News this week that a Free School has been judged to be providing an inadequate standard of education has drawn attention to some of the issues surrounding the Free Schools model.
The inspection of this school was brought forward because of concerns over teaching standards. The school had been open a year before the inspection.
The school was described as dysfunctional and inadequate in every possible way.
There will be a decision shortly on whether the school will close permanently.
Free schools, as well as being free from having to teach the National Curriculum are allowed to employ unqualified teachers, and this was highlighted as a problem at this particular school.
Teachers employed by Steiner schools are only required to have experience in a Steiner school or to have attended a Steiner Waldorf teacher training course. These training courses do not provide the qualified teacher status which is required in mainstream schools. One such training course Westt (see “That’s Funny” above) ran at Marling school until recently and has now been transferred to Wynstones.
West of England Steiner Teacher Training is the organisation that is very reticent about the fact that the course is anthroposophical, only mentioning this at the end in the testimonials.
Another training course is offered by the London Waldorf Seminar. The website for this course is much more up-front about anthroposophy. It is not mentioned on the front page, of course, but click on “The seminar” and up comes a description of the course content. We are told;
There are three main strands;
1.The artistic development of the student (teacher development).
Yes, that’s right. The first part of the course is a comprehensive course in anthroposophical art for the teacher.
2. Anthroposophical study.
That will be spiritual development and occultism then.
3. Child development.
Aha – do we finally see something which may compare to professional teacher training? No we do not. This particular kind of child development is Rudolf Steiner’s ideas on how best to prepare the child for the divine cosmic plan he dreamt up for humankind.
Here is the description of child development;
“In depth study of the development of human consciousness in the individual and how its parallel in history is reflected in the curriculum to support the child at each stage.”
There are no written tests or exams on the course. It takes place one day a week over 2 years.
No qualifications are required to register, except full time education until the age of 18. You could completely flunk ‘A’ levels and have no Maths or English GCSE and still be eligible.
“A certain familiarity with or willingness to become familiar with the anthroposophical background of Waldorf education is also essential.”
Here we see that the teachers employed at a Steiner Free School will have learned a lot about anthroposophy and I am sure will be very artistic. Indeed I know of one person who took a Steiner teacher training course with no intention of becoming a teacher, but simply because she liked the look of the art.
When the Steiner Free school in Frome is inspected I wonder if the teachers will be assessed on their knowledge of anthroposophy and their proficiency in pottery and veil painting. If so, I am sure they will receive a glowing report.
Perhaps this seems a rather critical view of this aspect of Free schools. Well, tax payers money is being used to pay for these activities. It took a year for the inadequacies in Derby to be discovered and acted upon, and it will take longer still for the problems to be sorted out and a decent standard of education to be found for the children who have been attending this school.
It has been said this week that it is not easy to open a Free school, and that there are standards set in order to avoid problems.
The fact that many of the schools are run by organised groups with an agenda (such as Steiner and other religious groups) demonstrates that these are the ones best armed with the knowledge of how to get through the system and successfully open a school; it does not mean they are the people best suited to providing education.