Steiner education has gained some credibility over the last few years because the UK government has authorised four state-funded Steiner schools.
If the DfE approves it can’t be so bad, right?
Sadly not so.
The British Humanist Association highlighted the problems in a dossier called “concerns about the state-funding of Steiner education” earlier this year.
The first was the Steiner Academy Hereford, which opened in 2008 as one of the 203 sponsored Academies under Labour. So how did this happen?
In 2005 the government commissioned the “Woods report on Steiner schools”, written by known supporters of Steiner education including Glenys Woods who has in the past been part of the anthroposophical movement. The BHA point out that Glenys Woods’ website describes “her initiation as a priestess of Shekinah and of Divine mother Sophia , into the order of Lord Melchizadeck and the Violet Flame, as well as her training in Atlantean and crystal Reiki healing”…she is not an independent reporter.
The report is available to read online, and makes grim reading for anyone concerned about its use to provide information for the department for education.
The document describes the use of anthroposophy (Rudolf Steiner’s highly suspect belief system) in the schools, but does not explain the meaning of the terms used.
“The premise from which Steiner education starts is that “each human being comprises body, soul and spirit” (Rawson and Richter 2000: 14).
Education is meant to be part of the process whereby “the spiritual core of the person [strives] to come ever more fully to expression within and through the organism he or she has inherited and must individualise” (op. cit.: 7).”
Inherited? Yes, via reincarnation. Did they not think it necessary to point this out? Did no-one ask?
The report is fulsome in its praise of Steiner methods, but provides no independent study findings to back up the claims. Some of the studies used were conducted by supporters of the Steiner movement and anthroposophy, and the conclusions drawn do not accurately reflect the findings of the studies.
Recommendations are made on allowances that should be made for Steiner methods.
The negative aspects of Steiner education, such as
“Less than half thought that it encourages students to develop a sense of responsibility to the wider community.”
“the stories used throughout the Steiner curriculum are embedded within patriarchy and stories are interpreted in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes.”
are not examined because they “came from one small scale study” or because of the “limitations of the study”.
The recommendations for change include;
“[Steiner education] should disregard Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy as the source of accurate scientific concepts”.
This has not and will not happen. The Anthroposophists who run Steiner schools followers will not countenance the idea that Steiner’s indications were wrong. Once they start doing that, the whole edifice of Steiner schooling will begin to crumble. How could a “genius” and a “clairvoyant” possibly have been wrong?
Another challenge for the Steiner movement recognised in the report is the fact that “… relatively small proportions of staff in Steiner schools hold QTS (qualified teacher status).”
The recommendation (26) to deal with this challenge was as follows;
“Steiner schools to give consideration to increasing recruitment to their teacher training courses of teachers who already hold QTS from the maintained sector.”
This simply has not happened; the requirements for entry onto these courses are practically zero. The London Waldorf seminar requires only “education up to the age of 18”. No A levels, nothing. Most qualified teachers would not accept the kind of “training” provided by the Steiner movement, where anthroposophy trumps professional conduct, so there are few professional recruits; to be asked to categorise children according to the size of their head is not a professional way to behave.
I have difficulty in believing that anyone in power at the DfE read this report thoroughly or found about anthroposophy or the Steiner curriculum. It is simply not possible to read such nonsense about the “sacred task of the teacher” without smelling a rat.
The report’s authors on the one hand ask for ;
“Government to establish if action in relation to the law and regulations concerning religious education in maintained schools would be needed to ensure that religious education in Steiner schools could retain its distinctive character.”
And on the other for
“Steiner schools to devise and carry though a strategy for enhancing understanding amongst the general public and particular stakeholders (such as parents/carers, LEA officers and mainstream teachers) of Steiner education, including its foundation in anthroposophy and why it is not right to see it as a faith or dogma.”
Did no-one spot a problem here? Did no-one find out about the criticism of Steiner education? We know the DfE were given information about specific instances of problems caused by the use of anthroposophy in Steiner schools.
When the Steiner Academy Hereford was first proposed, the idea was opposed by most local people and by the local council, as the Guardian reported.
A local councillor said the government appeared determined to open a Steiner academy somewhere. He said he was told the government had a “diversity agenda”.
The school was located miles away from socially disadvantaged parts of the county, and a number of existing schools in need of replacement buildings were refused because of a lack of money.
The Steiner schools that have opened since under the free schools programme have done so despite opposition from local people, councils, health authorities and campaigners. The £6.6 million it costs to open each free school has been money wasted on so-called “choice” under an agenda of diversity, without due care being taken to establish the suitability of the Steiner system for children in this country.
It is a sorry tale of deception, incompetence, and disregard by successive governments to shoulder the responsibility to prevent harm to families.