How on Earth…?

How on earth were Steiner schools approved for state funding in the first place?

That is what many people have been wondering, and in particular, it is what the British Humanist Association, (BHA) have been trying to find out.

In the news section of their website on Thursday, the BHA explained efforts over the last year and a half to find out exactly what were the findings of the government’s Free School team in relation to this issue, and how they are still fighting for the release of documents which have been withheld.

“The DfE is appealing against a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that the department for Education (DfE) was wrong to refuse a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about Steiner schools.

The FOI request was submitted by the BHA and asked for a copy of the investigation carried out in 2010 by the DfE’s Free Schools team into whether or not Steiner schools should receive state funding.”

The BHA says it has reason to believe that the document recommended they should not receive state funding.

The FOI request was rejected on the grounds that it “relates to the formulation and development of government policy, and that the public interest lies against disclosure.”

According to the BHA

“…the ICO… on 9 December last year decided that the DfE was wrong on the balance of public interest, and ordered that the document be released

However, on 21 January the DfE decided to appeal this decision to the Information Tribunal, triggering a legal case with the Information Commissioner – now also arguing that the information is exempt as to release it would damage Steiner schools’ commercial interests. The BHA has been added to the case as second respondent.”

There is much more to read on this on the BHA page, including details on the decision notice from the ICO.

A  reason why criticism of Steiner schools is sometimes dismissed, or not even listened to, is that Steiner education has gained credibility through the approval it has received for state funding.

“How can Steiner be so bad if it has been given the right to operate with public money?”

This argument seemingly absolves those appealed to – MPs, Newspaper editors, or anyone with power who might be called upon to give an opinion on the issue, from investigating further.

What could confer more respectability than the unquestioned allocation of millions of pounds of public money?

A commenter here once remarked

“I bet lots of other people are in the same boat as me – just thinking it’s ok and trusting the government to know and not go round funding such oddness. Frightening really!”

Only the most curious and determined parents delve into the recesses of Steiner’s writing, or that of his followers, to find out just exactly what kind of oddness is being practised in these schools.

The BHA has previously set out its main objections to the state funding of Steiner schools, which range from the “…the general quality of education provided, to the large amounts of pseudoscience on the curriculum, (including scepticism of evolution and vaccinations and support of homeopathy); from homeopathy being given to pupils by the schools’ ‘anthroposophical doctors’ to at least one of the schools opting out of providing vaccinations…Additionally, the first two Steiner schools to open did so despite considerable local opposition.

The BHA also published a briefing on Thursday setting out their concerns about the state funding of Steiner schools. This is essential reading here in a town where we are next in line for a Steiner school to sprout up from dodgy rootstock to contaminate our educational landscape..

Beginning with a look at the complicated issue of how anthroposophy permeates Steiner schools;

“The Department for Education says that they have gained assurances from the four state schools that they don’t/won’t teach anthroposophy, and the Academies themselves repeatedly make this claim when challenged.

However, these responses misunderstand the place of anthroposophy in the schools. Like all pedagogies, anthroposophy is not taught directly to students and parents even in private schools, many of whom will never have heard of it: instead, anthroposophy informs what the teachers teach.”

They then give evidence of how anthroposophy is indeed present in all Steiner schools, no matter how they are funded.

Just to outline some of the areas of concern, headings include; science curriculum, exam results, homeopathy, vaccinations, racism, faith schools, human rights implications, Key stage 1 exemptions, and “just how did Steiner schools gain state funding?”

This last question goes back to the Woods report of 2005. The BHA says; “The document was written by known supporters of Steiner schools, including Glenys Woods, who has in the past been part of the anthroposophical movement…”

And this on Free Schools;

“How Michael Gove and the DfE’s Free Schools team came to support Steiner schools

Michael Gove: Central to understanding how Michael Gove came to support Steiner schools are the Rees-Mogg family. Emma Craigie is daughter of former Times editor William Rees-Mogg, sister of Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and sister of 2010 Conservative parliamentary candidate for Somerton and Frome, Annunziata Rees-Mogg (a constituency which includes Bruton). Craigie worked for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, including in getting the Hereford Academy open.

In May 2009, Annunziata invited Michael Gove to Bruton to visit the Meadow Steiner School, with Emma also present. Subsequently to this, in July, Gove announced his support for Steiner schools gaining state funding, saying that ‘it was his visit to Somerset that had persuaded him of the potential benefits of allowing parents to choose a Steiner education.”

In addition there is information about how each of the three state-funded Steiner schools came into existence – the first, Hereford Steiner Academy, under Labour.

The BHA concludes;

“We are deeply concerned about the state funding of Steiner schools, in particular due to the pseudoscientific nature of the curriculum, the alternative medicine used by the schools, and the opting out of vaccinations. We are also worried by notions that Michael Gove overruled the Free Schools team on this matter. We will be pushing for the release of the document detailing that investigation, and hope to provoke further public debate on the matter.”

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2 comments

  1. Helen

    Are “Steiner schools’ commercial interests” really more important than parents’ rights to know exactly what the Free Schools team thought of Steiner schools, and why the DfE are so reluctant to release these documents?

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