Talk for the staff of the education department at the University of East Anglia, Norwich 2005
I worked at Dartington almost continuously from 1959 until it closed. In 1983 the Trustees of the school appointed an incompetent headmaster who revenged himself for his immediate failure by stirring up a monstrous and unjustifiable scandal and resigned after only one term. In that short time he had done the school enormous damage, and four years later, in 1987, the Trustees, in spite of protests from children and staff and offers of financial help from parents, closed the school down.
Emma Fein, who was a pupil at the school at the time, wrote a poem about the closure of the school, contrasting the atmosphere of the school with the look she saw in the headmaster's eyes. I will read you a few lines, because they tell a great deal about the school.
"Believing in the good of humanity we stood as if naked.
Somewhere there is something good in everyone, people make mistakes, but if given a chance they will grow and change.
Too innocent, too giving to be aware of what was really there.
Those eyes were too hard, too unfeeling to listen, to accommodate anything but that which their own gaze was after.
I never realised how fragile the whole thing was. A community surviving on human values was crushed by a liar - someone who craved power and projected his own hang-ups onto others.
Only someone who had dealings with pornography would see the world around him as a den of sex and vice -
If you live in a large family you learn to understand the true nature of the love that exists there.
Much was learned, much has been lost".
The closure of Dartington Hall School resulted in two new schools appearing in the same area of South Devon. Park School, for children from three to eleven, had started in 1986, because the Junior School of Dartington Hall was closed first. Sands School was founded by a group of children and staff from the senior school in 1987. Both, in their different ways, continued the Dartington tradition.
I was one of the founders of Sands School. We were determined that it should never be closed down by a remote group of Trustees, and Sands has written into its constitution that no decision may be taken without due consideration of the views of the school meeting of students and staff. In addition to Leonard Elmhirst's string of negatives - no punishment, no religion, no uniform, no compulsory anything and so on - Sands added some positives, principally the notion that common sense should take the place of rules, and the idea that all decisions about the running of the school should either be taken by, or else be subject to the authority of the weekly school meeting of pupils and staff.
While at Sands and Dartington I knew of very few other similar schools. Summerhill and Countesthorpe were the most important.
Countesthorpe is a comprehensive school in Leicester. For a few years at the beginning of the 1970s it was a model democratic school. There were 1400 children there, and up until the sixth form every child had an individual timetable, and almost every timetable included large chunks of what was known as "team time", when pupils followed up their own individual interests.