Some very good reasons why Steiner schools shouldn't have state funding...a parent's tale

Angel Garden's picture
 40
Why do so many of the uninitiated still believe the hype that Steiner schools are a utopian learning environment in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. As the flow of public money towards Steiner schools continues to grow, the myth that you would probably like to put your children into one, if only you could afford it, has lent the appearance of legitimacy to the Government’s pro-state funding for Steiner position.

Reality is something different.

When employment Judge Martin Warren recently acknowledged ex-Steiner teacher Jo Sawfoot as a "whistleblower", due to the Norfolk Steiner Kindergarten's “failure to investigate” the incident in which her child was hurt by a fellow employee at the school, the judge drew attention to the fact that she had been"targeted" by the school because of being a whistleblower.

He said “We are satisfied this difficult and obstructive line taken by the school is because they have come to regard Miss Sawfoot as an irritant because of the complaint.”

The size of the projected pay-out, £100K, in this case belies the fact that this is far from an isolated incident. In fact, in flagging up the school's “misrepresentations to social services” about the behaviour of Jo Sawfoot's pre-school age daughter, and in spite of the size of the potential pay-out ….Judge Warren is actually highlighting the amazing talent for unaccountability usually displayed by the Global Steiner Brand.

Norway, Germany, Sweden, Haiti, New Zealand, The USA, Australia….all have had recent Steiner related scandals. So does Government funding improve the behaviour of Steiner Schools and lead to more openness in the press? Not really.

The whole scenario - ignoring the complaint, targeting the "irritant", ejecting them, and then misrepresenting the facts to whoever, including the government - is classic Steiner and it has been for a very long time. And that's why the movement needs more whistleblowers.

So where's my evidence for such a broad statement?

Although I can’t claim ever to have been a Steiner advocate, like Jo Sawfoot, when health problems forced us to look for a less harsh climate to live in than the UK, we looked at the Titirangi Steiner School in New Zealand. Knowing nothing of Anthroposophy, we loved the school’s lush and gorgeous campus and its wonderful advertising as a " safe, peaceful and natural learning haven” and the fact that people talked to you.

Our three year old was happy in the kindergarten for over a year, but when our eight year old daughter went into Class three, there was bullying of gang-like proportions. We continually asked the school to follow their own policy on bullying, which claimed that they would not tolerate it.

In reality, they continually ignored the problem and refused to separate children who were assaulting others in our daughter’s class whilst assuring us that they understood the seriousness of the situation. Forgetting to mention the fact that another parent had just withdrawn her sons from the school because of the bullying, the school then suddenly acted to make the ‘irritant’ - in this case us - disappear.

Without warning, and on the morning of the day we were expecting “the big meeting”, including Trustees and the College of Teachers, to discuss the well-corroborated bullying, the British Manager, Mark Thornton, expelled all our three children forthwith and sacked us from our jobs.

We decided to go into the school at the scheduled time of the meeting with our camera and demand an explanation on the record. The Manager immediately issued Trespass Notices to us and called the police.

The situation was then officially misrepresented to the school 'community'. Mark Thornton wrote a statement that it had become necessary to “ask us to leave”, including issuing Trespass notices, because we had brought a camera, and upset parents and children by filming them.

The record clearly shows that it was the other way round and also that they called the police immediately, with no parents or children in sight.

You can see some of the footage we took on that day here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNxWKNToTqA

To get away with such abuses, for so long, worldwide, not only have you got to be willing to ignore legitimate complaints, and to lie to governments about families and children, but you need the manpower to tie up the press, and jam up the comments sections of articles about Steiner on the web with intellectual stuff.

The self-proclaiming “fastest growing alternative education movement in the world” can do all that and more and the judges comments in the Norfolk case shows beyond question the lengths they are prepared to go to.

Unsurprisingly, a movement that is prepared to give out such harsh treatment to people, is dogged by those who have found out the hard way what is really going on. And the harshness of the treatment also helps to explain why so many of them don’t really want people to know their identity?

You’ve got to be extremely wary of a movement that’s prepared to lie to governments about you and your children.

But the desire to be anonymous might also take the pressure off journalists to report on the issues, and it’s much easier to discredit people if they aren’t speaking for themselves. All of that then seems to create a kind of positive feedback loop for the Steiner movement, in which they can portray “critics” in a negative light, to their own advantage.

Which might be why it sometimes feels hard to tell the difference between people not really whistleblowing, and the press not really reporting it.

So is there a difference between a whistleblowers and critics in this education movement? Can you be an anonymous whistleblower? And why has it become necessary to write the words "education movement" and "whistleblowers" in the same sentence?

In the Norfolk case, Jo Sawfoot’s job as a child protection officer in the school may have lent her both urgency and clout, then again it could be cynically observed that if it takes someone to be paid to do it, then wow, that must be a hard thing to do!

But seriously, although nothing can stop the unpleasant effects of your children being targeted by a school because you tried to protect them in it, or of you subsequently being mobbed by a ‘community’ of parents, having hard evidence of it can’t really hurt.

Obviously we still receive emails telling us we’re crazy, and worse, but we receive many more messages from other parents encountering this and other Steiner schools’ ostrich position on bullying.

One family who took their child out recently said that our publicity “helped us to come to this decision immediately, realising that the school was not ignorant or innocent of the problem, but would seem to have a strange and hidden position.”

Going public can have other advantages as well. Due to our refusal to keep quiet, we have been able to remain buoyant enough to get the issue in front of another global organisation, the Human Rights Commission, who have seen potential discrimination, and who offered the school mediation. After postponing their decision for weeks, the school has refused.

So now the behaviour of the Titirangi Steiner School towards our children is sitting on the desk of the Director of the Human Rights Tribunal.

So is it really much harder to be public? Well apart from the obvious advantages above, it’s difficult to quantify how much worse it might be to be public, when you’re coming in for the “treatment” anyway…

But it is hard not to wonder whether a lack of hard evidence might not help to explain the pro-state funding position of the Government, because if the stark reality of the dark side of Steiner schools were made truly public, it does seem likely that any thin perceived case for chucking Government money at them would simply evaporate.

