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..