Closure of St Christopher’s School, Bristol

This independent residential Steiner school in Bristol provides “education, care and therapy” for children with special educational needs (SEN) and is to close in March 2016.

Last night a SEN specialist interviewed on BBC Points West stated that the latest OFSTED inspection had resulted in a rating of “inadequate”. The findings of the report do not seem to be available yet.

This is not mentioned in the announcement from the Principal Michael Frosch on the school’s website, where he states that St Christopher’s has become economically unviable due to reducing referral numbers and changes to legislation and inspection standards.

I am reminded of the Steiner school in Aberdeen which closed because staff would not change their Steiner ways to comply with modern inspection standards.

Worryingly there is a plan to see if “the charity could re-establish itself”.

Why is this worrying?

Because the anthroposophical attitude to conditions such as Autism , where it is viewed as a consequence of karma is not a sound framework for education, care or therapy where vulnerable young children and adults are involved. This *special* Steiner view of learning difficulties is not widely publicised, and many supporters of Steiner schools and Camphill are not aware of it.

Perhaps the charity is hoping to operate in a similar way to the couple who left Botton Camphill when the authorities decided to take more interest in working practises there.

The Steiner movement supply a demand for special education, but often without sufficient openness about their belief system or “philosophy” as they would rather call it. Without the opportunity to live their anthroposophical lifestyle whilst carrying out their work, many of those who run such schools and homes would simply not be doing so, and yet the public, the families who place children there often have no idea that an esoteric religion with occult belief in karmic consequences is there at the centre of it all.

Is it right to subject young people to therapies and practices according to the doctrine an Austrian mystic because his followers believe his clairvoyant visions provided the last word on so-called “curative” education?

I don’t think so. There should be a lot more curiosity about what goes on in Steiner care homes and special schools. If the people in charge don’t want to carry on unless they can continue their Steiner habits, we should ask ”Why not?”

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20 comments

  1. Anne

    I worked at St Christophers School whilst the inspection was taking place. I was talking to the inspector when the Principal rushed over and interrupted our converstation ( it was early days and all I was saying was that the training I had had so far was informative. ) Seems she had something to hide and didn’t want someone like me ( over-qualified to work as a care worker ) talking to the Inspector. I have never been prepared to cover things up, it isn’t good for any individual or organisation and certainly not good for vulnerable children, most of whom were non verbal. I blew the whistle when I witnessed poor manual handling. After that I felt my ‘cards were marked’ and I had some particularly unpleasant treatment from management. I knew I couldn’t stay after that; the whole situation felt like being embroiled in a secretive cult. It felt as if the children had to fit in with the rigid organisational culture and beliefs rather that the childrens’ needs being paramount. I hope that the children are found suitable housing and schools where they can truly thrive in a culture of greater openess. Too much secrecy and telling parents the bare minimum is not good practise. Following the inspection we were told the school had gone from ‘good’ to ‘adequate’, it would seem that this was yet another lie if your account is to be believed. Staff and parents being kept in the dark and the children suffering as a result! I hope it all works out for the best and that children with profound learning difficulties and autistic spectrum conditions can be given the best possible care and education from people who put them first , rather than their own rigid beliefs.

    • Helen

      Thank you Anne. I think you are talking about the 2012 inspection, when there was a different Principal. I can’t find any inspection report since then, and unfortunately the Points West report on i player is not including the interview i mentioned, so I can’t check what the SEN specialist said. I know she had not worked there but said she knew about the school, and also she had not seen the latest report.

      I agree that the secrecy is just not acceptable. Just because these are special schools does not mean there can be different standards. As another commenter pointed out before, non-verbal children are even more vulnerable.

  2. Anne

    Hi Helen. I’m actually talking about the inspection that took place last November/December 2014 and should now be available! I have checked countless times and feel quite angry that this report has been suppressed. I hope that it will be released soon because I think we all need to learn from this and the Parents of children at St Christopher’s have the right to see it. I did actually contact OFSTED after I left this school. There response was that as my concerns were mainly in relation to the ‘spiritual aspects’ of the education it was not in their domain to investigate! Can you shed some light on this as to me it seems plain wrong.