Help the Steiner Movement go public today and submit your evidence here.

By Ms Angel Garden.
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Comments

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 29/08/2011 - 15:17

The court case involving Ms Sawfoot arose from an incident in May 2009 involving a teacher at the Norfolk Steiner Kindergarten, Anna Letts, who was accused of assaulting Ms Sawfoot’s daughter. The school failed to investigate. Instead of acting appropriately the school made harmful allegations about Ms Sawfoot’s teaching skills to social services. Ms Sawfoot felt she had no choice but to resign and the school was picketed by parents who believed Ms Sawfoot was the victim of bullying. The Court found in Ms Sawfoot's favour and her solicitor wants Ofsted to investigate practices at the school.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/8649751/Steiner-school-faces-100000...

The school was inspected by the School Inspection Service on 8-10 March 2011. The report names Anna Letts as the chairman of the college of teachers at the school. The court case must have been pending at the time yet the inspectors make no reference to it. Instead the report concluded that bullying was infrequent and would be dealt with quickly and effectively if it occurred. It appears that the inspectors were misled, in which case the school should be inspected again and more rigorously than before.

http://www.norwichsteinerschool.co.uk/documents_files/norwich_steiner_20...

Meanwhile, the school is hoping to become a free school. It is inconceivable that a school that went out of its way to pervert the course of justice should remain in business, never mind be funded by the state.

http://www.norwichsteinerschool.co.uk/fss.html#survey

JimC's picture
Mon, 29/08/2011 - 17:44

Whilst I am sorry that you have been so badly mistreated I don't think cover ups of bullying and persecution of whistleblowers are unique to the Steiner movement and this is therefore as much an argument for the government withdrawing funding from state schools as it is Steiner schools.

Angel Garden's picture
Mon, 29/08/2011 - 22:54

This article does not say that bullying and persecution of whistleblowers are unique to the Steiner movement. Please show me where it says that, if you think it does. But if you change your last sentence to read that it is "as much an argument for the government withdrawing funding from state schools that behave like Steiner Schools", then I agree.

Your first bit was good: "I am sorry that you have been so badly mistreated".

If the Steiner movement don't like "going public" in this way, then they should denounce the behaviour of those Steiner schools. That would demonstrate at the very least, an admission that this behaviour is unacceptable. Until they do, here is some evidence, that it is the movement, not just the school that sanctioned and promoted such behaviour:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fgmSOgJfunY

Duncan Lithgow's picture
Thu, 02/10/2014 - 18:22

This is very clearly aimed at Steiner Schools, the title of the article is "Some very good reasons why Steiner schools shouldn’t have state funding…a parent’s tale"-

This article makes no attempt I can see to refer to the general wider issues of bullying.

JimC's picture
Tue, 30/08/2011 - 07:33

"This article does not say that bullying and persecution of whistleblowers are unique to the Steiner movement. Please show me where it says that, if you think it does."

It doesn't have to say anything explicitly - it is the context that matters here. Surely everyone can agree that bullying and mistreatment of whistle blowers can and does happen everywhere including schools that are already funded by the government. With this in mind don't you think it is hypocrisy for a pro state schooling website to publish this article? What would you say if BP published an article about Texaco causing oil slicks?

"But if you change your last sentence to read that it is “as much an argument for the government withdrawing funding from state schools that behave like Steiner Schools”, then I agree."

I see so you'd have no problem with the government funding individual Steiner schools that are not facing allegations of bullying?

"If the Steiner movement don’t like “going public” in this way, then they should denounce the behaviour of those Steiner schools. That would demonstrate at the very least, an admission that this behaviour is unacceptable. Until they do, here is some evidence, that it is the movement, not just the school that sanctioned and promoted such behaviour:"

You do realise that it is possible for management to publicly denounce such behaviour and do it anyway.

botzarelli's picture
Tue, 30/08/2011 - 12:12

Any chance of a link to a factual report of the Sawfoot case as I can't really work out what it was about from the article? The only thing that seems to link it to Angel Garden's own experience is the fact of the parents in both cases also being employed by the schools in question. That could have a bearing in that we aren't told whether there might have been issues to do with the parents' relations with their colleagues and employer and that these impacted on the treatment those parent/employees received as well as their perceptions of the Steiner movement and the treatment of their own children.

JimC is right in observing that there isn't really any evidence here of there being a widespread culture of abuse and secrecy or toleration/encouragement of the same by the Steiner movement, just an attempt to extrapolate from two anecdotes told from the perspective of someone who believes that there is such a culture into establishing that it exists.

I'm no advocate for Steiner schools - in my limited experience of looking at them they sound weirdly cultish and not at all where I'd like to work or send my children. Ironically the only people I have ever met to advocate them and seriously consider sending their children there are rather hippyish Guardianistas who seem to think that the ethos of Steiner schooling absolves them from sticking to their loudly trumpeted love of state education. Perhaps the article is more about saving the more principled/poorer members of this class from the risk of being able to send their children to State Steiner schools where they wouldn't have to compromise their principles so much.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 30/08/2011 - 17:37

I posted a comment yesterday with a link to a Telegraph article giving details of the court case. Unfortunately, it's got stuck in moderation, but here's the link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/8649751/Steiner-school-faces-100000...

The Norwich Steiner School hopes to become a free school. As my earlier post said, no school which perverts the course of justice as this one has done should receive state funding. If such behaviour happened in a state funded school then the staff responsible should be suspended pending disciplinary procedures and dismissed if found guilty of professional misconduct.

JimC's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 06:03

I don't know the national picture about whistleblowers and state schools but Private Eye recently ran a special report on the mistreatment of whistleblowers by several NHS trusts. I think it would be a huge mistake to punish a whole organisation because of the behaviour of some corrupt managers.

I agree with you about pursuing managers who instigate cover ups and bully whistleblowers but I would argue that such behaviour can and does happen in state schools - was Katherine Birbalsingh not a whistleblower?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 07:17

JimC - I made it clear in my post above that the "staff responsible should be suspended pending disciplinary procedures and dismissed if found guilty of professional misconduct".

