A Radical Institution
Epping House Special School was a residential school near Ware, about 28 miles from the family home in Berkhamsted. Epping House was not a boys’ special needs school typical of this period – it was radical and experimental under a recently appointed headmaster who was shaking it up when Susan’s brother was sent there early in the summer of 1957.
The main block was an old building on three floors, dating back to the 17th or 18th Century. It was extended in the 1820s by Sir William Horne, who was Solicitor General for a time whilst he owned it. It is, today, a Grade II listed building, with twelve pane sash bay windows on the first floor, and six pane sash windows on the second.
A Radical Regime
The school’s regime (in the broadest sense) was being shaped by the headmaster, Howard Case. His ideas were revolutionary. This school had a serious impact on (or, depending on one’s view, failed) Susan’s brother. To quote from The Student Voice Handbook:
“In many ways his approach is best understood through the pivotal practice of the Daily Meeting attended by all staff and young people…
…it was here that all significant decisions about how students and staff lived, worked and learned together were taken on a daily basis. The Meeting was chaired by one of the children and normally lasted about an hour…
…The constraining items, such as the Stop or Veto list in which children whose activities were restrained in some way by the will of the Community as expressed in the Meeting, were dealt with first. This was followed by the negotiation of activities that staff were able to offer in the afternoon and evening, after the 11:00 am-12:30 pm class groups, which the school expected the children to attend. Children were free to choose which activities they wanted to take part in or to offer activities of their own or do nothing at all…
…Then came the allocation of communal work such as sweeping and cleaning and looking after the dogs and cats that had an important role to play in the emotional reparation and development of many of the children in the school. ”
Homer Lane and Little Commonwealth
Whether Howard Case’s approach to education was influenced by the American Homer Lane’s views on the education of children with special needs is not clear. There are obvious similarities between Epping House and the policies and running of Homer Lane’s ‘Little Commonwealth’ at Evershot in Dorset in the years 1913-1918. The ‘Little Commonwealth’ took in children with criminal records and up to the age of 19 years.
Children are Accepting
Of course, from a child’s perspective, it was rather different. Children knew little about the debates over special needs education policies. Children were generally accepting of the regime, however strange it might have seemed to many adults.
The practice (as recounted by Susan’s Brother) at Epping House Special School of letting (even encouraging) the children run around unclothed would clearly be totally unacceptable today.
The school was closed in July 1997.