A school “free from” Steiner?

The Stroud News and Journal this week features prominently a letter from the headteacher of a local school in support of the Steiner free School initiative.

There is a large colour photograph of Mr Whiting and the heading “Steiner school pioneers deserve the best of luck”.

Graeme Whiting is head of the Acorn school in Nailsworth and says “the planned school is a testament to the courage of those sensitive, hardworking and motivated parents who are pioneering the idea”.

The main purpose of his letter however, seems to be to “make it clear that the Acorn School…is not a member of the Steiner Waldorf  Schools Fellowship”, and has “only some elements of the Steiner system in the lower school”.

This is an odd way to frame his letter; to publicly support the plans and at the same time to be anxious to distance himself and his school from the SWSF.

Steiner organisations have had some bad press in the area recently, with pub takeovers, a poor Ofsted report and planning permission transgressions.

The Acorn school website makes almost no reference to Steiner at all, although a thorough search does reveal that when Mr Whiting set up the school he had “recently left a Steiner school”. There are a couple of references to spirituality if you look hard, and a blog where articles show some unusual approaches to education.

Steiner free school groups usually make out (some members of the team may believe this to be true) that their schools will be along the lines of this kind of education, containing alternative elements for parents who are disenchanted with or mistrust mainstream schools. (Although some of the tight discipline found in this school would probably not appeal to the kind of parents who are setting up the Bristol Steiner Academy, for example, who say they want their children to be free from the constraints of strict rules).

The reason Mr Whiting has the freedom to run his school “based on the Acorn Education model“ which he devised himself, is because he has no involvement with the SWSF; no Eurythmy, no astrology, no reincarnation, no temperaments or Bothmer gym (as far as I can tell).

The Steiner Free schools on the other hand, in order to bear the Steiner name, must comply with the requirements of the SWSF which are to be found on their website here.

The requirements still set out the need for Eurythmy, Child Study and “teacher development” (Steiner-style) such as attending courses at the Easter Conferences. The schools as members of the SWSF will be bound by these rules.

I find Mr Whiting’s support for the planned free school strange when he is at such pains to distinguish himself and his school from the very belief system – anthroposophy- that the free schools must embrace. He has found elements of the Steiner system distasteful and unhelpful enough to exclude them from his “model”, and recognises that it is the SWSF who are the controlling influence of Steiner schools.

In this case why does he say the team deserve the best of luck? In the opinion of those who disapprove of anthroposophy as the foundation of a school their efforts if successful will be a serious threat to the welfare of children and their families..





  1. Nick Nakorn

    I think Steiner supports have a large number of ways of expanding the Anthro empire and one is to run a Steiner School that isn’t a Steiner school officially but nevertheless promotes the same or similar values; either way, Anthroposophical principles are further spread and further normalised. It’s a bit like Unilever having competing brands in the same company – Surf will say they’re better and differnt from Persil and vice verca but it’s still the same old soap.

  2. Helen

    It would be interesting to know how many of these unofficial Steiner schools there are, and exactly which bits of the creed they adopt, and which they reject.

  3. Jim

    The Acorn School has established a London spin off, with Graeme Whiting as a director. But if there are many similar schools they will be difficult to identify as they are not explicitly Steiner. The Stroud Steiner free school website does identify Acorn as one of the Steiner or Steiner inspired schools in the area so whatever their differences they appear not to be acrimonious.

    The local Nailsworth website has some comment portraying the head teacher as rather arrogant – I’ve no idea if that is fair as part of the dispute seems to be over parking, which can be an issue with any school. However it does seem to fit some aspects of what you can read about the school. The teaching practice seems to be of his own devising, following Steiner more closely in the early years. Apparently they sit no state exams at all because he regards them as bureaucratic meddling. He closed the schools kindergarten because he was refused an exemption from the EYFS. But the latest OFSTED report does rate them as outstanding.

    I suppose it might be possible to adopt some Steiner educational practice whilst rejecting all the theory but if he is such a Steiner heretic why support the free school proposal? Very odd.

  4. Graeme Whiting

    I would like to make it absolutely clear to readers that it is possible to support an initiative without embracing all of its core principles; in respect of free schools, the core principles includes the choice to be government controlled, a requirement of registration. What I applaud in the newly planned free school, is the courage of those who wish to choose the education they want for their children, who are prepared to fight for it! The government seems only prepared to sanction the use of public money for those who wish to set up free schools, that they (the state) have financial control over, but deny free education to those who choose to give their children an education without any government controls. I stand for the right of every parent to choose the education they feel is appropriate for their children, preparing them for the world of the future, no matter what the family’s financial situation. I support Steiner education, but I do not uphold it in its entirety as it manifests itself in today’s world.

    • Helen

      Graeme – I still don’t understand why you support this free school bid- is it simply because it is a free school? You say the parents want “the choice to be government controlled” – no, they want free Steiner education. They either support anthroposophy or they don’t really know what it is (I am still not sure which) and don’t want to pay to send their children to a nearby Steiner school.
      Would you support any crank free school group who apply and “fight”, or just Steiner?

      You support Steiner education. Why?- And which bits do you not uphold?

      Yes it is possible to support Steiner, but is it ethical, given what we know about the way the SWSF insist they use anthroposophy on children?

    • Jim

      Graeme – I have two points of issue with you. First, I do not accept that parents have an absolute right to choose the education they feel is appropriate for their children. Children are not the property of their parents to be shaped and moulded in whatever way they choose. Nor of course are they the property of the state to be trained up as “ideal citizens” ie docile labour. So it is a tricky balance but to suggest that education should be free from any government control is absurd. Would you have children given less protection even than a battery hen?
      Secondly, whilst I agree that it is possible to support something without endorsing all of its core principles it is hard to see how this can apply to Steiner education. So for example I can accept that some might adopt biodynamic farming as merely a sort of “super organic” without taking on any of the nonsense behind it. In the case of education we might agree on the benefits of delaying the start of formal education and drastically reducing the amount of testing. But the problem would be that if you left out all the objectionable and pseudo-scientific underpinnings of Steiner education there would be nothing distinctively Steiner left.
      I believe you describe your school as “Steiner influenced”. It would really help understand what this means if you answered Helen’s question about which bits you support and which you reject.

      • Nick Nakorn

        Indeed Jim, but even the use of the name is enough to raise alarm bells. While many Biodynamic growers really only want the label so they can charge a hell of a lot more for their product, I think a great many more actually believe the woo, and if they only wanted ‘super-organic’ they could forego the Biodynamic label and simply call themselves organic. I agree though that in the case of Steiner education, its almost impossible to think of anyone adopting the label without a belief in the system. If it is only one aspect of the system being admired then why bother with the label?

        So Graeme, I too want to know which aspects of Steiner’s system do you find superior to other forms of education and which do you reject? What would be a deal breaker for a Free School? Would a English Defence League school or a BNP school be acceptable to you?

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