Assessment and Reports

Parents are attracted to Steiner schools for various reasons, and one of the reasons put forward by a mother who is fronting the Stroud Steiner Free school bid was the lack of emphasis on homework and testing. We discussed this in a previous post.

Steiner schools claim they provide a good standard of education without the need for any academic pressure. This is made out to be a good thing for the mental health of the child, who will suffer if made to conform to the norms of society by being assessed alongside his peers.

Gregoire Perra disputes the reasons for not testing . He says the reason is not educational at all but sectarian; to manipulate the minds of children according to the principles of anthroposophy. It is more important to the anthroposophist teachers that the children absorb the tenets of the creed than that they achieve certain grades. Saying no testing is for the healthy development of the child is a smokescreen.

The results at a local Steiner school were trumpeted here by a supporter claiming they demonstrate the validity of the claim that testing is not necessary.

It was pointed out however, that although the results looked impressive when viewed in isolation, no information was given about how many students out of the year groups took exams at each stage. No-one has supplied this information, and I have previously found on telephoning the school in question in an attempt to understand some of their statements, information is rarely forthcoming.

This is reinforced in a description by Gregoire Perra of how a class of 30 children (his class) dwindled through the school years, and certain children were separated out into groups which would not take exams or would leave school early, thus avoiding being part of the results statistics at the end of exam year. A 90% success rate for the Baccalaureate is a lot different when you consider it was 90% of the 9 children out of the original 30 who started in the class several years earlier.

Roger Rawlings describes on this page of  Waldorf watch  how he discovered on leaving his Steiner school that compared to students from other schools, he was inadequately prepared.

“I was a superior student at Waldorf, I was exempted from some courses because I was so far ahead, and I was a class speaker on graduation day. By Waldorf’s very low standards, I was an academic star. By the real standards of the real world, however, I was an ignoramus.”

He describes how meeting other children at Sunday school gave him a clue that he was not learning what other children were learning and then adds

“I got high grades in some subjects about which later, in college, I learned that I was deeply ignorant.

…Whatever our teachers were assessing, it did not seem to be how much or how well we mastered the subjects we “studied.”

This ties in with what Gregoire Perra says about Steiner school reports; in his experience a Steiner school report is something quite different to a normal report.

No grades, levels, results or achievements are mentioned (according to Steiner’s advice) nor any mention of specific school work (unless it is of an outstanding standard) Instead a “strange kind of psychological profile of the child is provided – a description which is often wildy enthusiastic”. (“dithyrambic” is the expression used).

Of course it is flattering for parents to read a report full of praise for their child – but it is not necessarily a useful exercise.

As parents we would occasionally notice our child’s teacher was reluctant to dwell on any negatives in a report and had taken care to emphasise achievements.  But on the occasions when potential problems were highlighted, we welcomed the information as this gave us a chance to provide extra support in the appropriate area – surely this is the whole point of a report?

Perhaps this is one of the reasons some parents – the ones who stick it out- are so staunchly supportive of Steiner methods; their child’s report says they are gifted in certain ways or have special personality traits which are much more valuable than academic achievement  – so that must be true, right?

In a post on  assessment Perra points out that Steiner himself advised teachers that assessments were an unnecessary part of school, and that in reporting to parents it was important never to say anything negative about a child, for fear of “pushing them away”

Finally, There is an amusing (and rather sad) description of a conversation between a parent and a teacher which I translated below because I don’t know how many people are reading his blog in French;

– Hello Jean-Pierre, How are you? (In Waldorf institutions, it is not uncommon for parents to kiss and greet their child’s teacher with familiarity each morning, as if the Steiner school was a large family). You said in his last report my son is doing excellently, and I figured this would be the time to send him to the public system. You know he wants to do sports studies. There’s nothing to stop him, I should think.

The teacher then looked very embarrassed and said :

– Yes he has a good report , but you know it will be difficult in the traditional system …

– Are you kidding!” said the parent. I do not understand how my son could have difficulty in the traditional school system with an overall average of 14/20!

– Yes, it’s true, I gave him a 14, but you know … In fact it was not really 14! It is 14 yes, but here at school … It would not necessarily be 14 elsewhere … You understand?

– No, I do not understand!

– Well, you know …., replied the Steiner- Waldorf teacher, increasingly embarrassed. He was given an average of 14 because he is a good student and we thought he would stay in school. But if you now put him in the normal system, it will not be 14! It will crash; it will be too hard for him because he did not achieve the grade. You get it? …

– How can he have been given a 14 and not have the level 14 average? exclaimed the parent.  Is it 14 or not ? ?

– Yes it is 14, but here … Anyway, I have warned you … added the professor before dodging the rest of the conversation. “




  1. SCR

    Yes, one of the reasons we were attracted was the lack of testing……it’s a huge selling point for the Steiner schools; and easy to see why with all the stress children have to cope with re exams etc, it’s extremely attractive and they really make use of this.

    Have you read the Teachers handbook available here ? \

    It’s extraordinarily telling. Zooey wrote about it here

    Here’s some extracts

    “Keep a glowing personal profile about each child, but never allow anyone access to lesson notes or records, because as an inspired educator, these are unnecessary for you (anything indicating what the class might have learnt or covered in Morning Lesson should be ‘lost’ before you leave the school).”

    “How to make it difficult for anyone else to teach your class – ever!

    Tell the class frequently that they are a very special group (they must be to have you as a teacher) and let them know implicitly and explicitly that you are the only person fit and able to teach them. Alongside this, it helps to hint frequently that no-one else can or could handle them as you do.

    Reports should be as personalised as possible. Of course only you know the ‘soul’ of each child.”

    What Kennish writes here says it all really; I wouldn’t be surprised if newer versions of this book omit these passages tbh; (I have a copy with them in though from quite recently.) When we left the school some written material was “lost” so I suspect this could be usual behaviour; things the outside world can see, and things that should never be seen.

    • Helen

      Sorry for not replying to comments this week – I have been away from home with no internet.
      The teacher’s handbook certainly needs to be seen to be believed. I have drawn attention to it before and thanks for this mention.

  2. Helen

    On the subject of testing of children at school and whether this harms the child; our children did SATS tests at school from a young age, and they never made anything of it.They were not put under stress by the testing, and I did explain to them why the tests were being carried out – to assess how the school was performing in its responsibility to help each child achieve their potential.
    The only aspect of the testing I disagreed with was the way it took time out of the school day – sometimes several days as there were revision sessions – and that does seem unnecessary.
    Steiner parents simply kept their children home from school on test days, thus exempting the school from comparisons with other schools.

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