Steiner Academy Bristol is letting children down, according to the conclusions of the Ofsted report carried out in May.
Inspection dates 17–18 May 2017
Overall effectiveness Requires improvement
Effectiveness of leadership and management Requires improvement
Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Requires improvement
Personal development, behaviour and welfare Requires improvement
Outcomes for pupils Requires improvement
Early years provision Good
You can read the report here. These are the key improvements required;
- Improve the quality of teaching and learning
- Improve behaviour
- Improve the quality of leadership
The recent Parent View results for this school tell the same story, with around 20-40% of respondents expressing dissatisfaction on how bullying is dealt with, behaviour, the quality of leadership and management, and with 22% saying they would not recommend the school to other parents. These statistics are mentioned in the report. Statistics for the other Steiner Academies do not compare well with mainstream schools, but Bristol is the worst.
The school is advertising for a new Principal for September this year, but reading the report, the problems are deeper than this fact would suggest.
A very sad situation for a school that opened with such high hopes and promising much for children.
Remember, Steiner schools say they are better than other schools. Only the Steiner system can provide the environment children need to be nurtured, they believe. What a sorry state of affairs for a school where the “vision” is to
provide a safe and caring environment for children to learn and grow: valuing childhood, inspiring our pupils and building strong foundations for life.
How can it be that such a school is failing on so many levels to meet the required standards?
The problem of course is anthroposophy and the inescapable fact that Steiner schools must abide by the rules laid down by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. (There are penalties for non-compliance, and the Stroud bid failed partly due to differences with the SWSF.) These rules are wide-ranging, from the way teachers are trained – in anthroposophy – to assessments (child study) and lessons in eurythmy. The fact that many Steiner teachers are not qualified and could not be employed in other schools must also be a factor. Steiner teacher training is purely in anthroposophical methods and is unfit for purpose.
The inspectors do identify the problem, but without mentioning anthroposophy by name;
Leaders are having to reshape the school so that it fulfils the Steiner ethos while meeting the needs of the pupils who attend the school
Effective leadership has been “hampered” according to the report.
Leaders’ efforts to ensure that pupils achieve as highly as they should are hampered by the school’s unusual context and circumstances.
The section in the report on governance is interesting, if confusing. We are told that key changes have been introduced, and yet still the school is not up to standard. The final point on governance is difficult to fathom.
“Governors provide the principal with the support she needs to make key improvements, some of which have been contentious and not wholly supported by some members of the school community. They are necessary nonetheless.”
Who are the members of the school community who do not support the improvements? Anthroposophical teachers? Parents? The SWSF?
This is reminiscent of the Aberdeen Steiner school that closed following a very bad report, but where teachers still refused to make changes that conflicted with their anthroposopical preferences.
Whilst identifying the Steiner “ethos” as the problem, the inspectors still do not seem to understand why it is a problem. This paragraph near the end of the report shows a lack of depth in their analysis of why this school is still not up to standard after three years;
Pupils benefit from the Steiner curriculum, which prioritises the development of the ‘whole child’. The curriculum encourages pupils to consider their humanity, and their relationship with others and the natural world around them. Pupils are given opportunities to reflect on their spirituality, and consider the natural rhythms and events that shape lives; for example, cultural festivals such as St Martin’s Mass, Advent and Three Kings Day are studied and inform pupils’ understanding of the wider cultural world.
The whole child? Oh yeah? That will be all three “bodies” then. Their humanity? Oh yes, is that the three-fold, four-fold, seven-fold or nine-fold view? Natural rhythms and events; is that why the same Steiner festivals are held in the same months in both hemispheres, with the curtains drawn to block out the summer sun if necessary? So much for natural.
As for the wider cultural world, which culture would that be? Martin’s Mass and Three King’s day are largely unknown here outside of the rarefied world of Steiner. As Wiki puts it “In the United Kingdom…November 11 is now better known for being Remembrance Day.” And Three kings day is “a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.”
I predicted back in 2013 before the school opened, that there could be difficulties for the non-anthroposophic Principal Angie Browne when working with those with influence within the Steiner system whose main concern is the application of anthroposophy.
The school could not recruit a vice Principal in 2014, as there were no suitable candidates. I wrote about some of the problems Steiner schools experience in recruiting staff who can satisfy both the anthroposophists within Steiner and Ofsted. These were all very predictable.
In November last year the school did appoint a Vice Principal, Regan Crum. It is not clear whether she is a qualified teacher, but she is a psychotherapist who “uses phenomenological approaches with a freedom and openness to spirituality” according to her website. Named on the school website as Assistant Principal / SENCO, this member of staff has tightened up certain safeguarding procedures, according to the report.
Joe Evans, Development manager at Bristol Steiner Academy commented here in 2014 insisting that the Steiner system could be adapted to reach the standards for a successful, modern, state-funded school, but this is proving more difficult than he anticipated. His project is way off course, and sadly children are still losing out in the process.