    • Helen

      This whole story just gets weirder and weirder. There is Mr Frosch (who was previously Principal at another Steiner special school in the Midlands) going on about costs of upkeep of the building when all the time there has been an unfavourable report. I can only assume some people – the local authorities maybe – have seen or heard about the report and that is why they are not referring children to st christophers any more.
      Of course this information should be available to the general public – that is the whole point of inspections, so that we all know schools are doing their job properly.
      it would be good to shed some light on the matter, but it seems independent schools are not subject to the same rules even though we the tax-payers are probably paying for most of the places at these schools, and children are potentially at risk.

  3. Jim

    Weirder still – the schools site says it is to receive an upgraded ofsted judgement of “requires improvement” because of “significant improvement” since June. But still closing?

  4. Anne

    I think the school have probably appealed and got Solicitors involved. Whatever the case it requires improvement…a great deal of improvement. The school will only get funding if they have a rating of good. That is my understanding and therefor Social Services, who I believe are main funders, would not refer any new children and would possibly also remove children who are already there, particularly if they have concerns. I believe that the new focus is for much smaller care homes rather than large institutions and St Christopher’s as a residential establishment, both home and school, has failed to move with the times. If they require improvement then perhaps they would have to submit to further scrutiny from the authorities which is something they are likely to resent. The Steiner elite, you will recall, view themselves as the higher authority and they would not take kindly to this. As far as they are concerned they are more spiritually developed and know best!

    • ALEX

      First, the school didn´t appeal. It was given a timeframe and a list of requirements and then OFSTED ran a new inspection.
      No solicitors were involved at all.
      The only rating that stops funding is being inadequate.
      The school runs monthly inspections with independent inspectors qualified by CQC in order to improve practice. This has happened for years. So no they are not reluctant to be inspected or transparent.
      Just an advice, an observation and a fact:
      – i advice all of you to come and visit and see for yourselves.
      – All your comments are like taken from a social psychology manual where it is explained how the majority tries to undermine minorities using nothing but attacks when they have no real arguments. It is really scary the hate i can feel in your words. Sounds like NAZI to me
      – None of the parents have ever make a complaint against the school, just ask them what difference has the school made in their lives.
      SHAME ON ALL OF YOU

      • Helen

        Alex, some points for you to consider;
        I think you are being unfair to Anne who worked at St christopher’s and clearly has not taken her comments from a manual. I have also worked in a similar Steiner school, so we are not ignorant of Steiner practices.
        Secondly, who do you think is the majority? “…trying to undermine minorities” is a strange way to interpret Steiner criticism. Are you saying any minority group should not be criticised? That’s an odd viewpoint, and in any case the critics are even more of a minority…
        Thirdly, if no parents have “ever” made a complaint, I can only assume they do not know what has been going on.
        “No real arguments” – perhaps you are new here and haven’t had a chance to read many posts yet?
        By the way, you claim to know a lot about it – are you on the staff there? If so it is understandable you are angry about this, but I think the Nazi accusation is a bit much.

        • ALEX

          Having considered all your points i will tell you the following,
          Although Anne might have worked there it is clear she doesn´t understand how the inspection process works. If the school was not transparent it would have been shut long time ago. Most of compliance notices that the school received were issues that in the past were observed and validated as good practice for OFSTED when in 2013 the school was rated GOOD.
          This transparency includes the parents.
          And yes, i haven´t seen any real facts in none of your arguments. Which statistics are you looking at when you say Steiner education is not effective? Where are the facts in all your comments?
          Our facts, believe it or not, are happier children, more independent, children that are now able to communicate their wishes and thoughts thanks to our Speech and Language therapist, children that are now able to be with their families whereas before there families were afraid of their behaviours, children who now access the community and do their own shopping, etc.
          Most of them display severe challenging behaviour in every sense of the word and the staff there are constantly coping with this, being hit, punched, scratched, bitten or even chocked and they are always compliant with all the promotion of positive behaviours principles and therefore the law. Every behavioural event is recorded in official documents and shared with parents and local authorities within the legal time frames.
          SO YES, The only reason the school will close is sadly the money. A financial issue that has been dragged for years.
          To finalize, i said “sound like NAZI” just for you to have a second look to your own words.

