University of Leicester
U210580.pdf (6.56 MB)

Inspection at Summerhill : did OFSTED inspection result in improvement?

Download (6.56 MB)
posted on 2014-12-15, 10:43 authored by Diane Keeble-Allen
This thesis investigates issues surrounding the 1999 OFSTED inspection of Summerhill school (in Suffolk) which led to a Notice of Closure, and subsequent successful appeal on the grounds of inappropriate judgements made by OFSTED inspectors. However, in addressing the research problem, it considered whether an OFSTED inspection of an atypical independent school (Summerhill) is able to make appropriate judgements about that school given an inspection methodology based in modernist constructs and systematic observation.;Summerhill, in Suffolk, is 'an international free' school, established approx 80 years ago. As an institution, Summerhill maintains child democracy or freedom as its unique focus. To clarify the relevance of investigating the Summerhill case, it is useful to note that Summerhill School has existed in the independent sector offering 'progressive education' since the 1920s. However, following a 1990s inspection from OFSTED, its existence was threatened in terms of its freedom in future continuing to offer an independent UK-based fully 'democratic' schooling (despite the fact that parents pay for their children to attend Summerhill outside any UK state offering)'. Whilst Summerhill had been consistently subjected to government inspection since its conception, it was an OFSTED inspection which presented the school with a notice of closure subsequent to which the independent schools appeal upheld Summerhill's right to offer non-compulsory lesson attendance within its provision.;Whilst utilising post-modernist tradition for data collection, the case study filters data using the ambiguity organisational model, school effectiveness and improvement paradigms and the deprofessionalisation of staff through inspection. It identifies the problems for organisations subject to inspection which do not conform to the formal organisation model. It interrogates OFSTED's claims of improvement through inspection and concludes that improvement at Summerhill may have been incidental and not the improvement planned by the motives of OFSTED inspection regime. Further, it finds that the outcome of the appeal case might have re-professionalised staff post OFSTED inspection.


Date of award


Author affiliation


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • EdD



Usage metrics

    University of Leicester Theses


    No categories selected



    Ref. manager