In the case of the Norwich Steiner School the staff who acted in an unprofessional manner were still in position at the time of the inspection which happened at the same time as the court case. The school issued this statement after the court judgement which says they wish to draw a line under the matter, but the statement does not say what measures will be taken against the staff concerned:

http://norwichalternativeeducation.co.uk/post/7996437351/norwich-steiner...

The teacher who was accused of assaulting Ms Sawfoot's daughter is still listed as a member of staff (several of whom are not qualified teachers):

http://www.norwichsteinerschool.co.uk/documents_files/staff_list_spring_...

You are right that such behaviour does happen in state schools - and I would expect it to be dealt with. However, your example of Ms Birbalsingh as a "whistleblower" is not accurate. She is portrayed as such - the article at the bottom is typical - but she was only in post at the school for a few weeks before she made her well-publicised speech at the Tory conference. And she wasn't sacked - she left. She was appointed to be deputy head at what was known to be a failing school but instead of using her expertise to turn it round (as she had been appointed to do) she made a generalised attack on the state system ("broken") at the conference using pictures of children from her school which held up one of them to ridicule. Hardly professional behaviour.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/education/2011/0322/1224292763519.html

Angel Garden's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 09:19

JimC and botzarelli's comments are hard evidence of the problems highlighted in the article.

JimC is anonymously using a generalising technique in an attempt to make the evidence go away…..Wherever bullying and mistreatment of anybody, but perhaps especially children goes on, it should not be funded by the government Jim, or are you saying that's ok? This article is about hard evidence. Where's yours?

JimC: "I see so you’d have no problem with the government funding individual Steiner schools that are not facing allegations of bullying?"

Where does it say that? In fact the video I linked to in my first comment is hard evidence that the "movement" has no problem with such behaviour. Here it is again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgmSOgJfunY

JimC: "You do realise that it is possible for management to publicly denounce such behaviour and do it anyway."

Of course, they always do, hence the lying to social services etc., by the Norfolk Steiner school. That point is made in the article.

botzarelli: "there isn’t really any evidence here of there being a widespread culture of abuse and secrecy".

Nobody said there was. But there is irrefutable evidence of a culture of abuse and secrecy. How widespread it is and whether people will come forward with that evidence is the subject of the article. We are simply providing a platform and some hard evidence at http://www.steinermentary.com

botzarelli: "two anecdotes"

Since when is a judge's ruling an anecdote? I'm sure Judge Warren would be interested to know that his judgements are merely 'anecdotes' according to you.

And how can video evidence of an actual event be "an anecdote"?

Sorry JimC but your anonymity is devaluing your opinions as well as making you a classic example of an anonymous muddler, since you are attempting to put words in my mouth. Please come out and identity yourself, or your comments will lose any value in an article about the limitations of anonymity.

Duncan Lithgow's picture
Thu, 02/10/2014 - 18:25

Sorry, Angle Garden, but anyone who writes "JimC and botzarelli’s comments are hard evidence of the problems highlighted in the article"

Comment ≠ evidence

botzarelli's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 09:53

Anecdotes can be true, but they aren't evidence in themselves of something wider. My understanding of the article was that the broad point went something like "Here are two examples of Steiner Schools being secretive and treating parental complaints badly, this means that Steiner Schools ought not to be allowed to become State Schools".

The article that Janet Downs kindly linked to itself has the following quote from Ms Sawfoot:
"Speaking after the judgment, Ms Sawfoot said: "I am still passionately committed to the Steiner movement. But my grievance was swept under the carpet by the school."

So, that story is not one which was intended to support a wider charge against the Steiner movement - despite the unacceptable treatment that Ms Sawfoot and her daughter got from the Norwich school she didn't think this was a judgment against the movement. I agree that it should be taken into account in the specific instance of deciding whether that school ought to be allowed to become a Free School - for example, were I the decision maker I would want to be reassured that the headteacher and others involved had taken suitable measures to ensure that children were protected and that whistleblowers like Ms Sawfoot were not forced to leave. However, surely they ought to be allowed to demonstrate that they have done this, just as state schools which have had problems (eg the state primary which dismissed a lollipop lady for telling a parent about their child having been bullied) are not hounded out of the state system?

Perhaps when your site has been populated by rather more testimonials than (1) the Sawfoot case (2) a report about a Berlin Steiner teacher being in a paedophile ring and trafficking children from Haiti for abuse (utterly horrific but purely prejudicial v Steiner) (3) a book by people in Norway who don't like Steiner beliefs (me neither - perhaps it is closely documented but I don't read Norwegian) and (4) your own battles in NZ, you can build an argument. Maybe then you'll be seen to be like the diligent and courageous campaigners against child abuse in the Catholic Church. As it stands, you're not nearly there.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 15:08

First posted at 7.17am this morning but got stuck in moderation. I hope this attempt is published immediately.

JimC – I made it clear in my post above that the “staff responsible should be suspended pending disciplinary procedures and dismissed if found guilty of professional misconduct”.

In the case of the Norwich Steiner School the staff who acted in an unprofessional manner were still in position at the time of the inspection which happened at the same time as the court case. The school issued this statement after the court judgement which says they wish to draw a line under the matter, but the statement does not say what measures will be taken against the staff concerned:

http://norwichalternativeeducation.co.uk/post/7996437351/norwich-steiner...

The teacher who was accused of assaulting Ms Sawfoot’s daughter is still listed as a member of staff (several of whom are not qualified teachers):

http://www.norwichsteinerschool.co.uk/documents_files/staff_list_spring_...

