Take the pressure off

A supporter of the New Free School bid says that one of her reasons for wanting a Steiner education is that she doesn’t want her child under pressure from homework and tests.

I find this a very interesting view. She sounds like a parent who cares a great deal about her children and wants the best for them. She and I have this in common.

However, when it comes to education, to emerge at age 16 or 18 with sufficient qualifications to enable the child to choose from a range of options has surely got to be a priority. Homework and tests are part of this.

Some resentment will be felt by a sixteen year-old who has spent years at school, only to find they do not have the same choices as their friends from other schools.

To limit a child’s options in favour of lifestyle choice does not seem in the best interests of a child. When he or she comes to consider what to do with their life, I wonder if they will look back with regret, as well as perhaps with the fond memories that most of us have of our school days.

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20 comments

  1. Helen

    Taxpayers may also wish to consider whether they want their money to finance a school where the pressure is “off”.
    Stroud needs youngsters leaving school to be as well prepared as possible for life after 16.

  2. Helen

    It is difficult to form an accurate impression of attainment levels at a school when the exam results are not presented as a percentage for the whole year group.

  3. Helen

    Hi there!
    I have looked at these results in detail, and I don’t know what to make of them. The results are given as a percentage of the numbers of exams taken, not the number of students in the year-group, so it is difficult to know how good or bad they are. I think 99 GCSEs were taken, but how many students took them? I would like more information.
    We also have to bear in mind that these are children from families who have paid for their education, so will presumably have had good support at home.

  4. MarkH

    The main thing I find disappointing about the way that private Steiner schools such as Wynstones announce their exam results is their comparison with percentages for the overall national average, including state schools. If they were more honest and compared themselves with the national average for independent schools it wouldn’t look so good, but it would at least make their misuse (or misunderstanding?) of basic statistics elsewhere more forgivable.

    • A Wynstonian Atheist

      The main reason that Wynstones compares its results with schools on the national curriculum is because the funds available to Wynstones are far more limited than that of any other private schools operating in Gloucestershire. Kings for example costs almost twice as much to attend and as a result will probably have better results than Wynstones will have.

      Labeling Wynstones a private school, while technically correct is not entirely accurate because the lack of state funding ensures the vast majority of the school fees (which remember are far less than a true private school would charge) go into keeping the school running and the teachers paid. Therefore comparing Wynstones to state-funded schools in the area is the most accurate method of determining our academic achievements which are, if I say so myself, quite impressive.

      I also find it ironic that in an article denouncing Steiner education for not being academically focused enough, you are openly acknowledging the heightened nature of Wynstonian pupils grades. Surely an education systems success should surely be measured by the state sanctioned and funded system that Steiner presents itself as an alternative of, and as you can see the results show a marked difference.

      I hope that has cleared up your statistics query and that you will come to acknowledge our success academically. However I have been arguing with people over the internet since the age of 13 so I’m not counting on it.

      • MarkH

        Hello,
        As Helen says, the number of pupils taking exams is important. I don’t want to belittle the achievements of any individual student, but think about it for a moment: the percentages don’t mean much without knowing the number of pupils they refer to. If the number is small, it might make people wonder about the overall statistical significance of the results. Mind you, it’s not that Wynstones is at all unusual in the poor way it represents statistics! It’s unfortunately very common.

        I’m afraid I don’t follow your argument that labelling Wynstones a private school isn’t “entirely accurate”. You receive no state funding and parents pay fees. Admittedly, the fees are less than for many private schools. Presumably you cover the shortfall in your running costs by relying on parent volunteer effort, as most Steiner schools do? At my local Steiner school the fees were low but teachers were paid a pittance and the facilities were poor compared to even the state schools. If the fees at any other private school don’t go towards their running costs, where do you think they go?

        Anyhow, the point of the comparison with private school results is more about the socio-economic background of the pupils. Parents at Wynstones can afford to pay the fees (relatively modest though they are) and will in all likelihood take a keen and active interest in their child’s education. I’m claiming that you can’t separate out this important factor from the fact they’ve received a Steiner education and then claim their success as a Steiner effect. The reason that a comparison with other private schools would be more appropriate is that the home background of students at Wynstones is presumably comparable to those schools, rather than to the more diverse background you’d find in the local state schools.

      • Helen

        Thank you for replying Wynstonian Atheist. I certainly can see that there are some very good grades at Wynstones, as we would expect for a private school, but my query really is about the numbers of children in the year groups, and how many of them are taking exams?
        26 A levels were taken, so if each student took at least 3, often 4, as is usual, that means a maximum of 8 students in the year – is that right? I assume it is a very small 6th form – did most students stay on or not?
        Also the GCSEs -99 exams taken – how many students took them?

