What is the root cause of this anxiety in our young people? 

Growing up is inherently stressful, defined by hormonal changes, the pursuit of acceptance, the struggle for individuality, making friends, and managing potential home challenges. All amid the whirlwind of puberty and physiological shifts. 

These hurdles alone can overwhelm youth, let alone when they’re thrust into high-pressure artificial environments where success and failure rest on superficial literacy and numeracy skills, and where adults demand respect irrespective of merit.

Add to this standardised tests, which further foster a culture of comparison and competition among students as well as providing a constant passive message of  “You Should do Better”. 

Compounding further the culture of never being happy with who you are as an individual. 

This confluence of confusing factors underscores the detrimental impact of traditional educational paradigms on the mental health and well-being of young individuals. 

Here, at the A.S Neill Summerhill CIC we do not view anxiety as an inevitable byproduct of academic pressure, instead, we recognize it as a symptom of a deeper systemic issue. One that demands a radical reimagining of the way we educate our youth.

One aspect of our work is to consult with the entire spectrum of educational providers to establish foundational methodologies that can contribute to overall well-being in all settings. 

Our approach to relieving anxiety in students seeks to foster a genuine love for learning while addressing the root causes of school-related anxiety.

By providing a nurturing environment where young people’s voices are heard and their choices are respected, 

By enabling young people to feel fulfilled and accepted as individuals, each with their own valued sets of skills and strengths.

We cultivate a sense of agency that is essential for combating anxiety and building self-confidence.

At the A.S.Neill Summerhill CIC, we are guided, not only, by the pioneering work of A.S. Neill and Summerhill School, but also by drawing on over 60 years of combined direct experience of living, working, and being part of the Summerhill School  community, 

In conclusion, 

Traditional educational approaches are failing to address the emotional needs of students. 

The solution to school anxiety lies not in more rigorous testing or stricter discipline, but rather in embracing a philosophy of freedom that honours the inherent dignity and worth of every child.

Trust, Agency, Autonomy, Respect, and Dignity are all words that need to be at the forefront of educational models. 

As we strive to create a more equitable and inclusive educational system, let us be aware that by planting the seeds of happiness, contentment, fulfilment, and equality in our youth today, these values will go on to become the underpinnings of our future societies. 

“All crimes, all hatred, all wars, can be reduced to unhappiness” 

A.S. Neill 

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