You are right that such behaviour does happen in state schools – and I would expect it to be dealt with. However, your example of Ms Birbalsingh as a “whistleblower” is not accurate. She is portrayed as such – the article at the bottom is typical – but she was only in post at the school for a few weeks before she made her well-publicised speech at the Tory conference. And she wasn’t sacked – she left. She was appointed to be deputy head at what was known to be a failing school but instead of using her expertise to turn it round (as she had been appointed to do) she made a generalised attack on the state system (“broken”) at the conference using pictures of children from her school which held up one of them to ridicule. Hardly professional behaviour.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/education/2011/0322/1224292763519.html

JimC's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 15:32

"JimC is anonymously using a generalising technique in an attempt to make the evidence go away…..Wherever bullying and mistreatment of anybody, but perhaps especially children goes on, it should not be funded by the government Jim, or are you saying that’s ok? This article is about hard evidence. Where’s yours?"

Your message is 'the taxpayer shouldn't fund Steiner schools because some people were badly treated by them'. If you meant to say 'the taxpayer shouldn't fund institutions that treat people badly' then why on earth are you picking on Steiner schools on the website of a group that is pro state schooling - you do realise that state schools have been known to mistreat people right?

"Where does it say that? In fact the video I linked to in my first comment is hard evidence that the “movement” has no problem with such behaviour. Here it is again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgmSOgJfunY"

I was asking you a question. If the answer was obvious in your article I wouldn't need to ask.

"JimC: “You do realise that it is possible for management to publicly denounce such behaviour and do it anyway.”

Of course, they always do, hence the lying to social services etc., by the Norfolk Steiner school. That point is made in the article."

If you think the Steiner movement always tell lies why are you so bothered about getting them to publicly say things you don't think they mean?

"Sorry JimC but your anonymity is devaluing your opinions as well as making you a classic example of an anonymous muddler, since you are attempting to put words in my mouth. Please come out and identity yourself, or your comments will lose any value in an article about the limitations of anonymity."

Given the context in which it was published my opinion is about the hypocrisy of your argument. If you have an issue with that then debate with me instead of trying to change the subject.

Marcus Hayward's picture
Wed, 31/08/2011 - 17:57

Recognition of the interconnectedness of life, the presence of a spiritual reality that can be personally experienced and the importance of expressing spiritual values (whether from a religious or secular perspective) is an extremely important message needed in the World. This underpins Anthroposophy (and similar philosophies) and is a core principle within Steiner education. What saddens me deeply about incidents like that at the Norwich Steiner School (with which I am associated) is that the Steiner movement itself is tarred by the actions of individuals who have gained power within these precious schools for personal rather than altruistic reasons. Our children are our most precious gift and a wilful parent may go to extreme lengths for their own progeny, perhaps bruised by an encounter with state education, including gaining control from trusting Anthroposophist of an evolving Steiner school vulnerable to such take-overs due to poorly defined idealistic management structures and lines of accountability. The result: people in power within these schools with a combination of vested interests and lack of the Anthroposophical knowledge that would maintain the core spiritual values that are so essential to this model of education and organisation. But ultimately, the failure is with governing bodies with the power to hold to account those who manage these schools, or even to remove the Steiner name from errant schools, but so often do nothing. Parent power will perhaps save the day at the Norwich School and elsewhere – unless state funded, without parents prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to pay the fees, there can be no school. The demonising and rejection of complaining parents who only want what’s best for their precious children, not tolerating diversity, forcing the resignation of dedicated vocational (and much loved by the children) teachers who dare to challenge those in power, trustees repeatedly failing to do anything about or even acknowledge concerns, will continue unless we parents of children at Steiner schools say this must stop! The Steiner educational model is too important to think these issues will all go away if we just pretend it isn’t happening...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 07:09

Marcus: the argument against anthroposophy has been well-aired on this site so I won't repeat this now. While not agreeing with your belief in anthroposophy you are quite right in saying it is a failure of the governing body of a school (any school) if it does not act appropriately when staff are accused of acting in an unprofessional manner.

As I pointed out in my post of yesterday, which at the time of writing this is stuck in moderation, the Norwich Steiner School still lists the members of staff who were at the centre of the court case as employees of the school. The school wishes to become a state-funded free school. There are two reasons why this should not be given: one is the unprofessional conduct highlighted by the court case, the second is the philosophy of anthroposophy which underpins Steiner schools.

The school was inspected at about the same time as the court case was pending, yet the inspectors make positive comments about the way the school handled cases of bullying. So, were the inspectors aware of the court case? If not, how is it that no-one, no parent or governor, told the inspectors? Were parents given a questionnaire by the inspectors, as is the case with state schools inspected by Ofsted? If not, why not? If a questionnaire was given to parents, did any of them make the inspectors aware of the court case - after all, some parents picketed the school on behalf of Ms Sawfoot? If the inspectors were left in the dark then this is a further reason why the school should be reinspected thoroughly by Ofsted, as Ms Sawfoot's solicitor recommends, and not by the Schools Inspection Service who did the earlier inspection.

It should also be remembered that not all of the teachingstaff at the Norwich Steiner school are professionally qualified teachers to the standard expected in state-funded community schools. I find it strange that parents are willing to hand their children over to unqualified teachers. Would they be equally willing to entrust their children's medical care to unqualified medical practitioners, or their dental care to an unqualified dentist.

Sam's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 14:34

'Would they be equally willing to entrust their children’s medical care to unqualified medical practitioners...?'

All Steiner Waldorf Schools support homeopathy which is part of the anthroposophical belief system. Weleda is perhaps the most well known homeopathic producer in the world which is an anthroposophical company. Homeopathic remedies are regularly administered to children in Steiner Waldorf schools and Camphill residential homes as part of first aid procedure.

Norwich Steiner Kindergarten Ofsted report 2007 [p3]:

'Appropriate documentation and training is in place to ensure
children are treated effectively following an accident and that any homeopathic remedies
administered follows parental instructions.'

http://www.norwichsteinerschool.co.uk/about_files/ofsted_kindergarten_an...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 15:05

Thanks, Sam, I'd overlooked that. And I'd also forgotten that Steiner schools discourage vaccination.

