David Gribble in conversation with Roger Birchall



We all tend to define ourselves as what we are now, forgetting that we were just as much ourselves when we were children.

People learn as they grow older, but they also forget. They acquire new skills, but such qualities as empathy, imagination and flexibility gradually fade. We all change, but not necessarily for the better.

At eighty-five I am not the same person as I was when I was twenty, or ten, or two. Nevertheless, what I have been is just as important as what I am now.

This is my portrait.


My Life in Education:

At present

Editor for the Lib Ed collective

Member of the editorial board of Other Education.

From 2000 to 2016 Co-ordinator of IDEN, the International Democratic Education Network
2011 Authoritarian Schooling: a Catalogue of Damage
2010 Children Don't Start Wars, Peace News
1992 – the present After retiring from teaching, visited unusual places of education around the world, writing books about them and giving talks in many different countries.
1992 - 2010 Trustee of the Phoenix Education Trust
2006 Worlds Apart, Libertarian Education: book of the week in The Times Educational Supplement
2004 Lifelines, Libertarian Education: book of the week in the Times Educational Supplement.
2002 A Really Good School, Seven-Ply Yarns: Victoria Glendinning’s book of the year in The Daily Telegraph.
1998 Real Education: Varieties of Freedom, Libertarian Education: book of the week in The Times Educational Supplement
1987 – 1992: Sands School, Ashburton: I was one of the joint founders and taught a wide variety of subjects. Sands School is, with Summerhill, the leading democratic school in Britain.
1963 – 1987 Dartington Hall School, Middle and Junior Schools, teaching French, English and general subjects. Dartington Hall School, which closed in 1987, was the inspiration for Sands School.
1985 Considering Children : Dorling Kindersley: “The best book about progressive education since A. S. Neill and Curry were in their prime.” (Lord Young of Dartington)
1962 Lawrence Weston Comprehensive School Bristol, teaching French and English.

Kilquhanity House School, Kircudbright, teaching French. Kilquhanity was based on Summerhill principles.

1959-1961 Dartington Hall Senior School, teaching German, French and Maths.

Repton School, Derbyshire, teaching French and German. Repton is a traditional, independent school and was at this time for boys only.


Cambridge University, reading Modern Languages: editor of Granta, the university magazine: prominent contributor to the Footlights revues.


Austria and France two months each, secretarial college for six months, a few months in a retail tobacco business, six months teaching at a preparatory school in Ealing.

1946-1951 Eton College
1941-1946 Connaught House Preparatory School, Somerset
1932-1941 Educated at home and at a local family school in Sussex.
1932 Born in London.


My first wife, who died when she was only twenty-four years old, had been a pupil at Dartington. My second wife was a teacher there. All our four children were educated at the school. I learnt to understand the school from many different angles.

I emphasise this to distinguish myself from those people who write (or, worse, legislate) about education when they only know the conventional schooling they themselves received twenty, thirty or even forty years ago. They tend to believe that the way they were taught then is the appropriate way to teach in the twenty-first century.

I write from a different point of view. I write about real children in real schools, often quoting their own words. I have seen wiser ways of educating, and I write about their success.