Someone suggested to me yesterday that a Steiner free school is a very different animal from an independent Steiner school; whilst this person accepted that a state-funded school resembling the independent variety would not be acceptable, a free school could not be quite so cuckoo and would have to toe the line with regard to testing and inspections.
The first misunderstanding here is on testing; the SWSF have made great show out of their “success” in managing to gain exemption for their free schools from testing at Key stage 1. Children will not be tested until key stage 2 at age 11.
During this important time no-one will know how children are progressing in relation to children from other schools. The only indication they will have is the opinion of one (possibly only anthroposophically trained) teacher who will have taught the same class for 8 years. We know about the Steiner attitude to school reports.
There are accounts of children at Steiner schools who have not learned to read until age 9 and who go on to read and achieve reasonably well, but there are also accounts of those who have sadly spent the rest of their school life trying to catch up with their peers, and have been disadvantaged when applying to higher education.
The debacle at the Derby free school which has recently been forced to close at secondary level illustrates the difficulties with keeping tabs on progress at free schools, which do not have to teach the National Curriculum, and the tragic loss of valuable time for the unfortunate students involved.
The management at the school in Derby clearly had no intention of complying with the demands of the governments free school programme; when it came to the crunch they would not compromise their beliefs and practices, and closure was preferable to them.
Similarities with the Steiner system are evident; unqualified teachers were in classrooms at Derby, and the school was founded on a belief system at odds with the requirements of a publicly-funded school in the UK.
Steiner free schools also have no intention of changing their “ethos”. They are required by the SWSF to incorporate the anthroposophical elements found in all Steiner schools, as I have already shown.
A freedom of information request made to the Hereford Steiner Academy asking about the anthroposophical affiliations of staff members resulted in a protracted correspondence.
After a review by the information commission into how the request was dealt with, and the Academy bringing in their legal team, 7 months later the school revealed several members of staff were members of the anthroposophical society.
FOI requests are supposed to be dealt with in 20 days.
Many members of staff at Steiner free schools are anthroposophists (they do not have to be signed up members of the society), and many are members of the school of spiritual science. This means that they fully endorse the doctrine of Rudolf Steiner.
Far from changing their spots to comply with the free school model, Steiner free school groups are simply talking the talk. They then walk exactly as they have been walking for nearly 100 years – along their spiritual path to “knowledge of higher worlds” – and their aim is to take children with them.