Ihsan's picture
Tue, 08/01/2013 - 20:36

John Roberts says:March 14, 2011 at 22:39 pmNo doubt Montessori-style for every child would be a pleasant ocotume for the nation's children (until they applied for a job). Would it be for the nation's taxpayers?By now, we have a good idea of what constitutes an effective environment for teaching masses of children: Red backsides and hair-inspections! Most of us were its beneficiaries. CVO gave the taxpayer bang for her buck Would I be able to tell pigeon fanciers in Belgium and Holland they can go ahead and mail me in Flemish were it not for an old cow and a plank? Or have a rudimentary grasp of German without an old cow with a cane?Think not!Anyone want to handle a damages claim against my high school science teacher for spoiling us rotten and lying to our parents about what delightful children we were at parent-teacher evenings? That was a form of child abuse!

Sam's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 15:43

Janet, the lay inspector from the Norwich Steiner School School Inspection Service report is Ewout Van-Manen who worked for many years as the Educational Administrator of Michael Hall Steiner School and is now in the process of setting up the Fullfledge Ecology School - a Steiner Free School in Suffolk.

The role of the lay inspector is to provide an objective and impartial assessment.

Dr Martin Bradley is another SIS inspector, he has been a Steiner Waldorf inspector for OFSTED for over 20 years which begs the question why did the SWSF (Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship) demand a separate inspection service (shared only with Exclusive Brethren schools) when Dr Bradley was already inspecting them?

Martin Bradley is also a sponsor governor of the Hereford Steiner Waldorf Academy as detailed in the Hereford's end of year governors report 2010 which can be downloaded here:

http://steineracademyhereford.co.uk/index.php/component/remository/func-...

Sune's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 18:51

Janet said: " I’d also forgotten that Steiner schools discourage vaccination".

That's not the case. They have agreed unanimously to be neutral on the issue and leave it to the parents to decide for their children, and only make available "a range of balanced information both from the appropriate national agencies and qualified health professionals with expertise in the field. Schools themselves are not, nor should they attempt to become, determiners of decisions regarding these matters."

http://bit.ly/9CQd3Z

Jane Blammer's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 21:29

Angel Garden's picture
Thu, 01/09/2011 - 22:08

@JimC
"Given the context in which it was published my opinion is about the hypocrisy of your argument. If you have an issue with that then debate with me instead of trying to change the subject."

I've got no idea what you're on about, but we are prepared to offer you an on camera interview to give your point of view a platform. Your arguments are difficult to understand in written words. When would you like to meet?

@botzarelli
"Anecdotes can be true, but they aren’t evidence in themselves of something wider."

Again with the "anecdote". I have already agreed that the evidence in the article is not evidence of something wider, except in the instance of the Steiner Federation in New Zealand being complicit, which is demonstrated. But your repetition of the "anecdote" epithet, just shows that you are not listening and that you don't possess a dictionary. I wonder how Judge Warren will feel when he hears his judgement described by you as an "anecdote".

"My understanding of the article was that the broad point went something like “Here are two examples of Steiner Schools being secretive and treating parental complaints badly, this means that Steiner Schools ought not to be allowed to become State Schools."

Again, you stop just short of accuracy or logic. "Here are two examples of Steiner Schools being secretive and treating parental complaints badly. This, and the fact of the extraordinary number of similar reports which are not verifiable due to a perceived need to maintain anonymity, means that Steiner Schools ought not to be allowed to become State Schools". Yes, given the evidence of targeting whistleblowers, more investigation is required.

Or how about "the Norfolk Steiner School, facing a potential pay-out of £100K, over their misrepresentations to social services about a pre-school age child, should not become a State School?"

Or do you think that's really ok?

You say that in spite of it all, "Ms Sawfoot … didn’t think this was a judgment against the movement."

I think you've missed the point. We're not saying that Ms Sawfoot thinks the judgement is a judgement against the movement. We haven't talked to her, or asked her ourselves. What we say is, WE think it is a judgement against the movement, as will be all negative evidence on the Steinermentary site http://www,steinermentary.com

The point is about the misuse of power. And the problem is that anonymity feeds that. There was one overt story, now there are two, and an available platform for more.

And, come to that, since the article refers to comment-snarling, we will offer you the chance to put your point of view on camera as well. Just signal your readiness by contacting us through our site or on this page if you prefer.

@Sune
Greetings. We note that you've never replied to the email we sent you back in March and we would like to take this opportunity to invite you publicly to a video interview so you can put forward your views regarding the allegations of your actions on Mumsnet while allegedly in the employ of the Swedish Steiner Federation. We would also like to hear your views on how the movement should respond to all the evidence that increasingly appears to contradict the notion that Steiner education is humane.

We would like to thank those who have recently contacted us with evidence. We will put it up on the Steinermentary site as soon as we can.

@sam says Thanks for the information. We will approach the inspectors you mention for interview. If you have further information that may lead to interesting documentary evidence, and in the public interest, please let us know.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 07:21

Sune: The Health Protection Agency regards Steiner schools as unvaccinated communities. Why do you think that might be considering you say that Steiner schools shouldn't be "determiners of decisions"? And why do Steiner schools provide "a range of balanced information" re immunisation? It is really none of their business. "Balanced" or not, the provision of this information is likely to raise anxieties in parents' minds. By doing so, the schools subtly promote the anthrosophy idea that disease is natural and children should develop immunity naturally. That's not an argument that will gain much support in areas of the world where children are still dying of polio, for example.

http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1274088429847

alicia h.'s picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 10:16

'The point is about the misuse of power. And the problem is that anonymity feeds that. There was one overt story, now there are two, and an available platform for more.'

People sometimes don't feel they have a choice; this is very understandable, for example, when there are small children in the picture. And anonymity is their prerogative.

I also wish to say there are many Steiner waldorf school critics who are not anonymous. (I'm one of them.) There are also -- these days -- a number of platforms to make your voice heard. People discuss waldorf education and anthroposophy everywhere -- on twitter, on blogs, occasionally on forums, and waldorfcritics.org is still around (there are numerous testimonials on the website, and a mailing list that goes back, I believe, 15 years in time, and many who have participated have not been anonymous).