  5. Viktoria

    hello there, I am a current pupil at wynstones and I think what you are saying is completely wrong. I did not leave wynstones after my GCSE’s because I did not find it necessary. I did think about this choice very carefully, as for a while I wanted to do the IB diploma, I even went for an interview at another school, but then I realised that everything I needed I could get at wynstones. I have a lot of choice for what A-levels I could do, and do not regret having been in a steiner education for all my life, in 3 different countries. I have a lot of friends who go to private and state schools, and from what they tell me, I think myself lucky to not have had to go through that system of education where all the learning is exam driven and not for the sake of knowledge. I think I am very well prepared for life at university and a carrier, as I have had to do much more independent learning than what I hear happens at many other schools, where the education is spoon fed. My brother got 3 A* in his A-levels and is currently studying maths in one of the top university’s of Germany, where the education system is much tougher than the one here in England. And I think I speak for the whole of my class (year) when I say that none of us will regret this education or think that it has ill prepared us for life.

    • Helen

      Hi Viktoria
      Thank you for the comment.
      It is good to hear from students, (especially those who use their name – I am getting confused now with all the different anons around here). It is clear that some Steiner students leave school with fond memories, and outwardly there are very attractive aspects of Waldorf Steiner, otherwise parents would not be attracted in the first place – especially as they are spending their money on it.
      You have had a privileged upbringing in many ways. I would not see a Steiner education as a privilege however, but there we will have to differ.
      These schools certainly do instil a sense of being “special” and dare I say superior (that is partly what my post “Seduction” was about).
      If the student has achieved what they expected after Steiner education, and has been lucky enough not to knowingly have suffered any adverse effects of the anthroposophical practices, it must be surprising to find there are people who do strongly disapprove of Steiner.
      If a family knows about Anthroposophy and does not object to it being used on children, there is nothing more to say. If on the other hand they are unaware of what goes on and why, and they are not fond of occultism then it is maybe time to be more curious. These practices can and do result in catastrophic outcomes for some families, who were completely in the dark before the problems began.
      Once a child has started at a Steiner school I can see it would be difficult to question the way a school operates, and it will be easier to just go along with it. Leaving such a close community will be traumatic.
      That is why I think it is so important for parents to research Steiner and Anthroposophy before signing up. If you don’t see anything wrong with it, go ahead, but at least be fully informed. I have provided sources for those who wish to use them.

  6. Anon

    I understand why you have this opinion on Steiner, many do, and you have expressed your point well, but what I do not understand is why you feel you must attack it so thoroughly when every system has weaknesses! If every system was the same then we can never find the perfect one! My father is a biodynamic farmer in a Camphill Community, my mother works in one too, my brother sister and I went to Wynstones and before that various kindergartens as well as growing up in Camphill Communities, i have never been vaccinated (and i’m still alive!), my GP is St Lukes,and so I have grown up surrounded by the Steiner beliefs. I have now left Wynstones to continue A levels at a state school, but this does not in any way mean that I dislike that way I have been taught and brought up. I feel that I have grown up with a wonderful, open view on the world and in no way do I feel indoctrinated by my school. You criticize the way a student learns at a Steiner School, yet you forget that every education system can be criticized. A state school may be more exam focused, but I know that I would never send my child to a school where they have to wear a uniform, watch crude cartoons on a large tv screen, and learn far to early about the serious things in life. I may have grown up in a ‘Steiner bubble’ but I would rather that than finding out about the wars and suffering in the world so early on. Unlike you I hold my opinions on other lifestyle and education choices to myself rather than publicly attack a certain one as I believe that everything has it’s faults and benefits, it is incredibly unfair of you to write only one side of the arguement, you are influencing people’s opinions greatly on something which you yourself seem to know nothing about. I would very much like you to have a meeting with different age groups of children from a Steiner school and ask them if they are satisfied with their education. A Kindergarten student need not learn academic subjects, and an A level student is capable of coming out with excellent grades. Thank you for your time.

    • Helen

      Hello anon number 3
      I can see why Steiner students see examination of the creed as an attack.
      It is only an attack in that I want to expose the aspects that are kept secret from parents, even when they ask questions.
      Knowing what questions to ask is of course the first hurdle…
      On the vaccination question – you are proud to be still alive, but if there is a measles outbreak and babies too young to be vaccinated or those whose immune system is low, suffer or die as a result, it will be the unvaccinated among us who may be considered responsible. That may sound contentious but it is accepted medical opinion.
      As for my being unaware, read some more of my posts and realise that I have interested myself in this matter for a considerable time.

    • MarkH

      Hello Anon, I wouldn’t dispute that it is possible to get a good education at a Steiner school. We considered it for our child but now realise that it is possible to get all the good things about Steiner in mainstream education *and* be encouraged to read early and use technology, if that’s where your child’s interests lie. I see a lot of blanket dismissal of mainstream education from Steiner advocates and to me it just looks like both a naive way of appealing to parents who perhaps didn’t have good experiences in school and a form of internal validation for those already in the Steiner environment.

      It sounds as though your parents sent you to a Steiner school understanding fully the philosophy behind it, which is how it should be. I think that Helen’s main argument (which I thoroughly agree with) is that many prospective/new parents won’t know about anthroposophy and the whole cultural/social baggage that comes with a Steiner education and the schools are not doing a good enough job of ensuring that they do. This is becoming more important than ever with the approval of state funded Steiner free schools with ambitions to grow to many hundreds of pupils.

