Steiner Academy Exeter – Requires Improvement

Steiner Academy Exeter was recently inspected by Ofsted and the report has been published.

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The school has been judged as “requiring improvement”, with particular concerns about behaviour, the quality of teaching and the leadership and management of the school. Out of the five criteria for assessment all are unsatisfactory except the Early Years provision;

Leadership and management Requires improvement
Behaviour and safety of pupils Requires improvement  
Quality of teaching Requires improvement
Achievement of pupils Requires improvement
Early years provision Good

The findings are not surprising in view of what parents have been saying for months about bullying, lack of discipline and the attitude of the “leadership team” to issues raised by parents. This state funded school is one where

“… policies underpinning safeguarding in the academy including safer recruitment, anti-bullying, special educational needs and child protection do not meet current statutory guidance.”

Achievent of pupils is of particular concern;

“Achievement in mathematics is broadly two years behind students of comparable ages in other settings,”

but although “students are generally making better progress in English than in mathematics”.

The most able students lack techniques for writing effectively across a range of genre …[and show]…little progress in using correct grammar and punctuation over the year.

The principal Alan Swindell is an anthroposophist who has spent his working life in the Steiner movement and thinks there is nothing wrong with a school based on a bizarre cult and making out there is nothing for parents to worry about. On the school website, the meet the team page provides a list of staff members and their qualifications. Two of the five class teachers on the list are qualified, with one of those an RE specialist. Where are the details for classes four and five? I don’t know. The other teachers have all been trained in anthroposophy and may well be previously known to Alan Swindell who was involved in Steiner teacher training, according to his biography.

Some parents who choose Steiner schools are aware that the quality of teaching in academic subjects will not be a priority and are willing to overlook this in return for what they see as the education of the “whole child” – a so-called holistic education. Yet even in these areas the Exeter Academy has been found to be providing an inadequate education;

“…there is little coverage of other cultures, their way of life and religious practices in the curriculum which limits students’ preparation for life as global citizens.”

In a bizarre statement about democracy;

Students understand about British democracy. Despite a strong commitment in lessons and at other times to hear the views of students, there is no formal democratic structure for securing their participation in academy improvement”

Not a democratic school, then. Another significant problem is that

Attendance is well below national averages and persistent absence is high.

Even by Steiner standards this school is underperforming.

This information shows that students’ attainment against the Steiner-Waldorf end-of-year expectations is below where it should be.

This report together with the quotes form parents in the local press amounts to a tragic failure by the government to provide a decent standard of education for the children of parents who thought Steiner education seemed like a good idea.

My own opinion on the reason why this school was not put into special measures as a result of this report is that the task of lifting the academy out of its difficulties is too difficult and bewildering to contemplate. With a Principal who has spiritual science as his guiding light and staff who fully endorse this worldview, how on earth do the Department for Education start to tackle these problems? The DfE may only now be realising what they are dealing with.

As a school requiring improvement the Academy will be inspected again within two years. Big deal. In the meantime the parents who are not familiar with anthroposophy and now wish they had never heard of Steiner look for ways to minimise the damage to their children’s progress.

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6 comments

  1. gperra

    Reblogged this on La Vérité sur les écoles Steiner-Waldorf and commented:
    Inspection révélatrice dans une école Steiner-Waldorf anglaise, avec publication du rapport. Quand l’Education Nationale Française aura-t-elle le me courage de rendre publics ses rapports d’inspections des écoles Steiner-Waldorf sous contrat ?

  2. MarkHayes

    I’ve been wondering whether to post this because I don’t generally believe that people should have things they’ve written several years ago held against them. However, I do think this is now relevant in the light of the Ofsted report and the dismissive way in which current families having problems at the school have been handled. There is a short article written by Alan Swindell, the Academy’s principal, in the SWSF newsletter from Spring 2011: http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/?ddownload=289 , “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, or Friends in Disguise?”, in which he discusses Steiner criticism and how the movement responds to it.

    Swindell writes in colourful rhetoric of malevolently grinning virtual cats and the lack of engagement with critics, except for a thinly veiled threat of legal action. Critics usually start as enthralled parents or enthused employees. Going public with their bad experiences is a brave, last resort and meant as a warning to others. Sadly, it seems that some things never change.

    Quite simply, this is what happens when a school with an obscure and malign philosophical/religious foundation targets families who don’t share their beliefs.

    • Nick Nakorn

      I’ve just read it Mark and what struck me is the tone of dismissal of critics’ concerns while saying that Steiner teaching students benefit from such criticism. The admission that the Steiner-Waldorf policy is not to engage with critics and to give the impression that we are the mad ones (have they not read their own materials?!) is not at all surprising. But the interesting thing is that the article does not deal with any of the issues and, as usual, gas-lights the critics. Part of me wants to excuse the Steiner advocates because they seem so unable to answer simple questions but part of me is furious that they are so confident in their system of belief that they will not deal with basic issues like rationality and racism. One feels for the parents and students who, later in life, might realise how deficient has been their introduction to what Steiner’s Anthroposophy really means.

  3. Jim

    Could the reason for the school avoiding special measures be that no one at Ofsted knows what measures ( short of closure ) would be appropriate for a Steiner school?

  4. Mike G

    If you actually read the content of the report it is fairly clear that if this was a mainstream school it would have been graded Inadequate – not having safeguarding policies in place, Students two years behind in Maths, little coverage of other cultures, no agreed way to teach, poor behaviour not dealt with. This begs the question as to why it wasn’t given an inadequate – as a previous comment says maybe they don’t know what to suggest, but being cynical may I suggest that an Inadequate would have gained national headlines and given the DFE a lot of explaining to do…. and Ofsted are trying not to pick arguments with the government at the moment.

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