I honestly don't have a clue what you mean by 'there was one overt story, now there are two'.

Angel Garden's picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 11:15

Obviously you are correct that there are more than two cases featuring hard evidence available on the planet. We are aware for example that numerous court cases are moving forward in various places and they do not involve anonymity or they wouldn't be happening.

I was meaning in the context of fairly recent cases featuring hard evidence where Steiner schools have identified someone as a whistleblower, targeted them and told lies about them to the Government and which we can feature on the Steinermentary site, as per the article. The similarities are very troubling.

We are happy to work with others to maintain anonymity as much as possible, through representations for example, but if any change is to happen, hard evidence is the only way to go.

I apologise for any potential inaccuracy you have found in my statement, and do not claim to be aware of all the historical facts regarding Waldorf criticism or whistleblowers. We started from the point where we experienced corruption and abuse and have moved on from there.

And in doing so it is impossible not to notice that there is a lot of evidence, which if it was public would be having an effect, possibly even on the funding situation.

I'm afraid that's just true.

Feeling that you don't have a choice and not having one are not the same thing.

In fact, the more dangerous to small children it would be to reveal information, the more urgent it must be to do it, surely with proper protections. I mean if we're talking about danger to small children...

alicia h.'s picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 12:52

'Feeling that you don’t have a choice and not having one are not the same thing.

In fact, the more dangerous to small children it would be to reveal information, the more urgent it must be to do it, surely with proper protections. I mean if we’re talking about danger to small children…'

Actually, what I am saying is that people might live on a location where their children have to be able to move around in the village, have friends, go to school, et c, without feeling that their family has become social pariah. Such concerns alone are enough for parents to have a legitimate desire to protect their identities.

I'm not, actually, talking about blood-thirsty anthroposophical zombies who wander around gnashing their teeth, eager to find babies to barbecue for dinner. Or something of that nature.

It's the feeling of not having a choice (in this case, no ideal thing to choose) that counts -- that's what the individual, making the choice, has to reckon with. It's their feelings that needs be be taken into account -- it's their fears, their concerns for their children and, most of all, it's about their identities.

You may think that it suffices that they have a choice -- no matter what their feelings are about this choice -- and thus it's ok to push them into giving up anonymity through allusions of guilt for potential danger to other children.

But the huge danger of waldorf education is bad education and covert indoctrination. I don't see why someone can't efficiently criticize these aspects of waldorf education without revealing their identities -- it's all in the 'philosophy'. And that's what I personally find interesting -- far more interesting, and damning, than mrs Sawfoots story.

Angel Garden's picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 13:29

"But the huge danger of waldorf education is bad education and covert indoctrination"

another huge danger to children is assault, and bullying, and the way schools target "irritant" whistleblowers. These are facts and we can prove them.

As we said, it's not really a competition is it?

the whole of your last comment is full of interesting points which shed further light on this dilemma. i will return to them later as they are the crux of the matter. Especially your use of the word "guilt".

For the moment I will just say that there is a difference in
pointing out that silence will lead to further abuses
and your extrapolation that we want to "push them into giving up anonymity through allusions of guilt for potential danger to other children".

Are you saying that keeping quiet about abuses will not allow them to happen again?

Or do you accept at least that if people are not forewarned, that they and their children are more vulnerable than they would be if they were?

alicia h.'s picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 14:14

'Are you saying that keeping quiet about abuses will not allow them to happen again?'

That is, of course, not something that I'm saying -- don't be silly.

I'm saying that you're appealing to feelings of guilt and I fear that it is in order to make people participate in something they may regret afterwards. I may be wrong. So let's just say I disagree with how you approach other people's anonymity.

'These are facts and we can prove them.'

Good. I look forward to seeing the facts and their proof.

As readers of my blog may know, I had a pretty shitty experience of waldorf education myself. However, there will never be any 'proof' or 'hard evidence' -- there will only be my recollections, my analyses, my arguments. It is, after all, decades since it all happened. As with many waldorf critics -- relating to our experiences publicly may take years after the actual events. People like me are in an entirely different place than you are. And, in my opinion, the need to debate anthroposophy's role in waldorf edcuation is much more acute than the need to speculate about the affairs of mrs Sawfoot. The former we can debate, it can be interesting and fruitful, but there isn't much to say about the latter -- except that it's good she reported what was wrong in her school and that this led to something good, some improvements (hopefully). Anyway, that's my perspective, and it may perhaps explain why I fail to feel particularly enthusiastic about certain things.

JimC's picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 16:20

"@JimC
“Given the context in which it was published my opinion is about the hypocrisy of your argument. If you have an issue with that then debate with me instead of trying to change the subject.”

I’ve got no idea what you’re on about, but we are prepared to offer you an on camera interview to give your point of view a platform. Your arguments are difficult to understand in written words. When would you like to meet?"

The only conclusion that now makes sense to me is that you think managers in state schools have never mistreated whistleblowers or failed to deal with bullying. Is this the case?

Now given that I work for the state and have wavering confidence in the states ability to protect whistleblowers and deal with bullies I am hardly going to allow you to film me saying so.

