If the free school group really are determined to press ahead with their plan despite the rejection of their bid yesterday by the DfE, then we must press ahead too.
In the local media yesterday (Stroud Life) our MP Neil Carmichael was quoted as saying he has taken a neutral position on the subject of the proposed Steiner school, and that it is a question of “capacity and existing provision” whatever that means.
Over the past few months I have had one “MP in the pub chat” and three subsequent appointments with Mr Carmichael where we discussed the proposal.
In the pub he was candid about his personal views on Steiner education, but on every occasion he has stuck to the party line that free schools provide choice and are therefore unquestionably a “good thing”. The fact that choice when provided with public money can only be a good thing if all the choices are valid does not seem to bother him.
At times I found Mr Carmichael’s attitude to be pretty rude and condescending, he even went so far as to wonder why I could possibly be concerned about schools in the area as my children are past school age. He enjoyed stating the obvious at length – I believe to fill up the allocated time for our appointment, and admonished me for interrupting. He obviously felt he had far more to teach me than the other way around. He also mislaid all the documents I provided for him including the Steiner Teacher’s Handbook, and clearly had not read any of them ( I did get these back in the end).
All this is pretty much what I expected, but the details I provided about Steiner practices and the use of anthroposophy did awaken some curiosity, as he arranged a visit for himself and his assistant to the Hereford Steiner Academy a few weeks ago, which was duly carried out.
He asked some of the questions I suggested, and met the principal and other staff. One of the Senior staff turned out to be an old acquaintance of his and the impression I got on speaking to him afterwards was that it was all rather chummy and Mr Carmichael was impressed with the overall appearance of the school (as I had suggested he would be – Steiner always impress with appearances). However he did not get satisfactory answers to questions he had asked about, as he put it, “witchcraft”. Apparently he was told that this depended on ”individual teachers interpretation of anthroposophy”.
All in all my impression is that Mr Carmichael will be pleased about the rejection of the proposal, and that in private he would not recommend anyone sending their child to a Steiner school, but that as our MP he will do nothing to try to protect the town from the menace of state-funded Steiner Education.
We cannot rely on the political parties to fight any future battle with us, except for David Drew and Labour locally. They seem to realise the serious nature of the opening of a school like this, if only on the grounds of cost and “need”.
Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary said the other day on free schools “It’s chaos, with free schools landing in the middle of nowhere”, but this doesn’t mean Labour intend to stop the free schools and academies programme.
A position of influence is gained through local politics, and it has only been through the issue of the free school that I have become aware of exactly how complicated and cowardly the wielding of such power can be on the quiet.
If there is a further attempt to open this school, I hope that anyone in a position of influence will inform themselves properly about Steiner practices and act responsibly by speaking up for Stroud families who do not deserve the imposition of this school.