Somebody yesterday wanted to know a little more about the background to Education Otherwise's current problems. I thought that I would post a brief outline, particularly as some people elsewhere seem to be getting a little worked up.
In early 2007, there was something of an upheaval among the trustees of Education Otherwise. On February 10th that year, eleven trustees resigned and eight new ones were appointed in their place. One of these new trustees was a woman called Joanna Cynthia Berry. Up until that time, Education Otherwise had always filed their accounts and annual return promptly with the Charity Commission. Since that time, they never have done so. The latest accounts, for the year ended June 30th 2009, were finally filed on September 17th this year. This was very late. The annual return for that year has still not been filed and the Charity Commission are getting quite tetchy about this. The annual return is simply a document detailing any changes in trustees over the last year. It can be done online with a few clicks of the mouse and the only reason that I can see for the failure to submit it is that EO are not sure who to put down as currently being trustees. They have a very high turnover of trustees due to internal wrangles and some people resign almost as soon as they have been appointed. Some, like Fiona Nicholson, are in and out like Jack-in-the-boxes. She was appointed as a trustee on February 15th 2008, resigned three weeks later on March 6th and less than a week later was appointed again! Companies House have also had to put the frighteners on EO in order to get the information which is legally required to be supplied to them.
There was a good deal of controversy about one of the trustees appointed in 2007, Jo Berry who was mentioned above. There was an unfortunate incident in her domestic life and the suggestion was made that she was perhaps not the best person to assume responsibility for child protection for the charity. Certainly, the fact that she was a trustee caused raised eyebrows in some local authorities. At one point, there was a threat of legal action against former members of Education Otherwise for things which were said concerning her. Quite a few people thought that her continued presence as a trustee made Education Otherwise look as though it had a cavalier attitude towards child protection. Another suggestion being made was that the new trustees were behaving in a vindictive fashion and forcing out of the organisation people who had served it loyally for years.
At the end of 2008, two members of Education Otherwise requested a list of members. This was part of another bout on infighting in the organisation. Because EO is a limited company as well as being a charity, they were legally obliged to provide this information, but refused to do so. Instead, they became embroiled in a court action to prevent the release of the names of the Signed Up Members of the company. This row continued after Graham Badman had started his review of elective home education and the whole business of safeguarding and the possible abuse of home educated children was a major issue. Education Otherwise then decided that one of the reasons that they would not release the list of members names was that many parents were home educating because of child abuse. They said, in a submission to the court that they would not allow anybody to see the list of members because:
' one reason for this is that individuals who home educate their children comprise a significant proportion of individuals who were abused as children, this often being the motivating factor in that individual deciding to home educate their child.'
It was, to say the least of it, unfortunate that this became known just as Badman was asking about child abuse among home educators! Some people thought that this, combined with the controversy over Jo Berry, gave an odd and undesirable impression of EO to the outside world.
The latest attempt to hold an Annual General Meeting and get the accounts approved was held last Saturday, November 6th. It was a bit of a flop, because few trustees turned up. Another AGM is to be attempted this Saturday in Oxford. Supposedly, Jo Berry is going to stand down as a trustee at this meeting. People on some lists have made much of the fact that the accounts have been very late for the third year running and that the annual return has yet to be made to the Charity Commission. It is now about seven months late. I do not personally attach much importance to this. Many charities are slack about filing their annual returns. There seems to be a suspicion that the court case cost a lot more than has been thought and that this is why the accounts took so long to prepare. A figure running into tens of thousands of pounds for lawyers fees has been mentioned, but until the accounts can be examined, this is only rumour.
There are two main reasons why charities have difficulty getting their accounts done on time. these are (a.) useless and incompetent trustees and (b.) some sort of funny business going on. My own view is that the probable explanation lies in a bunch of people managing to seize control of EO in 2007/2008 and not altogether realising just what was entailed in running the company. I believe that inefficiency lies at the heart of the matter rather than crookedness.