Shena Deuchars and Heidi de Wet in Swindon continue to stamp their authority on Education Otherwise. They have recently revealed, which will come as little or no surprise to those familiar with the organisation, that two thirds of EO's expenditure has been going on an office in Sheffield. This is now to be closed, marking the complete triumph of the new trustees in Swindon over the old clique in Sheffield.
Many people have noticed in recent years that Education Otherwise, once noted for being a friendly organisation devoted to helping parents who have chosen to educate their own children, has turned into some sort of aggressive political group, very ready to savage its own volunteers and members and cast them aside if they asked too many questions. It had been noticed that this trend really began around 2007. That this has not been popular with members can perhaps be seen by the fact that membership numbers are down 60% on what they were in 2006. One would have expected the Badman review to drive up membership, but this did not happen. Since the bulk of Education Otherwise's money comes from subscriptions from its members, this means that the organisation is in serious financial difficulties; it is spending far more than it is earning. This is not of course a situation which can continue. It is thought that there will be an attempt to recruit volunteers and try not to have paid staff. Of course, there may well be other reasons for the fall in membership numbers; I look at one possible explanation below.
The question is, has Education otherwise reached the end of the line now? Sometimes, groups which were once very valued and useful, fade away and decline for no other reason than that their time is over. There is no doubt that EO was a tremendous help to parents in the past and that it once had a role to play, particularly when home education was a fringe activity of which few were aware. Now that it is a well known option for parents, perhaps organisations like this have less of a part to play. If one wished to find out about the legalities and practicalities of home education in the early 1990s, then Education otherwise was an invaluable resource. Now, with so much information freely available on the Internet, there is less reason to pay an annual subscription. There are various Intrent lists, such as EO's own list which is free to non-members, for those who wish to ask questions and solicit support.
I used to belong to EO myself, but in recent years simply could not see the point in maintaining my membership. I have an idea that many others feel the same way, which might account in part for the fall in membership. I think that this year will prove crucial for the organisation. The full extent of the financial crisis which has engulfed Education Otherwise is now dawning on the new trustees and I think that the next AGM should be interesting. The rumour circulating is that certain individuals in the north of England were running EO in such a way as to help their own positions, rather than for the ultimate benefit of the membership. Surprise has been expressed at some of the claims for 'expenses' which have come to light. No doubt we shall be hearing more about this sort of thing in the near future. It will also be interesting to see if any of the new trustees decide to pay themselves for the work which they are doing. Many people thought that this was a bit of a slippery slope when the practice began a few years ago.