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Summerhill Student Addresses UN Conference

Added: (Sat Sep 08 2001)

Pressbox (Press Release) - Summerhill Student Addresses UN Conference

Today, Saturday 8th September, just after 3pm, James
Friis-Lawrence (17) will address the conference of
Education Ministers from around the world at Geneva.
James is the only young person to speak at UNESCO,s
International Conference on Education. His text is

James, having listened to the delegates speak, asked
the organisers, the International Bureau of Education,
if he could contribute. Under the rules he was not
allowed to speak in the debates, but will be
addressing the delegates just before the closing
ceremony of the conference.

He is at the conference with a group of two students
and teachers from the oldest democratic school in the
world, Summerhill. Their aim is to seek support from
UNESCO for similar schools around the world, and to
promote the creation of such schools.

The Summerhill group set-up a stall and display
inviting people to celebrate 80 years of children's
rights at Summerhill and distributing leaflets calling
for help to stop similar schools from closing.

In his speech James asks for support to prevent the
closure of democratic schools. There are at least
three threatened with closure around the world: Hope
Flowers School in Bethlehem has had its entrance
blockaded by the army; the Pei Cheng Autonomous
Experimental School in Taipei, Taiwan has been refused
by the local Mayor to enroll new students; Auckland
Metropolitan College is under threat due to an
inspection that failed to recognise its alternative


Further information:

1. James' speech.
2. relevant web addresses
3. Contact information
4. details of arriving back in London

1. James' speech to UNESCO's International Conference
on Education:

"Speech on Democracy in Schools

I am a student studying out of personal choice at
Summerhill School, a democratic boarding school in

I have come here to speak of democracy in schools and
its relevance when learning about citizenship, and
more importantly the individual, or should I say the
individual child.

At my school, pupils and teachers live together in a
democratic community, where we have an equal vote and
an equal say. It is an international school, with
pupils from Asia, The Middle East, Europe and the
North America. We all learn tolerance and respect
through living together, and accept each other’s
cultural and ethical backgrounds. Using this, I have
been elected as school ombudsmen, that is, the person
who is responsible for solving disagreements between
all members of the school – teachers and pupils –
using peaceful dialogue, patience and understanding. I
have been elected every term for three and a half

Participating in community democracy has given me: A
sense of responsibility for others; The skills needed
for peaceful resolutions in disputes; A way of taking
part in the creation and use of law and justice; And
space to understand who I am and what I am to the
world. In this way I am able to participate as a
citizen of the world.

As Jacques Delors said in the report, “ Learning- The
Treasure Within.” , “ UNESCO was founded, based upon
the hope for a world that is a better place to live
in.” I share that hope, and like to think that every
child will have the opportunity to learn what I am
learning, for these values that I hold are evident in
the spirit of this conference.

A number of these schools already exist in many
countries, such as: New Zealand, Japan, The United
States, Thailand, The Republic of Korea, Costa Rica,
Portugal, France, Germany, Denmark, Israel and
Palestine. It is my hope that such schools will
prosper and be successfully founded in other countries
as well.

I and many other pupils attending these schools have
been lucky in what we have experienced, but why only

Despite the fact that Summerhill and schools like it
correspond so precisely to what you are recommending
here, some of them are facing the threat of closure.

These schools may close and need your support, as the
hopes of this conference are in these schools. All
that I ask is that these schools are recognized, and
have a chance to prosper. In this way you can show the
world that using democracy, participation and respect
for children’s rights, you help form the strong
individual citizen, but only if you take action and do
not make these simply the words appearing in the final
report of a conference."

2. Relevant web sites:

Information about the International Conference on
Education can be found at:


Information about Pei Cheng Autonomous Experimental
School can be found at:


Information about Auckland Metropolitan College,

Information about Summerhill School:


3. Contact information:

Michael Newman slowsnail2001@yahoo.co.uk
Mobile (after 8am Sunday morning) 07790072388

Zoe Readhead 01718 830 030 (principal of Summerhill)

4. The group of two students and teachers will arrive
at 8am Terminal 2, Heathrow airport on a Swissair
flight from Geneva. They can be phoned on their mobile
when they arrive 07790072388.

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