Tilda Swinton’s Steiner school

There have only been a couple of investigations into Steiner businesses that have done more than skim the surface of what goes on. BBC southwest did an interesting report on the Frome Steiner Academy, and last year a Newsnight report uncovered some of the accounts of bullying resulting from the belief in karma.

The majority of stories however take the Steiner movement at face value – that goes for Camphill, biodynamics and Steiner schools.

The latest is a report in yesterday’s Observer on a Steiner school the actor Tilda Swinton has helped to found in Scotland so that her children can have a kind of non-education; this is provided by principal teacher Krzysztof Zajaczkowski, formerly of Botton, who does not appear to be a qualified teacher, counts Bothmer Gym as one of his specialisms, and is described as working class, presumably to stop readers presuming this kind of education could be elitist. The local Moray Steiner school only took children up to the age of 14 so an upper school was required to “provide schooling without the stress of tests”.

The reporter Aaron Hicklin accompanied a group from the school on their annual trip to Colonsay, where the main purpose according to Tilda was “chillaxing”, and based his report on this. His obvious enjoyment of the trip and the impression made on him by the Swinton style of parenting resulted in a complete avoidance of any examination of what Steiner education means – he probably never heard the word anthroposophy. The principal teacher clearly knows all about it, but perhaps keeps that information to himself; for example the reasons for the flashmob style javelin throwing and the lack of football is not mentioned. Merely this remark;

(Competitive sports are generally frowned upon within the Steiner system, but exceptions are made for those associated with the ancient Olympics.)

There are anthroposophical reasons for this but they pass Hicklin and his readers by.

There is one quote from Steiner about freedom, and a mention of the “individuality” Hicklin thinks is encouraged in Steiner schools – he seems to have swallowed the SWSF propaganda leaflet whole.

“Meeting the emergent future” is a phrase used more than once on the school website, and relates to reincarnation in anthroposophy. Indeed Steiner followers see the future incarnations of the children in their care as predominantly important –  the ethos page of the Drumduan website mentions; the ability to get a job comes well down the list of priorities.

This newish school is not officially Steiner but Moray Steiner school most certainly is, and the Drumduan website contains the usual derogatory description of mainstream education where they say children  “sit at desks for much of the day at school for over ten years”.

Tilda Swinton’s privileged children and those of the other parents who pay to send their children to Drumduan may get by without any qualifications on leaving school, but what about children who do not have the connections to make their lives easier in the real world?

The real story is not about a small group of school children enjoying fish and chips on their school trip, but about the clear and present danger of education based on anthroposophy.



  1. Steve

    Good report, Helen. I noticed the Observer PR piece on Sunday. It actually came hot off the heels of another Guardian article about how wonderful it is for children in Steiner schools not to use modern technology – http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/23/screen-time-v-play-time-what-tech-leaders-wont-let-their-own-kids-do

    It’s hardly any surprise really, since the subject matter is a complex one, and most journalists don’t have much time to do proper investigations on the matter, but it’s quite unfair to state that there “have only been a couple of investigations into Steiner businesses that have done more than skim the surface of what goes on.”

    Indeed, Alison Campsie’s article in the “Press and Journal” went into great detail about all the complaints of unchecked bullying at Aberdeen Waldorf School – https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/uncategorized/45430/dossier-of-fears-over-private-school/

    A Swiss piece in “20 minutes” revealed how a parent accused the Rudolf Steiner Schule Aargau of being a violent cult – http://www.20min.ch/ro/news/suisse/story/16361886

    Mareesa Nicosia, at “The Lohud – the Journal News”, exposed the allegations of sexual abuse at Green Bay Waldorf School – allegations incidentally, which we were able to link to Grégoire Perra’s account, showing that the blurring of the boundaries which happened at that school may well be part of how the Steiner pedagogy works: http://www.steinermentary.com/SM/USA-GreenMeadow.html

    There’s also Catherine Woulfe’s exposé in “The Listener” on allegations of racism at Te Ra Waldorf School, which also revealed how the Steiner community vilified people who dare to raise issues – http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/education/fairy-tale-fallout/

    Back in 2011, Neil Sears of the “Daily Mail” reported on Jo Sawfoot’s Employment Tribunal case against the Norwich Initiative Steiner School after they hurt her child, lied to social services, and fired her – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2016998/Assault-pupil-6-cost-Steiner-school-100-000.html

    Of course, there’s our own experience which culminated with the first Human Rights Settlement Agreement with a Steiner School, which exposes how the school knew about the horrendous bullying our child was going through but preferred to expel her and her sisters rather than do anything about it – http://www.titirangisteinermessenger.com

    This actually made the front page – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10869700, was reported on the radio – http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2548470/battle-with-rudolf-steiner-school – and primetime TV – http://tvnz.co.nz/seven-sharp/parents-fought-school-over-bullying-video-5363125

    Steiner PR is very powerful and oh so attractive, so while we should continuously highlight when journalists blatantly just repeat the fairy tale without bothering to scratch the surface, we shouldn’t forget all the reporters who haven’t been afraid to buck the trend and focus on the very concerning problems which we all work to expose.

    We should celebrate the fact that it’s much more than “only a couple of investigations”.

  2. Jim

    I suppose we should bear in mind that as it appeared in the Observer magazine it should be viewed as a “celebrity lifestyle” piece rather than a serious article on education, not that those are generally more insightful.

    What is annoying is that Swinton, as well as being a good actor, is generally intelligent and articulate and so lends this nonsense more credibility than it deserves. It’s not like the involvement of Tom Cruise and John Travolta with Scientology – their half witted rants do their cause more harm than good, but I’m guessing that they were recruited more for their money than their intellects. Ditto Vanessa Redgrave and the Workers Revolutionary Party – great actor but can’t string a sentence together let alone an argument.

    Why do they feel the need for a “cause”? Part of it in Swinton’s case is supposed to be the urge to stay connected with ordinary life. So ordinary in fact that whilst filming abroad she once caught a flight back to Scotland so as to not miss her shift on the school’s cleaning rota. I imagine that cost rather more than employing a local cleaner, even on minimum wage.

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