Education Otherwise

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Education Otherwise
Area served
Primarily UK
MethodSupport, lobbying, research

Education Otherwise (EO) is a registered charity[1] based in England for families whose children are being educated otherwise than at school, and for those who wish to uphold the freedom of families to take responsibility for the education of their children. It provides support and information online, by telephone and through a bi-monthly newsletter to members throughout the UK and overseas.

Established in the mid-1970s, it took its name from the (then current) 1944 Education Act (Section 36) which stated that parents are responsible for the education of their children, "either by regular attendance at school or otherwise". This clause has been retained in subsequent Education Acts (currently section 7 of the 1996 Education Act)[2] and remains an indication of the validity afforded to an education other than by schooling.[3]


In 1972, Royston Lambert, head of Dartington Hall School asked Dick Kitto, who had been working there since 1955, to set up a project in conjunction with Northcliffe School to provide education for a group of non-academic students who would have to take another year in school due to the pending raising of the school leaving age.[4] Kitto established a free school or democratic school model for the running of the project and was impressed by the qualities of the students even though they had effectively unschooled themselves within the school system, where they were perceived as trouble makers.[5]

Kitto's school caught the attention of Stan Windass, who had been working for a children's rights centre in London, through which he had become aware of several families who were educating their own children. Windass had just taken the lease of Lower Shaw Farm and wanted to establish it as a centre to explore ideas for an alternative society. Windass asked Kitto to become the warden at Lower Shaw Farm after the Northcliffe School project ended.

Kitto was familiar with ideas about unschooled education through reading John Holt and Joy Baker's Children in Chancery[6] along with his experiences at the Northcliffe School project. He and Windass were able to contact several families who were educating otherwise and arranged an informal network, and occasional meetings, between them throughout 1975 and 1976.

During 1976, Granada Television made a programme about the group which resulted in around 200 enquiries and expanded the membership to over 50. The informal nature of the group could not handle such a level of interest and so, at a meeting in September 1976 which included five deschooling families, a more formal structure for the group was established with stated aims and a regular newsletter. In 1977, Kitto presented a BBC TV Open Door programme about the ideas behind the organisation. This resulted in over 2,000 enquiries and increased the membership to around 250.[7]

Original EO logo

The original logo (based on a UK traffic sign) was intended to represent a child breaking-out of the confines of school, and pointing towards a different way. It was submitted to a printer with the request that, before printing, the 'foot' be made to look more as though it was kicking the triangle open; the originator of the drawing had always remained unhappy with that foot and at a later opportunity the logo was amended slightly to make it less like what the originator saw as a "goose-step".[citation needed]

Conflict and development[edit]

With the steady growth in numbers of members, around 1,500 in 1986 (tenth anniversary) rising to 2,278 in 1992,[8] it was recognised that a trend away from the original ethos of EO was developing. There was much debate about its structure. The April/May 1993 newsletter (Issue 91) featured an EO Restructuring Supplement presenting various options for "the way forward". By the mid-1990s, it was being recognised that people were joining EO due to a "crisis" and wanted to get their child out of the school system, rather than coming to it with an interest in exploring alternative education provision.[9] There was disaffection with the way the organisation was run via national gatherings which were seen as alienating the majority of members. The debate broadly split into those that wanted to follow a structured style of education with a "managed" organisation and those who valued an informal approach and rejecting the status of charitable trust and company limited by guarantee.

A short lived faction, Education Otherwise Unlimited, laid out the conflicting areas with the organisation's structure in a table:[10]

Original EO Ethos Present Structure
Decisions reached by consensus, everyone had an equal voice. No exclusive meetings. Directors hold meetings, at which "non-directors should not really interrupt proceedings"[11]
People got together from all over the country for discussion & to share ideas, chance to examine lifestyle, outlook etc. Limited company status - said to be needed for protection against legal action.
Moral support was intrinsic. Children welcome and integral to meetings. Single day meetings. Adult only meetings.

The original "ethos" grew out of the attitudes and aspirations of the original members. It was not laid down from the start. Kitto saw EO in broad human rights terms:

As far as I'm concerned, E.O. does not have a particular kind of education to which it is committed. It is committed to the right of families to do what they want to do. It is a humans (sic) rights organisation. I don't feel we must do this, or we must do that. It is up to the members. To me it is not a specific thing where children have to run wild in the country, or have to pay visits to Winchester Cathedral, or anything else. There is this huge variation. Some people join EO in order to give their children a good classical education which they cannot get at school. I have a fundamental belief in the freedom of choice. We must all be allowed to make our own mistakes. We don't want to be dictated to by a curriculum from central government.[5]

Parent's Charter[edit]

In 1991, the government introduced a Parent's Charter (subtitled: "You and Your Child's Education") which promised parents reports about their children and their schools. In 1994, a revised version of the Parent's Charter (subtitled: Our Children's Education) was issued. Page 9 included the sentence - "You have a duty to make sure that your child goes to school until he or she is 16." EO members were concerned that this misinformation should be corrected as it was being delivered to every household.

They appointed solicitor Peter Liell who sent "Letters Before Action" notices to the Department for Education and to the Welsh Office. A reply by Eric Forth (9 July 1994) for the DfE claimed that the Parent's Charter could not be taken as a definitive guide to the law - the Charter "cannot take in every exception or reflect all points of detail". The department stated that there were no plans to issue a corrigendum. The Welsh Office response was a confirmation that the Charter for Parents in Wales had been revised and would reflect the fact that not all children were educated in schools.

The matter was raised by Don Foster in a Parliamentary Question which was responded to by Robin Squire stating that John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, saw no need to issue a correction or to make a statement about the mistake.

As English and Welsh education law are identical there were no grounds for the variation in the responses of the two bodies. The solicitor notified the DfE that he had been instructed to prepare an application for leave to apply for judicial review of the decision as stated in Forth's letter. This threat caused an immediate response from the department that they "would want to find a different - in your eyes more satisfactory - wording for any further editions". The solicitor responded seeking confirmation, by 31 August 1994, that a future edition would include reference to the fact that children do not have to go to school. Forth once again responded accepting the need for a revised text: "I am, however, happy to confirm, in the light of your client's concerns, our intention that any future edition of the Parent's Charter in England will include a reference, be it explicit or implicit, to a parent's lawful right to ensure that his child is suitably educated otherwise than at school."

It was felt that this was as far as EO could go with the matter and the application for judicial review was withdrawn. The whole process had cost EO almost £4,000 but had generated a lot of publicity and raised awareness of the issue as many members had raised their concerns with their own MP.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Charity Commission. Education Otherwise, registered charity no. 1055120.
  2. ^ Education Act 1996 (Section 7)
  3. ^ Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar legislation. In Scotland the wording is "or by other means" rather than "otherwise"
  4. ^ Duane, Michael. The Terrace: An Educational Experiment in a State School. Freedom Press. 1995. ISBN 0-900384-78-6
  5. ^ a b Interview with Dick Kitto, Education Otherwise Newsletter (Number 61), August 1988
  6. ^ Published by Hutchinson in 1964 - now out of print
  7. ^ A tribute to Dick Kitto, Education Otherwise Newsletter (Number 130), October 1999 - citing obituaries from the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian newspapers.
  8. ^ Chairpersons Report, EO Newsletter April/May 1992 (issue 85)
  9. ^ The Changing Face of EO (Newsletter 98, June 1994)
  10. ^ August/September 1994 Newsletter (Issue 99)
  11. ^ Minutes of directors meeting 19 March 1994

External links[edit]