At a time when the dominant direction in education is toward the standardisation and regulation of schools, it seems particularly important to take note of the few individuals and institutions that have followed the beat of a different drum. Continuing in the libertarian tradition of Homer Lane and A.S. Neill, John Aitkenhead, founder and for over 50 years Head Teacher of Kilquhanity House School in Scotland, spent his life putting into practice and refining the ideal of a school that was self-governed by its pupils and teachers together.

Aitkenhead was born in Glasgow, the son of a ship's carpenter, and attended Eglinton School before winning a bursary to Ardrossan Academy. He completed degrees in English and Education at Glasgow University, the latter at the newly instituted Honours School of Education. Afterwards he worked as a secondary school teacher in various posts in Argyle, Glasgow and Ayrshire.

Growing increasingly disaffected with the style of teaching he was practising, he spent two summers looking at alternatives at A.S. Neill's Summerhill School. He found the experience of "the free-est school in the world" intoxicating, but as no job was available there, he decided to follow Neill's suggestion and start up on his own. Going against Neill's advice, he decided to return to his home country, to try and "do in Scotland what Neill had had to leave Scotland to do".

A search for suitable premises eventually led to Kilquhanity, a small rambling estate and farm in a remote part of south west Scotland.