It was in 1982 that Peter Mason, MBE began a series of visits to Associations of Independent Schools in European countries, publishing his first account of the European scene in 1983. The welcome given to his first little book made it easy to extend his contacts and understanding of the European situation.
What most surprised him was to realise how very little contact or knowledge national associations of independent schools of various types had of their counterparts in other countries, of their philosophies, their relations to the national systems and the legal controls or subsidies involved.
1976 had seen the first action programme for education of the then six members of the European Community, calling for European mutual understanding and cooperation in education. Since then, although responsibility for national systems of education has remained firmly with national ministries, the influence of the Commission’s programmes and its support for the concept of European alongside national citizenship and for mobility for students and teachers have slowly but perceptibly widened the focus of the curriculum and the expectations of pupils within the autonomous national systems.
During the same period the Council’s of Europe successful promotion of Human Rights gave new strength to two concepts: First, that freedom of choice is a human right, which involves:
a) parental freedom of choice in education and
b) the right of individuals or associations to run private, or as we now say, independent schools (non-state schools) subject to minimal controls by governments. And secondly, that freedom of choice in education is an essential element in the preservation of freedom in a democratic society.
These principles figure in the various declarations of human rights, including the European Convention, adopted by all members of the then European Economic Community, and also in the Luster declaration of 1984, which commended subsidy from member governments of the Community to independent schools.
With the help of the British Independent Schools Joint Council and the encouragement of National Associations of Independent Schools in Scandinavia and Finland, Germany and the Low Countries, proposals for an international association of national associations were drafted at a meeting in July 1987 in London.
At the end of the meeting, after detailed consideration of the differences in law and practice between the countries represented, there was unanimous agreement that, in the light of the growing importance of the educational role of the European Economic Community and the wide differences in the constitutional, legal and financial position of independent schools in member countries, it was necessary to seek to cooperate and with this is mind it was decided to meet again early in 1988 in Brussels to consider detailed proposals for the establishment of an European Council of National Associations of Independent Schools. And in April that year, this final step was taken and ECNAIS was born at what was virtually its first Annual General Meeting.
Those present included representatives of two Spanish associations, FERE and CECE, of the Portuguese AEEP, the boards of three Dutch associations, the Catholic NSKR, the Protestant BPCO and the non-demominational VBS, the Protestant Irish Schoolmasters Association, two German associations, one for the Steiner schools and the other, the Bundesverband deutscher Privatschulen, the Swiss Association of Private Schools, the Norwegian Norske Privatskolers Landsforbund, the Danish Frie Grundskolers Fællesråd, the British Independent Joint Council, the Comité Européen pour l’Enseignement Catholique, located in Belgium. The Finish Private School Union and the Scottish Council of Independent Schools.
During the year of 2013 ECNAIS celebrated in various events its 25th anniversary, gathering 20 National Associations not only from Western and Northern Europe, including Iceland, but also a growing number from Central and Eastern European countries. Furthermore The Independent Schools Council of Australia and The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship are associate members.