Angel Garden's picture
Fri, 02/09/2011 - 17:30

My conversation with Alicia in the comments has taken up a lot space and may have detracted many from my original request for interview. To make it easier to find, I thought it best to repost my previous comment again:
.
.
@JimC
“Given the context in which it was published my opinion is about the hypocrisy of your argument. If you have an issue with that then debate with me instead of trying to change the subject.”
I’ve got no idea what you’re on about, but we are prepared to offer you an on camera interview to give your point of view a platform. Your arguments are difficult to understand in written words. When would you like to meet?
@botzarelli
“Anecdotes can be true, but they aren’t evidence in themselves of something wider.”
Again with the “anecdote”. I have already agreed that the evidence in the article is not evidence of something wider, except in the instance of the Steiner Federation in New Zealand being complicit, which is demonstrated. But your repetition of the “anecdote” epithet, just shows that you are not listening and that you don’t possess a dictionary. I wonder how Judge Warren will feel when he hears his judgement described by you as an “anecdote”.
“My understanding of the article was that the broad point went something like “Here are two examples of Steiner Schools being secretive and treating parental complaints badly, this means that Steiner Schools ought not to be allowed to become State Schools.”
Again, you stop just short of accuracy or logic. “Here are two examples of Steiner Schools being secretive and treating parental complaints badly. This, and the fact of the extraordinary number of similar reports which are not verifiable due to a perceived need to maintain anonymity, means that Steiner Schools ought not to be allowed to become State Schools”. Yes, given the evidence of targeting whistleblowers, more investigation is required.
Or how about “the Norfolk Steiner School, facing a potential pay-out of £100K, over their misrepresentations to social services about a pre-school age child, should not become a State School?”
Or do you think that’s really ok?
You say that in spite of it all, “Ms Sawfoot … didn’t think this was a judgment against the movement.”
I think you’ve missed the point. We’re not saying that Ms Sawfoot thinks the judgement is a judgement against the movement. We haven’t talked to her, or asked her ourselves. What we say is, WE think it is a judgement against the movement, as will be all negative evidence on the Steinermentary site http://www,steinermentary.com
The point is about the misuse of power. And the problem is that anonymity feeds that. There was one overt story, now there are two, and an available platform for more.
And, come to that, since the article refers to comment-snarling, we will offer you the chance to put your point of view on camera as well. Just signal your readiness by contacting us through our site or on this page if you prefer.
@Sune
Greetings. We note that you’ve never replied to the email we sent you back in March and we would like to take this opportunity to invite you publicly to a video interview so you can put forward your views regarding the allegations of your actions on Mumsnet while allegedly in the employ of the Swedish Steiner Federation. We would also like to hear your views on how the movement should respond to all the evidence that increasingly appears to contradict the notion that Steiner education is humane.
We would like to thank those who have recently contacted us with evidence. We will put it up on the Steinermentary site as soon as we can.
@sam Thanks for the information. We will approach the inspectors you mention for interview. If you have further information that may lead to interesting documentary evidence, and in the public interest, please let us know.

JimC's picture
Sat, 03/09/2011 - 11:02

I've already replied. Stop trying to dodge the issues by asking people for on camera interviews.

Angel Garden's picture
Sat, 03/09/2011 - 22:37

Hello JimC and apologies for not replying to you: we missed your original reply in the deluge.

@JimC
"The only conclusion that now makes sense to me is that you think managers in state schools have never mistreated whistleblowers or failed to deal with bullying. Is this the case?"

No, not at all. We know very well that what you say must be true, and I should probably have put that in as an establishing shot, or a proviso. Thanks.

But just as Janet Downs said, State schools are regulated and when problems do happen, there will be consequences if people are found to be guilty. The problem with Norfolk Initiative Steiner School is that the people responsible for what happened haven't been disciplined and it's a recurring theme in Steiner schools the world over.

Furthermore, when Steiner Schools become state schools, they won't be subject to the same standards of accountability or even assessed by the same agencies as other state schools, as they are to have their own special service.

@JimC
"Now given that I work for the state and have wavering confidence in the state's ability to protect whistleblowers and deal with bullies I am hardly going to allow you to film me saying so."

I obviously had no idea you worked for the state and you bring up a very interesting point. If we had the manpower, we'd work on a project dealing with whistleblowing in state education. As it is, we have to focus our energies, hence the Steinermentary project.

The reason we say that is because we have documented our experiences when we fell foul of the Titirangi Rudolf Steiner School. We did not at the time necessarily assume that it was the Steiner system that made such treatment possible. That school is one of only two private Steiner schools in the whole of New Zealand, although all the rest are currently being threatened with losing their state funding if they refuse to implement National Standards. It just so happened that a review of private schools was announced just as we were targeted as irritants and ejected, so we also documented the review process. We couldn't believe the total vacuum of legislation protecting children's welfare in this sector in NZ. During this period we were approached by quite a few people from other Steiner schools who reported the same, or very similar situations and tactics. We know of multiple cases, of very many people who are extremely informative about their experiences in private. But who are reticent to speak publicly about them for fear of retribution.

We feel that it's important not to lose sight of the fact that covering up abuse leads to more abuse.

That we have been so severely drubbed for saying that, is telling.

Personally we're amazed by it, but as a documentarians we're intrigued.

JimC's picture
Sun, 04/09/2011 - 06:39

@ Angel Garden

"No, not at all. We know very well that what you say must be true, and I should probably have put that in as an establishing shot, or a proviso. Thanks."

Agreed.

"But just as Janet Downs said, State schools are regulated and when problems do happen, there will be consequences if people are found to be guilty. The problem with Norfolk Initiative Steiner School is that the people responsible for what happened haven’t been disciplined and it’s a recurring theme in Steiner schools the world over."

I would replace 'will be' with 'might be' but this is Janet's area of expertise.

"Furthermore, when Steiner Schools become state schools, they won’t be subject to the same standards of accountability or even assessed by the same agencies as other state schools, as they are to have their own special service."

No OFSTED?

"I obviously had no idea you worked for the state and you bring up a very interesting point. If we had the manpower, we’d work on a project dealing with whistleblowing in state education. As it is, we have to focus our energies, hence the Steinermentary project."

It's a shame that you can't expand your project. I'd be very interested in how widespread the sort of behaviour you describe is in state schools and how much of it is actually dealt with.

JimC's picture
Sun, 04/09/2011 - 07:43

Janet,

"JimC – I made it clear in my post above that the “staff responsible should be suspended pending disciplinary procedures and dismissed if found guilty of professional misconduct”.

So you think that staff who conduct themselves in a manner that is unprofessional ought to be suspended pending disciplinary procedures? Interesting.

I didn't say Katherine Birbalsingh was sacked - you don't have to be sacked to be mistreated or bullied. My understanding was that Birbalsingh resigned because she was not able to accept some of the conditions imposed on her by the management at the school - she signed a gagging clause. If true this is suspicious in itself.