          • Helen

            I am allowing your comment partly as an illustration of the tactics Steiner defenders use to defend their activities. You have shouted “nazi” at me twice in your efforts to divert attention from the real issue here – that this school was judged inadequate and is subsequently closing. Reading your comments anyone would think that never happened.
            If you use offensive language again I will edit your comment.
            The reason Steiner discussions are removed from forums such as mumsnet is precisely because of this kind of behaviour; Instead of arguing the points rationally you resort to personal abuse.
            There are care settings in every town that look after people in a similar way to St christopher’s but without the anthroposophy, and they are not “inadequate” and are not closing. I heard about one the other day where residents are taken shopping and live semi-independently and also display extremely challenging behaviour. It is a difficult but rewarding occupation to work as a carer in such situations, but dedicated staff do a great job.
            A problem with Steiner institutions is that we hear time and again about problems with management and a seeming inability to comply with regulations (see my latest post). Anthroposphists claim that their belief system is some kind of magic solution for the “bad karma” they see as the problem, and yet when problems arise, they complain as you have, about how hard their job is.

            If anthroposophical methods are really so great, how come staff needed to resort to locking children in their rooms?

            Steiner people have a strange and in my opinion unpleasant view that learning difficulties are a result of incomplete incarnation due to bad karma, and their methods take the form of “work” to correct this spiritual malfunction.
            Isn’t that right?

            • ALEX

              Keep twisting my words and shutting your eyes. There is no such thing as Steiner people and as every other human group its biggest strenght and quality is diversity.
              Have a look on how many places like this are in Bristol who can assume that level of challenge, think about all the Bristol children that will no longer be able to visit their families every weekend.
              And also have a look on the latest OFSTED report from this month and tell me how can the school can be closing for being inadequate is this is no longer true.
              I have never heard the word Karma in the school and every child has been diagnosed by doctors and is being monitored by GPs, psychiatrists, S&L therapists, OT and Physiotherapist. We just believe in a holistic approach where all features of formal education are welcome and taught but we don´t deny there is an spiritual, psychological, soul factor that can´t be denied. DO you really think we are all brain and data and physical and material needs?
              Edit whatever you wish.

  5. Stephen Blasby

    Ever since St Christopher s School founded by Miss Catherine Grace back on 25th September 1945 when the education of children with special educational needs referred to as mmentally handicapped was non existent .
    St Christopher s School.right from.the beginning when.it began 70 years ago.has carroed.forth the name Rudolf Steiner education which has always remained a.great value.to the school.
    Rudolf Steiner had away of educating learning disabled children as known today.

    This has made an impact of every SEN.child.

    This has been right that St Christopher s School has been kept on this teaching since Miss Catherine.Grace founded.the school.with 6 severe learning disabled children.in a Quakers Meeting House in Redland.

    Stephen.Blasby

  6. Jim

    In reply to Alex.
    We generally try to be courteous on this site though with some commenters that does require a bit more effort.

    I do find your comment that there is no such thing as Steiner people rather absurd. Of course there are differences but there is also so much in common, which is only to be expected when there is an underlying set of beliefs. It is that set of beliefs, and some of the practices following them, which critics of Steiner find so objectionable. This does not mean that we think all those involved in, for example, Camphill are necessarily motivated by malign intent. Far from it, but those beliefs can, and do, pervert the application of what may at the start be good intentions.

    One of the reasons I and others reject the notions of spirit and soul is that they often serve as justification for ignoring the interests of real people in favour of some imaginary higher interest. There are plenty of other reasons too but that one is enough. The Steiner cult is not the only group to fall foul of this but it is the subject of this site.

