What the DfE tried to hide

The documents the Department for Education didn’t want us to see have been released. They relate to the decision to approve Steiner education for state-funding.

The DfE refused to hand them over under a Freedom of Information request from the British Humanist Association in 2012 even after the Information Commissioner ruled that they should. The matter went to a tribunal and as a result the documents have finally been made public.

Why were they kept secret from people wanting to find out about Steiner education?  They reveal systematic bullying and racism within existing Steiner schools, concerns about childrens’ learning, complaints from parents at many different schools, and evidence about how anthroposophy is used in Steiner schools.

The public, parents, should have been informed about these issues.

One of the frightening aspects to surface in these documents is that back in 2010 the DfE was intent on keeping the information to itself, whilst at the same time trying to assess the amount of criticism in the public domain, and the likelihood of parents going public with their complaints;

“We cannot reliably establish the extent of the anti-Steiner movement, and have only seen materials provided by dissatisfied parents. Officials have received several emails since the meeting, from the two parents and others, asking for assurances that the Secretary of State has seen the materials they provided and what decisions have been made on funding any Steiner Free Schools. Given their interest and the fact they have met officials from the Department, it seems likely that they will contact the media if a Steiner Free School is announced.”

Of course the main reason criticism has not been high profile is because of threats from some within the Steiner movement, and examples of victimisation of critics by Steiner proponents of almost unimaginable cruelty. Quite simply, families who leave are frightened to go public because of reprisals.


The purpose of the second document “HANDLING PRESENTATIONAL RISKS” was to note

“… the key points contained in parental complaints to officials about Steiner schools, the accompanying presentational risks of approving Steiner Free School proposals, and a corresponding handling plan.”

The “plan” was to try to minimise the problems reported by parents. Under the heading “Lines to take” the DfE decided to

  • Say they believe what the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) state on their website about distancing themselves from Steiner’s racist writings  – the DfE were shown evidence that racism is inherent in anthroposophy
  • Say they believe the SWSF’s claims that they will not “promote or endorse anthroposophy” this is not true.
  • Claim that each Steiner school is different – not true; teachers are still trained in anthroposophy and the SWSF insists on eurythmy and child study.
  • Stress the importance of choice in education – uninformed choice, since important information about criticism is being kept from parents
  • Stress that Free schools and Academies will be accountable to Ofsted – Steiner have been allowed exemptions from the normal criteria Ofsted use.


The details of the complaints the DfE had received from parents before a decision on state-funding was made make horrific reading .

These include unchecked bullying, teacher training manuals linking bullying and karma, assaults by teachers including spitting, and sexual innuendo by one teacher towards children who were then encouraged by the school to take flowers and gifts to the teacher’s home. They were also told about the secretive approach in Steiner to what takes place in class.

All this information was in the hands of the DfE and yet still Michael Gove’s department took the decision to allow state-funding for Steiner schools. People have been wondering how this happened ever since.

After listing the ways Steiner education fails to measure up to normal standards, including literacy, and mentioning that Ofsted had been unwilling to support exemptions, the DfE go on to acknowledge;

“In addition to concerns around the Steiner pedagogical approach, there is also a handling/presentation risk given the racist and anti-Semitic nature of some of Rudolph Steiner’s writings. “.

They state;

“Regardless of the Fellowship’s public stance on anthroposophy, any perceived endorsement by the Department of such a philosophy may attract unfavourable media attention. Officials are also in receipt of correspondence from concerned parents who had placed their children in Steiner schools, citing teaching staff’s affirmation of anthroposophy, a fatalistic approach to illiteracy in some children, and a refusal to respond to complaints about allegedly racist conduct by staff.”

Interesting the DfE notice that the SWSF have a “public stance on anthroposophy” – does this imply they realise there may be another less public stance?

It is difficult to accept that the DfE do believe the disclaimers by the SWSF they were so keen to publicise as part of their “plan”. In these documents they acknowledge receipt of information from critics, and this information was extremely detailed and comprehensive in its illustration of how anthroposophy is used in schools. Government officers were shown children’s workbooks with drawings detailing Steiner’s views on astrology and reincarnation. They cannot claim ignorance on these matters.

The “plan” was a plan to deceive the public, and this is why the DfE fought so hard to keep these documents secret.

Read the documents here. They are fairly concise and easy to understand. That is probably another reason the DfE fought hard – the failure to protect the public from the dangers of Steiner education are plain to see.




    • Helen

      Kevin Avison, compliler of the infamous Handbook for Waldorf Class Teachers and senior adviser to the SWSF features in the TES report. He is quoted
      “…Rudolf Steiner’s views had to be seen in the context of the time [the early 20th century] and did not reflect the movement’s current approach.”
      In that case, why does his teaching guide contain so many references to Steiner’s work? There are instructions about using one’s angel to go over the day’s events (page 22), the spiritual content of the curriculum,(page 18) using Steiner’s temperaments to do Child study (page 47), cosmic and earthly incarnations (page 24) looking towards the 6th post Atlantean epoch, “the esoteric community which is the true heart of the Waldorf school” (page 19)- the book is full of Steiner’s words and “wisdom”. Kevin Avison even urges teachers to read Steiner’s book “Occult Science” for reference.
      His handbook is in current use and recently reprinted to supply the demand. Anyone who hasn’t seen a copy should do so. It has to be seen to believed.

  1. we escaped!

    If anyone gets the opportunity to watch last nights (31st July) Newsnight, very interesting viewing! You may be able to view it online or BBC iplayer.
    Can’t believe we sent our child to one of these places.
    I love the way these people who refer to complaints as allegations! It does happen in steiner schools-it happened to us! They do not follow policies and they do not keep records!
    Thankfully we have lots and lots of evidence to support our allegations. ..

    • Jim

      Do you think the Steiner spokeswoman in the studio had to get a special exemption to wear a black dress?
      Seriously, although time was too limited and the BHA speaker was outnumbered it was good to get an airing. I think it may be the first serious discussion of the issue on TV. And the denials from the Steiner side were just too glib.

    • Helen

      I did see Newsnight. The Steiner movement choose their representatives *very* carefully, and this programme showed they are good at it.
      However as Jim says, the denials are too glib; to flatly deny these problems still occur was too much to take. We KNOW it is still going on – the same old problems keep arising, well into the 21st century.

  2. thegirlinthefireplace82

    Me too Helen, as soon as I saw her I had my doubts about her and wondered if she was perhaps an actress. She may of course also have a child at a steiner school, but who knows, if she does she was very well chosen for TV! I had a short conversation with Andrew Copson (BHA CEO and rep on Newsnight) on twitter, and he was very disappointed that he didn’t get much time on air and that a parent was sent instead of a real representative. I told him I doubted they would send a real representative, as you said, they are very careful who they put out there. I’m just pleased these issues finally got some air time in the public eye, it may not have been perfect but at least it gets it out there! It’s a start ☺

    • Helen

      Yes it is a good start, as you say. I thought Robert Peston’s reaction was great – didn’t he at one point ask Frances Russell “aren’t you worried about being part of an organisation such as Steiner?”

  3. Jim

    I believe to spokesperson put up in the studio was the business manager of the Greenwich Steiner school, and also legal advisor. Hence well trained in avoiding the issue and denying the evidence.

    • Helen

      Actually I think denying the evidence was a big mistake. It made her much less credible. same with Sylvie Sklan – as if there was no criticism at all and it was all made up. Perhaps that is their only defence now that the cat is out of the bag.

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