Steiner schools should be part of the main stream system to enable access to all.

Fran Russell's picture
I am a single parent committed to state education. Never believing for one moment I would send my children to an independent school I found myself attracted to the local Steiner school. My twins had been premature and tiny I felt the early testing in our local schools would be too much for them. Now aged 10 I think I was right. The pressure on children to learn to read to meet the key stage one targets would have been too much for my children.. Over time they have caught up and are preparing to go into a state secondary school. I struggled with my choice having been a Labour Party member for many years evening working for an MP. As our pioneer school was committed to diversity and to be part of the state system I joined and helped them try to ensure this approach to education was available to all regardless of ability to pay by being a part of the local state school system. Despite all efforts we failed and have had to continue down the independent school route but desperately want to be able to accept any family who wants Steiner education for their child. We still hope for state funding to achieve this dream.

The Steiner curriculum is rich and broad, interweaving all the subjects of the national curriculum in an imaginative and artistic way. It is a truly comprehensive system and along with most European schools we introduce reading and writing at age 6 when we believe children are better equipped to absorb that kind of learning. There is a lot of evidence to support that. Two languages are also taught from that age and at least 2 musical instruments from age 8. Children in the senior schools take GCSEs and A’Levels and go to university like any other school but they are not tested at 7 but in our state school are tested at 11 although currently parents boycott it.

Rudolf Steiner’s ideas around mysticism and re-incarnation are not taught in Steiner schools and we are strongly ant-racist in our teaching and in the culture of respect for others and the environment which imbues the schools and the curriculum. Whilst Steiner schools do attract some parents who are against the use of vaccinations that is a matter for their judgement and not something any school would advocate.

There is currently only one Steiner school available under the state system. It is so popular it could be filled 5 times over. The evidence for demand is overwhelming and extending the choice of a Government funded Steiner education to a wider number of families is long overdue.
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Cathy's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 13:18

It is not enough to say Steiner's ideas about reincarnation, karma and spiritual worlds aren't taught; they are used. The schools revolve around them. The teachers are trained with them. Classifications and observations about the children are made with them, and in this light conclusions and judgements are drawn.
(Actually, my children often had teachers telling them about guardian angels, gnomes being real, nature spirits, rainbow bridge incarnating story, eurythmy, so these anthroposophical, spiritual ideas are there as part of every normal school day, to say nothing of the curriculum which is designed around anthroposophical ideas)

Like, I suspect, many many parents, dissatisfaction with testing (and probably various other things) led you to choose an alternative, but not necessarily an anthroposophical education.
Would your "access to all" for Steiner education mean people would be aware of what the schools are based on?

In my view, far from "rich and broad" the Steiner curriculum is rigid and prescriptive, and while many of us would welcome more creativity, craft and gardening, the inflexible wet on wet blob painting, copying vague chalk drawings and denying children access to visual aids which aren't anthroposophical is unforgivable.

I really don't think the state should give money, at the expense of other cash strapped schools, to schools run by an obscure spiritual belief.

Is it really true that hereford Steiner school ( which must be the one you mean) could be filled "five times over"? I was under the impression that local feeling wasn't supportive, I may be wrong, could you give the evidence for this statement? Do you know if the intake of the school has changed drastically to include local people who weren't previously involved? At the time there was an outcry about the amount of money they received when village schools were closing.

Susan's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 14:58

Fran wrote:
'along with most European schools we introduce reading and writing at age 6 when we believe children are better equipped to absorb that kind of learning'

As you say, this a belief, not based on scientific evidence. The evidence actually shows that '''Foundation literacy acquisition by non-English European groups is not affected by gender and is largely independent of variations in the ages at which children start formal schooling'' (Seymour/Aro/Erskine p150)'

Schools in England (state and private) which ensure that systematic, synthetic phonics is taught first, fast and exclusively from YR don't have children with 'dyslexia', don't have a boy-girl literacy gap and get all their children reading before they leave school to go on to secondary.

There is no biological, developmental reason to leave the teaching of literacy until the age of 6-7. If a child can speak in comprehensible sentences they can taught how to read.

BTW, it was the Labour government that brought in systematic,synthetic phonics as the first strategy to use in reading.

Thetis's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 15:15

Fran: have you asked yourself why you've failed to access public funds for your school? Why is it not more popular and why don't more people see how special it is? Parents in this country have had several decades in which to be convinced by Steiner education but it remains pretty obscure, unlike other forms of private education that are far more costly. As an aside - it's well known that the turnover of pupils in Steiner schools can be high, and it would be useful to have figures on this.

I would understand any parent in a Steiner school failing to understand the significance of Anthroposophy. I didn't understand it either when I was a parent, and I was as involved as you are now. Once again, our posts at Prof Colquhoun's blog are worth reading, and we discuss the Woods Report on which the Hereford funding was based and the Hereford Academy itself.
Since that post was written we understand no Steiner school has gained Free Schools funding - as Francis Gilbert says in another post on this site.

The Steiner Academy Hereford could only be filled 5 times over if most of the Steiner pupils from other schools in England were ported over to the village of Much Dewchurch. Do you believe that the Academy is popular with the community there? Do you think it is integrated into that community? What does it contribute? How does it address the needs or wishes of that community? In short: is it a model the rest of us can afford to repeat?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 18:02

My huge concern about Steiner schools is their aversion to vaccinations; something they certainly don't advertise but is a proven fact. The UK Health Protection Agency ( regards Steiner children as unvaccinated. Surely, the way Steiner schools covertly and overtly "smear" vaccinations and their undoubted health benefits is a serious health hazard to children who attend the schools, and to OTHER children as well?

MarkH's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 18:39

Ah, another Steiner thread. It seems that upon reading Steiner's theories of child development (never mind the more esoteric stuff), as taught in Steiner teaching training courses, you either recoil in horror (as I did) or wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, "it's not taught to the children."

"we introduce reading and writing at age 6": I understand the significant determining milestone here is not the 6th birthday, but actually the loss of the first milk teeth . In some Steiner schools the services of an Anthroposophical doctor are employed to determine the readiness of a child to move from kindergarten to class 1, where formal education begins. Beyond the loss of milk teeth, what are the criteria exactly?

I don't believe that there is an ideal age for all children to start reading and writing, in the same way that there is wide variation in the timing of crawling, standing, walking and talking.

One of the things that put us off the local Steiner school was the prescriptive and mildly intrusive way that the school expected certain aspects of our home life to change. We were unlikely to be able to keep our son away from the computers or the TV. (The science show on CBeebies is rather good!) He was already keen on his books and to deny him access to recorded music would have been tantamount to cruelty, in my view.

I can't say that the school is a significant presence in the local community. It seemed rather insular.

Re: The Hereford Steiner school. As an Academy, it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. It ought to be possible to request the figures on student and staff turnover and have these in the public domain.

It's important that Steiner education is better understood by parents so that they can make more informed choices. It is also becoming better understood within government, which may have contributed to the recent funding decision. It is certainly the case that Steiner schools are outside of Ofsted's comfort zone, inspection having been delegated to the SIS. (Read Thetis' articles!)

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