The British Humanist Association (BHA) has reported that for the first time the government has provided it with the names, locations and religions of Free School applicants prior to deciding which to open.
The Department for Education has in the past preferred to keep this information secret, but has been forced to release it under the freedom of information act. The BHA say
Before the Free Schools programme it was always the case that the public knew who was applying to set up schools locally before any decisions about the proposals were taken. The fact that in recent years this has not been the case has represented a serious democratic deficit and we are pleased that this is starting to be rectified.
Out of a total of 148 applications in this 8th wave, 41 are religious or pseudoscientific, and among the 41 are three Steiner schools, including one in Stroud now known as “Stroud Academy”. The BHA explains the name change from “Steiner Academy Five Valleys”, and links to the story in the Gloucester citizen for this information, stating that the reason was the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship’s (SWSF) decision that the bid did not meet its criteria. It had previously been reported in the Stroud Life that the decision to drop the word Steiner was due to the unwillingness on the part of the team to pay SWSF fees of up to £30,000.
We may never know the real reason, since the “team” have never been up front about their activities. They did not admit they had changed the name until three weeks after the application deadline, and then only because Stroud Life asked Tarra Gilder Rai, after I had alerted them to the name change.
All this misinformation surrounding the bid does not bode well, should the application for some extraordinary reason be successful; if the team cannot even give parents and other local people answers on these fundamental matters, how much will they find acceptable to keep secret in their future dealings with families?
The BHA suggest the name change may increase the chances of success;
“This may work in the group’s favour as other Steiner groups have concluded that as a result of recent controversies the DfE is no longer approving Steiner school proposals. Stroud Academy has been invited to interview.”
The fact that the proposed free school in Stroud no longer has Steiner in the title does not reassure me in the slightest. The group insist they will still teach the Steiner curriculum (how does this work with the exemptions from teaching reading and writing in the early years which are only afforded to official Steiner schools?) and the “mission” and “ ethos” will remain the same. They can still employ their unqualified teachers only trained in anthroposophy, and teach their pseudoscience, including eurythmy. Those unemployed teachers from the Steiner school in Aberdeen which closed down rather than change its anthroposophical ways are probably still looking for jobs.
I shudder to think where Stroud Academy would be looking for its teachers, should it get the green light in the next few weeks.
The BHA report makes grim reading for anyone concerned about the number of religious schools being approved under the free schools and academies programme. A Plymouth Brethren school is on the list. These schools (Focus schools) are inspected by the same body as Steiner schools, the SIS, and the reasons for rejection could apply equally to Steiner schools;
One application for an Exclusive Brethren school (East Anglian Primary Academy in Norfolk). Proposals from the Exclusive Brethren have invariably been rejected due to concerns about community isolationism and the teaching of creationism as science and as a result have largely ceased.
The Plymouth Brethren (PB) are open about their beliefs, providing links to their church website where parents can learn that children may only eat and drink with certain people (according to the “doctrine of separation”) and that tv and radio “have become pipelines of filth”.
The isolationism and creationism in Steiner schools may be more subtle, but they certainly exist, and if they were as open about their beliefs as the PB they would have been similarly unsuccessful in their attempts to open free schools.