Guardian article on “extremism” of Steiner education

Earlier in the week an article in the Guardian analysed the government’s attitude to the schools involved in the ”Trojan Horse” inquiry in Birmingham, where 21 schools were investigated for alleged religious extremism, and their “support for, and secrecy over, Steiner schools”.

The reporter, Laura McInerny has been campaigning for some time for the right to see information relating to free school bids (I wrote about this before). She pointed out that decisions on local authority schools were made openly in the days before free schools.

This recent Guardian article seems to question the seriousness of the claims against the Birmingham schools and contrasts the way these schools have been investigated with the way the approval of Steiner schools has been kept secret.

McInerny reminds us that the British Humanist Association made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to have the documents relating to state-funding for Steiner schools released, but that this has been refused. A tribunal was held last week but the results will not be known for another few weeks.

She is critical of Steiner education for its promotion of the idea of reincarnation, the eurythmy lessons, the way some Steiner schools do not offer vaccinations, and the narrow range of GCSEs offered.

All these criticisms are valid. However she states that Steiner schools “are now distanced from Steiner himself”. This is indeed the claim put out by those in charge of Steiner education, but the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship and the Steiner teacher training *qualification* desired by the schools make sure that there will never be a distance from Steiner. Any school wishing to distance itself from anthroposophy will not be allowed to use the name Steiner.

It is good to see the problems with Steiner education highlighted in the national press, but what a shame this appears to have been combined with an effort to minimise those detected in the Birmingham schools. There are plenty of concerns with the way decisions are made about which schools should be approved, and the monitoring of those schools once open; a transparent and clear policy should be in place.

The more the Steiner movement is put under the spotlight the better, as fewer parents and children will suffer through signing up to a system they know little about, and this article should help to inform those who may be deciding on a school.

McInerny says on extremism “…the line of acceptability is not only blurred but purposely hidden behind legal lines.” She hopes that the judge will rule in the right way on the FOI request, and if so we will soon know a lot more about how the DfE decides what kind of state-funded education is acceptable.





  1. Steve

    I was disappointed by the guardian article as, to me, it tried to minimise the problems with the Birmingham schools to complaints about tombolas and bank accounts that didn’t charge interest, while elevating Steiner schools to the rank of extremism. There are definite problems with Steiner, but it don’t think the term extremist fits. Trojan horse however, does perfectly, especially as our own experience shows when it comes to children’s wellbeing: how can schools claim to offer a “safe, peaceful, natural learning haven”, while leaving bullying unchecked?

    I have issues with the vaccination debate: if the parents were going to vaccinate their kids, they would’ve been long before the children reached a school – any school. Steiner schools attract alternative parents and a good percentage of those don’t believe in vaccination, so it stands to reason that many (most?) kids at Steiner aren’t vaccinated, but not because the school disuades anyone from getting injections. It’s a little like a company saying they have no need to optimise they website for Mac because according to their analytics only PCs access their pages.

    • Helen

      Oh oh oh… vaccination is a huge issue.

      We agree on the article Steve, although I would say some Steiner activities are extreme – you highlight the bullying – surely allowing children to “work out their karma” in this way counts as extreme if we use it in the way Laura McInerny uses it, as extremely different from the norm. If it is taken to relate to terrorism as it often does in the media these days, then clearly it is inappropriate.

      On vaccination, I think many Steiner parents are influenced by anthroposophy without even realising it; for instance two letters to the local papers recently, by different Steiner people, have been “anti-vax”, but you wouldn’t know their association with the movement because they don’t mention it.
      Many parents first encounter the Steiner movement through mother and baby groups or kindergarten with very young children. They don’t know that the reason for non-vaccination is “karma” and hindrance of spiritual development.
      Some parents are wary of vaccination because of stories around scares, as indeed I was until our GP assured me there was no risk associated with a particular disease we have experience of in the family.
      Unless you really believe that alternative health therapies are sufficient protection from potentially devastating diseases like measles, or have some specific religious or spiritual reason, or have been influenced by a scare, it is difficult to understand why anyone would risk their family’s health by living in an unvaccinated community.

      • Steve

        Hi Helen

        Re the article, I had to look up the definition of extremism in various places, and they all state that this is mostly about political or religious matters. I know some think anthroposophy and Steiner schools are a religion, but they did win a case against them in the States recently which ruled that they aren’t. But yes I agree, as would most parents I trust, that teachers looking on while kids get bullied, is not normal behaviour, not to mention damaging and potentially traumatic. It certainly was for our whole family.

        And then you have a journalist for The Times no less, who said this about me after I’d written to him: “shame that one-off experience in one Steiner school in NZ has led him to trying to distort everyone else’s view of Steiner.” When I asked him if he considered ignoring all the other evidence I gave him but focussing solely on what happened to my family while talking to a known propagandist was journalism, he said “yes I do actually”.

        I guess I’m not ready to jump on that Steiner anti-vax bandwagon just yet either :)

        I’m pretty certain that there are magnitudes of people around the world who don’t vaccinate who also don’t go to a Steiner school or even know of their existence. I’d love to read those anti-vax articles you mention though. How do you know they’re from Steiner people?

        I would agree that many people can be influenced by anthroposophy without realising it; heck the wife of a trustee of the school we put our kids in told us she didn’t know anything about anthroposophy. Yet there she was, with her son in that school.

        It’s also possible that parents encounter Steiner folk outside of school in baby groups and could be influenced by them as you mentioned, but I fear that link to be too tenuous and speculative: those people would fall under the umbrella of being “alternative” and could’ve made their decision based on numerous different factors.

        Many do believe alternative therapies are sufficient. From my limited experience, it’s from fear and rumours about the dangers of vax and potential harmful side-effects, not to mention incompetent and dangerous doctors. These rumours are very strong and I don’t believe they have anything to do with Steiner. For instance, there was a measles “epidemic” in Wales last year with Swansea as its epicentre. There is no Steiner school in Swansea ;)

        (I put epidemic in inverted commas because the media do like to create panic: the moment they had one suspected death, that was the end of it being a weeks-long media front page assault. Reminded me of the bird flu panic a few years back with the media tracking its approach to the UK. The moment it “reached our shores”, the media lost interest. You would’ve thought in both cases this was the moment to write a lot more on the subject to warn and look after people.)

  2. Jim

    I thought the article was on the whole quite fair. Steiner gets so little criticism in the national press I’m glad to see it get some exposure.

    The comparison with the alleged extremist schools also seems appropriate. I have no time for any religious extremism but it is by no means certain that these schools were any worse than some of the Christian fundamentalist schools that Gove and his acolytes encourage. Or Steiner schools. What was their crime? Teaching pseudoscience and not equipping pupils to join modern British society?

    • Helen

      If there are governors in other non-faith free schools influencing the way the school operates according to say, Catholic or Plymouth Brethren doctrine, (or any Christian sect) then I hope they will be investigated too.

  3. Jim

    Spotted today in Stroud farmers market – a stall promoting the orgone theory of Wilhelm Reich, another of the 1930s nut-jobs that new agers love so much.

    It is good to see someone attempting to outdo the Steiners for loopiness but it’s quite a challenge. On the other hand Reich did at least give us one good song ( Cloudbusting – Kate Bush ) which is more than can be said for Steiner.

    Unless of course anyone out there knows otherwise…………….

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