Some very good reasons to be wary of "ecological" free schools...

Francis Gilbert's picture
 11
A primary school teacher, Esther Fidler, has posted a blog about her concerns about the proposed setting up of the Fullfledge Ecology School, which basically seems to be a "Steiner" school in disguise. We've already highlighted at length the problems with Steiner schools on this site; their dangerous attitudes towards vaccinations, the racist beliefs of their founder and their very strange mysticism being chief among them. Esther's blog is worth reading in its entirety but I'd like to draw your attention to her conclusions, which neatly sum up the problems with this school. She says:

"There are so many things wrong with the proposed Fullfledge Free School educationally, I’ve hardly started.  Lack of qualified staff (including the Principal Designate), lack of assessment, poor teaching methods based on the dubious doctrines of Rudolph Steiner and lack of clarity as to what the school is really all about. Flash words like ‘ecology’, references to (expensive) ‘Green Schools’ elsewhere – Van-Manen was initially keen to compare his project to the Green School Bali, for all its positive attributes a luxury private school – whose consultant director Ronald Stone OBE is cited as ‘advising on curriculum’ at Fullfledge. What may have seemed a business opportunity should by now, at least in my opinion, be looking less than positive. The real influence, I would suggest, lies with those already sympathetic to the Steiner movement.

In my view, the Fullfledge initiative publicly distances itself from Steiner schools but – as it intends to teach a Steiner curriculum, using Steiner trained staff, and to adhere to Steiner’s barmy stages of child development, it is clearly a Steiner school.  It appears that it will teach children to be open to pseudoscience and that it will use pseudoscientific methods (such as braingym), not differentiating between weight and quality of evidence. The future Principal appears not to believe in attending to other people’s evidence unless it fits in with what he already ‘knows’, there is no weighing up of validity – instead the cherry-picking of evidence, evidence which is largely anecdotal.  I am sure that Mr Van-Manen and his team truly think that what they are doing will be of great benefit but I believe that if it were allowed to go ahead, it would fail. Ewout Van-Manen to my mind demonstrated a shocking lack of awareness of the state system and how it works, he doesn’t appear to have any recognised teaching qualifications and no experience of any other system of education other than his own, which was in a Steiner school.

I believe that this school is a test for the Steiner Waldorf movement, to try and get through the Free Schools process under the blanket of an ‘Ecology School’ (what is that anyway?) setting a precedent which other Steiner schools could follow. Van-Manen told me that he once joined theAnthroposophical Association to further his career and that he has recently left, but this peculiar fact doesn’t detract from the influence of Rudolf Steiner, whose occult ideas clearly inform the ethos of the Fullfledge initiative.

I sincerely hope that this school never opens.  Aside from setting education back about 100 years and taking money away from perfectly good, evidence-based, accountable state schools, the website itself will draw in parents who want a freer education but haven’t done their homework.  The Fullfledge surface message is attractive; peel back the layers and the core is rotten.  This school seems set to fail children and that is my real concern – children don’t really get to make a choice about where they are educated, and once they are old enough to make that decision it will be too late.

Esther Fidler

July 2011"

 
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Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 23/07/2011 - 14:04

Fullfledge school’s website says that the school has “the support and investment of Nord Anglia Education”. Nord Anglia is a private company owned by Baring Private Equity Asia (aka Baring Asia) and Nord Anglia’s registered office, together with several UK subsidiary companies, is in Burton-upon-Trent. An associated company Nord Anglia Education, Inc, was registered in the Cayman Islands in May 2010*.

Before becoming a private company in 2008, Nord Anglia traded as a PLC with two divisions: International Schools and Learning Services which provided education services in the UK and Middle East. One of these was a contract in 1999 to run Hackney school improvement services. Its contract was terminated in October 2001.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/372575.stm . http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/hackney-counc....

A few days ago Nord Anglia announced it was closing its Burton office and relocating to Hong Kong and Shanghai with the loss of 50 jobs. The company said it would keep a small office open in East Anglia.

http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/News/50-axed-in-Asia-move-19072011.htm

It would appear, then, that a group wanting to open a free school using taxpayers’ money to promote Steiner principles based on anthroposophy, and giving the impression that Sir Ken Robinson supports their plan, is being backed financially by a profit-making company owned by an Asian private equity firm, and one of its subsidiaries is registered offshore in the Cayman Islands. And the company is planning to move its HQ out of the UK.

*Company information from Companies House and Nord Anglia’s website.

http://www.nordanglia.com/
http://www.nordanglia.com/files/baring_asia_-_nord_anglia_290808.pdf

Sam's picture
Tue, 26/07/2011 - 09:41

I see that the Fullfledge Ecology School have just issued a statement including the following:

'Government research in 2005 by Professor Philip Woods concludes favourably the validity of the Steiner curriculum which currently receives state-funding in many western countries worldwide'.

Yet in the very same paragraph they state:

'This said, Fullfledge Ecology School is not a Steiner School and there will be significant differences in our philosophy and approach'.

If the government are in the process of making decisions to fund 'Steiner inspired' schools based on the Woods report recommendations, they must understand there is a clear conflict of interest, one of the authors (and wife of Philip Woods):

'previously engaged with anthroposophical thought for a number of years as part of a small study group'.

http://www.webcitation.org/60SjDLc4E
http://freespiritedu.org/page001.html

Philip Woods and Martin Ashley were also the authors of the same report, I look forward to hearing more about their connections to the Anthroposophical movement.

