England’s state education system is facing a crisis. As more teachers are leaving the profession than ever before and children learn under an intense and rigorous testing system, holistic educational alternatives like Steiner Waldorf, Montessori, democratic education, home education and unschooling are starting to become more popular with parents and students across the UK.

However, while other countries either financially support these alternatives or boost communication between the groups of the alternative education community, England’s choice to privatise these different options has arguably led to competition between and alienation amongst the individual clusters.

The Holistic Education Organisation UK advocates the visibility and unity of these alternative practices and communities which often have the same values at heart. We let Ron Miller, the father of the field of Holistic Education, explain our aims in his own words:

Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is done, not through an academic “curriculum” that condenses the world into instructional packages, but through direct engagement with the environment. [...] There is no one best way to accomplish this goal, there are many paths of learning and the holistic educator values them all; what is appropriate for some children and adults, in some situations, in some historical and social contexts, may not be best for others. The art of holistic education lies in its responsiveness to the diverse learning styles and needs of evolving human beings.
— Ron Miller for www.infed.org

Holistic Education can be found in and outside of the state system whenever educators prioritise the well-being and development of the child before national attainment goals and economic ambitions. Here at HEO, we don't believe that there is one right education system or philosophy- we support the right of the parents and their children to make a choice about which environment would be best for them.

The aim of our organisation is to foster the visibility of the alternatives and communication between them. Whilst we do not support the rigorous testing of the National Curriculum, we applaud holistic practice in state schools where ever it is visible; founded in the belief that all education should be free, accessible and child-centred.

In the following section, we briefly explain the most common alternatives in the UK: Steiner Waldorf education, Montessori education, democratic education and home-schooling.  For more information, please follow the links to their affiliated organisations.


Steiner Education is based on the original writings of the Austrian education innovator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). In 1919, Steiner found employment as the educational manager of the Waldorf Cigarette factory in Stuttgart and was charged with creating a curriculum that would benefit the poor post-WWI community and its children. He believed that education should cater for the heart, the hand and the head and went on to outline a system that would grow to become the biggest alternative education movement in the world. Currently, there are more than 1200 Steiner schools distributed over all continents.

Steiner Education differs from UK mainstream education in several ways. Steiner pupils begin formal education (reading and writing etc) age 7. This allows them to explore the world more through play and ensures a readiness for formal learning. Other European countries such as Denmark, Norway and Germany support this policy and some studies have spoken about the ‘damage’ that an early literacy education can do to children.

 Steiner schools also use a specific curriculum to teach the children. The emphasis is on interdisciplinary and experiential learning. Most Steiner schools begin the day with a two-hour ‘main lesson’ in which English, maths, science and the humanities are taught through several week-long projects. This lesson is then followed by subject studies in the arts, music, other languages and sports.

In Steiner schools, pupils have the same Class  teacher from ages 3 to 7 and then a second teacher from ages 7 to 14, followed by a class tutor from 14-16. This ensures continuity of pastoral care and allows teachers to form strong relationships with pupils and their families, thus allowing the teacher to facilitate the pupils learning in a way that meets each individual child’s needs. Teachers normally visit the home of the child as part of the introduction to the school in order to create a personal earning plan in coordination with parents. 

For further information please visit the page of the Steiner Fellowship.


Montessori education was founded by Maria Montessori (1870-1952), who advocated a series of principles for child development. She believed that children had a natural spirituality and personality, which would guide them in their independent development. In this context, the adult is seen as a role model and guide who can provide structure and security for the organic development for the child. 

She believed that children move through different phases and need freedom to develop uninhibitedly. As they absorb the culture around them, learning by doing and active involvement provide the key to a healthy development. 

In the UK, there are almost 700 schools, nurseries and registered child-minders who advocate Montessori education. It is most popular with pre-school development and many more traditional nurseries have now adopted an approach which includes more play and freedom for young children.

The Montessori St. Nicholas Charity and the Montessori Society UK both offer more information on Montessori education.


Democratic Education supports the students' right (and responsibility) to impact on their own learning and environment. According to the meeting of the International Democratic Education Conference, student should  

  • decide individually how, when, what, where and with whom they learn
  • have an equal share in the decision-making as to how their organisations – in particular their schools – are run, and which rules and sanctions, if any, are necessary.

Students and educators have daily or weekly meetings in which the logistics of the school and individual curricula are decided. Students have the choice to fill their days as they see fit, but are encouraged to pursue agreed learning goals.

The oldest example of Democratic Education in the UK (and to an extend in the world) is Summerhill School in Suffolk, which was founded by A.S. Neil in 1921. Summerhill arranges regular open days and invites the public to experience democratic education live.

For further information about Democratic Education, please visit the website of the International Democratic Education Network and the Phoenix Education Trust.

ELECTIVE HOME EDUCATION- also called home schooling in the USA

There are many reasons why parents might want to homeschool their children, ranging from health implication to access problems or differences in philosophies. Many homeschooling families connect with other children through homeschooling centres or hobby groups. It has been described as a flexible, personalised and positive approach to education, however only few families have the means, patience and education for at least one parent to stay at home full time.

In the UK, educating your children at home is legal, however this is not the case in all other countries; in Germany for example parents can go to prison if their child is not registered at a school.

For more information please visit the website of Education Otherwise, the leading homeschooling charity, or check out this article about homeschooling on netmums.com.