  7. Paul

    It is interesting that ,having read through the letters, the “anti’s” have their judgement ready. What a pity. I admire the students that have replied, leaving themselves vulnerable to the “anti’s” who keep turning their will to be positive into a result of being brainwashed by the school they have been to. My children went to Wynstones and after having spent over 10 years there, haven’t got a clue about anthroposophy. My husband and I do, but – like all parents I got to know – did not press this onto our children. Freedom is the highest good and you can’t touch this with your campaign. Leave people free to make their own choice for their children.

    • Helen

      Hi Paul,
      Of course you and your husband are free to choose for yourselves. When tax payers are footing the bill however it is for everyone to decide if another school based on anthroposophy is what we want.
      The “antis” (this one, anyway) have decided we do not think anthroposophy is appropriate in a school – especially when, as you say, the children (and sometimes the parents) do not know what is happening. With any other belief system, it would be very odd for a child not to know about why they were being brought up or taught in a certain way, with no explanation for certain unusual rituals and customs.
      Presumably you and your husband already knew about anthroposophy, when you sent your children to a Steiner school.

  8. Helen

    This is a popular thread for comments, and I would like to add that the homework I referred to is something which in my opinion adds considerably to a child’s learning, especially at a young age.
    When my children were very small, 4 years old, they would bring home a simple book each day to read with one of us, and apart from the obvious benefits of beginning to learn about words and reading right from the start of school, it was a lovely way to spend time with them in the evenings, and reinforce the learning in the classroom.
    This gradually develops into more advanced homework tasks, and helps parents take an interest in and support their child’s education from day one, which can only be a good thing

    • Geoff

      Learning to read and write at an early age is something that some kids can get into and clearly worked for yours.
      The sad thing that I see is that it really doesn’t for some children. When a child is not ready at the age of 4 and 5, it can induce an enormous amount of stress and shame in the child and a sense of failure. That can not only be a bad thing, but will switch a young and enthusiastic child off from education, learning and school and in the (all too often) worst case lead to anti-social and destructive behaviour. And that child could well be ready by the age of 7 or 8? Could that be a response to the modern phenomenon of disaffected youth?
      I have also been involved in the education of my children from day one, part of which is helping out at school (which is, I believe, an education in community). I have also been reading to them each day, providing play environments and working hard to protect their childhood (not as easy as it should be I think).

      I think the reasoning for delaying the introduction of more formal education is to allow the time to educate the body which involves a good deal of imaginative play, helping to clean and tidy the classroom and learning about relationship through these. And I see that as being the reason that the kindergartens are so popular. Many people feel strongly enough to invest in the early part of their children’s education and judging by the Free School initiative, many more people would like to be able to have those principles embodied in a government maintained school. And many of the european countries seem believe in that strongly as well and have done for many decades.

      Both my children were interested in letters and words before they were introduced at school and we would both answer their questions, but not launch into teaching them more than they asked for and then in their second year in the classroom (aged 8, Year 3) over the space of a term, their reading took flight. They seemed to love the process and took to it like a duck takes to water – totally naturally.

      My own education was head, head, head all the way through. From the age of 4 to leaving university with a degree in computer engineering. No heart, no body, just head. I always did well academically at school from an early age, but I have a sense of something missing when I watch how my own children’s school life develops. Not only that, I feel inspired by their joy at learning at what seems to be the right time.

  9. Jim

    Some readers no doubt also look at the Stroud Steiner Free School website and may be impressed by the uniformly positive comments they will see there. The explanation is simple – nothing critical is published. My posting, critical but certainly not offensive, sat awaiting moderation for over a week and then was deleted without comment or explanation.
    Some 25 years ago when researching schools for our son we visited Wynstones and were initially very impressed. It does have a lovely environment and at first appears very relaxed and caring. However on entering the classrooms and seeing the “artwork” displayed we began to get a different feeling – the creepy blandness of it all, a sort of Stepford Children uniformity. Talking to the teachers there I was struck by the anti-intellectualism which they seemed to think was admirable. Overall I felt that what they regarded as warm and embracing was actually stifling. So our son went to the local state school ( then Marling and Oxford ).
    Knowing now rather more about the bizarre belief system underpinning Steiner schools I cannot understand how anyone, even Michael Gove, could imagine it should receive state support.

    • Helen

      Yes, I agree, stifling is a good description.
      Regarding the artwork, it is initially attractive, but when you realise all the work is the same at all the schools it creates a different reaction. The fact that the rules about art are so strict, and even the materials used and the shapes drawn are prescribed, makes for a strange uniformity. Straight lines are discouraged, and even the representation of a face seems to be unacceptable in Anthroposophical doctrine.
      Regarding the comments on the Stroud Steiner free school initiative website, I did notice one with a reply about the problems at the Hereford Steiner academy had been removed.
      I will say that I publish most comments here except those containing personal attacks or offensive remarks.
      That is my preference.

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