Anyway while we're on the subject of poltical misjudgements and unprofessional behaviour perhaps I should draw attention to this article featuring one Dr Irene Bishop;

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6035043

Out of interest what do you think?

Angel Garden's picture
Sun, 04/09/2011 - 21:55

"No OFSTED?"

Check Sam's comment up above.

The OFSTED people who check Steiner schools are Steiner people themselves - because only Steiner people can truly understand Anthroposophy. Hardly an objective solution.

Also "the SWSF (Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship) demand a separate inspection service (shared only with Exclusive Brethren schools)" (Sam's words)

JimC's picture
Mon, 05/09/2011 - 05:08

Sam mentions two names who have links to Steiner - the inspector who completed the OFSTED report quoted by Sam in the homeopathy post wasn't one of them.

Is there actually any evidence to question the profressional integrity of that particular inspector?

Sandie Tolhurst's picture
Sat, 21/04/2012 - 13:07

I deny the allegation in the employment tribunal judgement that I misled Social Services.

The allegation arises over a situation in early summer 2009 where a staff member carried a child out of a room and was bitten by the child as she did so. When this was reported by telephone to social services, a written incident note was also sent, stating the same.

However, when the mother of the child requested from Social Services a transcript of the telephone conversation a month later, a summary note was produced, which stated I had informed them that “the member of staff had had to restrain the child after an incident of biting”.

At an Employment Tribunal 2 years on, the panel decided that this amounted to my misleading social services. I was not questioned in Court about the inconsistency; I had not even myself noticed that the Social Services note incorrectly reflected the conversation. Social Services were not asked to verify if the note were correct, they were not asked if they thought they had been misled and nor were they requested a copy of the original comprehensive notes which the Local Area Designated Officer (LADO) assured me were taken. In fact Social Services were not involved in the Employment Tribunal at all, and yet the panel were able to cast an unchallenged allegation that “social services were misled”.

My understanding is that had this been a criminal court, questions would have had to been asked, such as: “If Social Services were misled, did Sandie Tolhurst intend to mislead them or was it a misunderstanding?” and “Did Social Services produce an accurate summary of the conversation, or is the summary in itself misleading?” and “Why would Sandie Tolhurst say one thing on phone and send a contradictory written note to the same person at Social Services on the same day?”

The exact answers to all the above questions will probably never be known, as the full transcript of the conversation I had with Social Services is not with the case records and the member of staff I spoke with has long since left Social Services. I believe I provided consistent information to Social Services. I did not at any time state that the child was removed from the room because she was biting; I read from the incident report as I spoke to Social Services and the Employment Tribunal accepted as being true the incident report. I do not believe Social Services were misled. I do believe that the telephone conversation was summarised incorrectly; that it was a mistake, a human error.

Employment Tribunals do not need to prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that something did or did not happen, as would be the case in a criminal court. They can decide which evidence they ‘prefer’ on the basis of what they have in front of them, even if this is not validated as being correct.

Norwich Steiner School took a business decision not to appeal and instead settled out of court. Those who are interested in this case should therefore be aware that there are a number of unjust and incorrect judgements resulting from this tribunal that remain unchallenged.

From the Judgment's picture
Sat, 14/07/2012 - 00:35

With reference to the above by Sandie Tolhurst the court facts on 'misrepresentations' are quoted below and readers can form their own opinions on facts versus fantasy.

NB The unlawful physical restraint happened on 11 May 2009 and Sandie Tolhurst decided to report it to LADO on 17 June 2009.

Quotes from the Judgment :

1. ''When this was reported by telephone to social services, a written incident note was also sent, stating the same.''

Page 35 Paragraph 160 (part)

''On 17 June 2009 Miss Tolhurst rang the Local Authority Designated Officer, (LADO). We were referred to a note of that conversation taken by the person she spoke to, this records Miss Tolhurst informing her that the child had to be restrained after an episode of biting and aggression from the child. This is a misrepresentation of the incident. This is apparent from Miss Letts' version of events as quoted above; which describes the biting taking place after the restraint by Miss Letts.''

2. The judgment also deals with other misrepresentations made at the same time by Ms Tolhurst to LADO.

Page 48 Paragraph 41 (c)

''Does this amount to detriment as a result of having made a protected disclosure contrary to Section 47b of the Employment Rights Act 1996?''

''Yes: misrepresenting the nature of the incident to an outside authority, seeking to give the impression that the matter had been properly investigated and reported whereas in fact it had not, raising concerns about the professionalism and performance of a teacher without having addressed those issues to the teacher in question are all matters that would be seen by the Claimant as placing her at a disadvantage once she became aware of them, as she did in due course.''

3. In relation to the incident report referred to please note also the Judgment states

Page 18 Paragraph 54

''There were a number of significant date errors in the respondent's documents that suggested to us that on occasions, people had retrospectively created documents and back dated them to suggest that they were contemporaneous. For example, the date changes and grammar used by Miss Letts in her note in the incident book regarding the events of 11 May and her note of her subsequent telephone conversation with Ms. Sawfoot.''

4. In relation to the court and their view on whether Ms. Tolhurst misleads; further refer to

Page 18 Paragraph 53 (part)

''Mr X, Mrs. X and Miss Tolhurst in one important respect, gave us cause to doubt them. That was the assertion by each of them that they had not known Ms Sawfoot was going to make a complaint about the way her daughter had been treated.''


The documentation is available here:

http://www.steinermentary.com/SM/UK-NISS-Tribunal.html

Maria Jose Marty's picture
Sun, 25/05/2014 - 15:01

I was a parent at the Whidbey Island Waldorf School for 7 years. My experience is completely aligned with your article and I validate the patterns you describe. The Steiner/Waldorf Schools are religious cults, there is just no way around that. It may not be apparent because of the free spirited, nature focused facade, but this is a very thin facade which becomes apparent as the children reach upper grades. If parents want to send their children to a school like that, there needs to be informed consent by the parents and definitely no government funding! Parents beware, look beyond the nice smelling beeswax!

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