    I think also you should consider the difference between hate and criticism. This is not a hate site, but it is critical. I am happy to say that I hate the retreat from rationality into a medieval mentality which I see in Steiner and other cults but I don’t hate their followers. I’d rather argue with them, persuade them if possible and certainly try to inform others of their nature.

    So please, argue your case rather than rant.

  7. Jacqui

    Not one of you has considered the comments of a parent – so here is one. Without this wonderful School, our son would not be the determined, happy and confident young man that he is today. He has been extremely well cared for and nurtured over the last 7 years without any so called ‘Steiner’ people. The staff are committed to giving a holistic approach to education and living in general, there is certainly no Karma and as previously mentioned, each child is monitored by various independent health professionals and Social Workers. Forgive me if I am wrong, if there was something significantly wrong with the school do you not think these highly skilled independent people would have ‘blown the whistle’. Yes the Ofsted reports have not been favorable but our Social Worker visits every 3 weeks to ensure that the safeguarding procedures are documented and implemented, do you really think our son would still be there if things were as bad as you all say.!! Take a minute to think about how your comments affect parents, staff and ultimately the pupils, I don’t see any good just a bit of a witch hunt. Remember as a parent I have a far better understanding than any of you and 100% access to the school.

    • Helen

      Jacqui – thank you very much for commenting. It is useful to hear from a parent, and I am glad you feel your family has had a good experience.

      You and Alex and Stephen have all commented on this post rather than the next one about the inspection report that is the important factor, and without which I would not have written specifically about St christopher’s. It is the inspection team and a former employee who have found inadequacies. You mention whistleblowers and so does the report – complaints have been made but you choose to ignore these. Parents such as you who are satisfied should accept and consider the criticism that has been made, not just dismiss it out of hand.
      Your opinion as a parent is certainly valuable, but I do feel you may not have had access to the whole picture since you do not seem to acknowledge any problems at all.
      As for there being no “so-called Steiner people” this is just not true I am afraid. Most pearents are not in a position to recognise anthroposophy or even know it exists.But I can assure you that those in charge are only too familiar with it; I am not surprised they do not talk openly about karma – they have learned to keep quiet. But if there was no anthroposophy and no belief in karma St christopehers would not be a Steiner school – that is the simple truth.

      I very much appreciate a dialogue with parents and Steiner “service-users” so thanks again for contributing and I hope the anger you feel about criticism will not prevent us from having a useful debate.

  8. Richard Pearson

    Hate anything that is camphill or steiner or tinted with the name. you are not allowed tv or radio or the modern way of living. you have to stick to their routine and if you don’t you are in dire straights. they also shun technology. they are not Christian, and are a cult. I have a Christian booklet which warns against it. Christianity is the real true faith. I want to see the camphill and steiner system wiped of the face of this earth. the system is not welcome. I don’t welcome it either. The camphill and steiner system is crap and is not welcome. the system is full of quackery stuff and is a cult. you are not allowed to use black or brown crayons, anything that is square has to be rounded at the corners which is not right. I only love squares with pointed corners. they use all sorts of occult practices in my opinion. the steiner system in my view is crap and feeding false stuff into their minds. it is part of the quackery system and has to be stopped. also indoctrinating children and young people with severe learning disabilities who cant speak up for themselves is both cowardly and wrong. you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Steiner system is not welcome in this world and would love to see it wiped of the face of this earth.

  9. don

    Please try and remember that the SCHOOL was never deemed inadequate. The last ofsted report deemed the school ‘good with outstanding features’. Do check this. Care was found inadequate and then quickly improved.

    • Helen

      Don –
      I checked and found this;

      Type of inspection Full
      Provision subtype Residential special school
      Registered person St. Christophers School (Bristol)

      Registered person address
      St. Christophers School,
      Carisbrooke Lodge, Westbury
      Park, BRISTOL, BS6 7JE
      Responsible individual Omer Paker
      Registered manager Karen Horseman

      Perhaps you didn’t read my post St Christophers issues new statement ?

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