Call to preserve Kingsmuir plaque

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PETER Murphy, depute provost of Angus, has launched a bid to preserve a plaque commemorating one of the most influential educators of the 20th century.

Alexander Sutherland Neill, who founded the famous Summerhill School in Sussex, had more humble beginnings as a pupil-teacher at Kingsmuir in the late 1800s where his father was the dominie.

From Kingsmuir he went on to study at Edinburgh University before becoming headmaster of Gretna Green School. It was during his time at the school that he wrote in his log that he was “trying to form minds that will question and destroy and rebuild.”

After leaving Britain for Dresden Neill took the opportunity to take charge of a school using his own principles of education.

On his return he established Summerhill in the early 1920s and the school has endured to this day. The rules at the controversial school are agreed through equal voting by both staff and pupils.

In 1983, 100 years after his birth, a plaque was erected in his honour on the front of Kingsmuir School.

Although the school has not been used as a primary for years Angus Council continued to use it as a base for their COMPASS initiative for secondary school pupils.

Now the local authority have decided that the school is no longer required, Mr Murphy is determined that the plaque should remain where it is.

He said: “I am seeking an assurance that, should the building be sold and converted into a house, the commemorative plaque on the front of the building be retained.

“It was as a result of his experiences both as a pupil and as a pupil-teacher in Kingsmuir School that Neill began to formulate his vision of an educational system based on the needs of the child and devoid of corporal punishment.

“The plaque also commemorates the fact that he was founder of the world-famous Summerhill School in Sussex, where Neill put his child-centered ideas into practice.

“I think this is the least we can do to commemorate the memory of an outstanding figure in the educational world whose influence is still felt in the way we bring up our children in the present day, now that the building where he first formulated his ideas has outlived its usefulness and is up for disposal.

“I also hope that the effort to make sure his memory is not forgotten might perhaps rekindle an interest in this remarkable man.

“I would encourage fellow councillors and others to take up the opportunity to read some of his many books, particularly the Dominie’s Logs, all of which are available in Forfar Library.”