Born in Forfar, Neill was the son of a Scottish village headmaster. Dissatisfied with the inflexible Victorian school system, Neill agreed with Freud that emotional development in children should take precedence over intellectual demands. He founded Summerhill, an experimental school, in Suffolk in 1927. The essential quality of Summerhill was, according to Neill, freedom and self-government for children and staff. This did not lead to anarchy and empty classrooms and it was seen as proof of the experiment's success that creativity was encouraged rather than conventional academic goals. McWhirter was herself a pupil at Summerhill.