In a few classes, tasks and activities are well planned to take appropriate account of children’s and young people’s individual strengths and support needs.
In a few lessons, children and young people are motivated by well-planned, relevant activities.
Does this sound like a school that is satisfactory? It is the judgement of Education Scotland after an inspection of the Camphill school, Aberdeen in December, according to the report published in February.
There is no overall rating provided, but the use of the word ‘satisfactory’ implies a successful inspection, which in fact is not the case.
Nowhere in the report is Rudolf Steiner mentioned, but on the Camphill website there is this description of the Aberdeen set-up;
A Camphill community supporting a Rudolf Steiner school for children and young people with special needs.
There is a more detailed description of the Steiner ‘ethos’ of the school, including a mention of anthroposophy, in the Autism Accreditation Review report from 2014, which is glowing. However, Autism UK, who carry out the reviews were until recently completely unaware of the Steiner view of Autism, where it is deemed to be a result of bad Karma. They should now be in a better position to judge anthroposophical institutions.
The Aberdeen Camphill is the original, where Karl Kӧnig established the movement in the UK. As the school explains on its website, a group of Austrians
…[came] here for a specific purpose: to live with, care for and educate children with special needs. Their purpose is to set up a community based on Anthroposophical ideals and the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. From this group will evolve the Camphill Movement…
It appears that things have not been going well in Aberdeen recently. Aberdeen Waldorf (Steiner) school closed in 2014 after a bad inspection report, and since the last inspection at this Camphill Rudolf Steiner school in 2012, the number of students has dropped from 67 to 37, and so too have the evaluations, which in 2012 were very good or excellent.
The following outcomes were recorded this year;
- Improvements in performances satisfactory
- Learners’ experiences satisfactory
- Meeting learning needs satisfactory
- curriculum satisfactory
- Improvement through self-evaluation weak
Not so bad then, one would think, but reading the report I am left with the impression that standards in Scotland are not very high, given the way many concerns are highlighted within it .
The ‘key strengths’ of the school, prominently displayed in a box, are the outdoor environment (apparently, there is a park), the young people enjoying school, and the range of therapies available. (These ‘therapies’ include eurythmy and no doubt the kind of massage that anthroposophical people mistakenly believe contribute to a young person’s well-being).
I am glad that the young people enjoy school, which is always a bonus, but in general the substance of the report makes clear that the school has significant problems; there has been a review of ‘management structure’ but still there are areas of concern;
Senior managers should place a greater emphasis on evaluating the work of the school and in particular the quality of learning and teaching. This should include more robust approaches to monitoring and tracking the progress of children and young people.
As mentioned above, the curriculum was judged as satisfactory, but here too we find there is much to be improved;
The school needs to further develop the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners and to ensure it provides challenge, enjoyment and relevance. Staff need to be clear about how children and young people will progress and how they will build on previous learning. As they develop the curriculum, staff should extend opportunities for work experience opportunities for young people at the senior stages.
In answer to the question “How well does the school support children and young people to develop and learn?” the inspectors made the following remarks
Some children and young people require more challenging activities. Staff need to provide more clarity in their planning and during activities about what children and young people are learning. The school should review how it manages the behaviour of some children and young people. All staff and volunteers need to ensure that they understand approaches to positive behaviour management…
The report ends with the following rather ominous remark ;
As a result of our inspection findings we think that the school needs additional support and more time to make necessary improvements.
This is a confusing picture for anyone wishing to find out how suitable this school is for a child. Is it ‘satisfactory’ or not? Going by the report it is not, and if it were any other kind of school, would have been more rigorously judged. Indeed, Ofsted dropped the ‘satisfactory’ judgement in 2012, to tackle coasting schools.
‘Additional support’ and ‘more time’ sounds like special measures to me.
We are not told who the inspectors were on this occasion, but it may be that there were anthroposophical Steiner specialists on the team, so that there would not be confusion about the anthroposophical therapies, prayers, attitudes to science in the curriculum etc. This could explain the strangely contradictory findings.
The school is described as
…an independent school which provides care and education for children and young people placed there by nine local authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Tax-payers are funding this school, since local authorities are footing the bill in the same way that student places at Ruskin Mill locally and at St Christophers in Bristol are paid for. So although the school is independent,we the public have an interest in the way such schools and colleges are run.
A commenter on one of my posts about St Christophers, a similar school, seemed to be excusing serious failures by saying their job was difficult. No doubt it is difficult, but Steiner methods are supposed to be so superior, so surely such difficulties should not be a problem?
St Christophers has changed hands as of this month, but appears still to be run using anthroposophy. If anyone has information on the elusive new owners Aurora Group, by the way, please get in touch.