Sam's picture
Tue, 26/07/2011 - 12:09

The Fullfledge Ecology School statement is here:

http://www.medical365.co.uk/news/updates/

Indeed, Steiner schools do receive state funding in other countries, though due to some standards being so low the New Zealand government is currently in the process asking for its money back:

'National standards pose problem for Steiner schools

Updated at 10:11 am on 15 July 2011

Steiner schools say the national standards in reading, writing and maths are at odds with their educational philosophy.

They say the Government is forcing them to use the standards anyway and that is creating a crisis for them.

There are eight Steiner schools in the state system, which generally teach reading, writing and maths later than in regular schools.

Principals say that means many of their younger students might not meet the national standards and they want to ignore the standards for those students.

But the Government says that if Steiner schools do not want to use the standards, they can cancel their integration agreements and become private schools.

Raphael House Rudolph Steiner School principal Karen Brice-Geard of in Lower Hutt says the schools will talk to parents to decide what to do about the problem'.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/80073/national-standards-pose-pro...

I know of one New Zealand family who have written a blog detailing their experiences, they also intend to made a documentary http://www.titirangisteinermessenger.com/TSM/Welcome.html

Pete K's picture
Sun, 16/10/2011 - 04:38

One sure way to see what philosophy is influencing the school is to peek at the background of the teachers and administrators. A quick peek tells me half are direct representatives of Steiner schools while the other half are representatives of something called "Forest schools". To be a Forest school "practitioner", according to their training courses, you spend a lot of time developing forestry skills, learning about the flora and fauna. I suspect that won't get in the way of feeding Anthroposophy to the children. The teachers will be Steiner-trained which ensures they will have been immersed in Steiner's racist ideas as well as his other hair-brained notions - like interacting with children in accordance with their "temperament" (or skin color for that matter). It's nice to know these teachers will be trained in that.

JimC's picture
Sun, 16/10/2011 - 13:14

Hmm my experience is that advocates of forest schooling are far more in tune with educationalists from the LEA than normal classroom teachers - I'm surprised you are all against it to be honest.

Pete K's picture
Sun, 16/10/2011 - 15:46

I'm surprised you believe I'm against it. I simply said I didn't think Forest school curriculum would get in the way of the Anthroposophy that the teachers who are Steiner-trained will be delivering to the students. I'm against the Steiner-trained teachers, of course, who are trained in teaching techniques that embrace a racist world view among other stupid ideas. This is the first I've heard of the Forest school... so if you have information that suggests Steiner's science will be thrown out for natural science in Ecology schools, please present it.

JimC's picture
Sun, 16/10/2011 - 17:50

Your use of speech marks i.e. "Forest schools" and "practitioner" gave me the impression that you didn't think much of the movement. This surprised me given that many commenters on this website seem to support the general ideology of educationalists who work for the LEAs.

Pete K's picture
Mon, 17/10/2011 - 19:22

"Your use of speech marks i.e. “Forest schools” and “practitioner” gave me the impression that you didn’t think much of the movement. This surprised me given that many commenters on this website seem to support the general ideology of educationalists who work for the LEAs."

When we quote from a page, we put quotation marks around the part we're quoting. Has nothing to do with "speech". Sometimes, quotes are used to point out an unusual use of words. I pointed out the word "practitioner" is used rather than "teacher"... which I found interesting... but certainly not intended to imply something that should be incriminating in some way. I don't mean to sound patronizing in describing how punctuation is used, but I often correspond with people for whom English is not their first language (it wasn't mine either BTW)... so I sometimes find myself having to clarify things for them. Again, my point was that Forest schools seem fairly innocuous (and therefore won't interfere with the regular doses of Anthroposophy) - not that there's anything wrong with them.

JimC's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 06:19

"When we quote from a page, we put quotation marks around the part we’re quoting. Has nothing to do with “speech”. Sometimes, quotes are used to point out an unusual use of words."

1. Correcting another posters SPAG is usually seen as poor form on message boards.

2. If you must lecture others about their SPAG then at least try to get it right yourself - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quotation_mark

"I pointed out the word “practitioner” is used rather than “teacher”… which I found interesting… but certainly not intended to imply something that should be incriminating in some way."

If you found the words so interesting that you felt the to quote them then an explanation would have been nice. You see the term 'practitioner' is often frowned upon in teaching circles because it is used alongside subtle attempts to deprofessionalise teachers and teaching.

Pete K's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 17:05

"Correcting another posters SPAG is usually seen as poor form on message boards."
As I explained, I assumed English might not be your first language. Assumptions are never wise... when you assumed I was against something that I was simply pointing out. BTW, assuming Wikipedia is a good source of information is not very wise either.

"If you found the words so interesting that you felt the to quote them then an explanation would have been nice. "
As I said, I quoted the name of the school (naturally) - and the word "practitioner" because I expected to see "teacher".

"You see the term ‘practitioner’ is often frowned upon in teaching circles because it is used alongside subtle attempts to deprofessionalise teachers and teaching."

Thanks... I didn't know that. So you're suggesting that's why they used it? As a tip-off that these aren't professional teachers? That's pretty honest of them in that case.

George's picture
Sat, 29/10/2011 - 07:56

Concerned Parents from Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School have a blog site that was set up over two years ago. To my knowledge quite a large number of concerned parents left the school for various reasons such as: Students leaving school with no formal qualification after years of promises from school, funds disappearing, large hike in school fees for building an administration block while students split because of size of class rooms and no science lab. A strange relationship between the Board of Trustees, Trustees and Principal. Bullying among students, school staff and parents. Not following Ministry of Education rules and regulations making up ones to suit themselves. 14/15 year old students reading at a 7/8 year old level. The Principal Karen Brice-Geard has no qualifications herself and did not finish high school. Non qualified State or Waldolf Teachers in front of classes. These are a few problems within this Steiner School however the list goes on and on.

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