A new beginning for Steiner schools in England?

I was contacted today by a journalist in Europe who wanted to speak with me about Steiner schools in England. This is what she wrote:

“Dear Jeremy,

I am a journalist working for the Franco-German tv channel ARTE, at a weekly program about European issues and challenges called Vox Pop. I am currently preparing an investigative report about Steiner Schools in Europe, and will also do a focus in England given the current situation.

I believe it started with issues at Kings Langley School… Since this school has been part of your life for a long time, I’d like to talk with you, for a background , off the record conversation. Could I call you, for example tomorrow?

Thank you

Kind regards”

This is how I replied:

“Dear _______,

Since you are offering an ‘off the record’ conversation, I’m assuming that you are hoping for highly critical remarks about Steiner schools. This is not my position at all – Steiner education is among the very best kinds of education when it is done well. The remarks on my blog about the Kings Langley school were written more in sorrow than in anger, because my view is that the school lost its way quite badly and in its failings has done a huge disservice to Steiner schools everywhere.

Having said that, the Kings Langley school also gave a good education to my daughter and to many other pupils and this should also be recorded. The situation with many of the Steiner schools in England is currently giving concern and there is an article here by Sylvie Sklan which you may find helpful in this connection:

https://www.erziehungskunst.de/en/news/news/every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining-the-future-of-steiner-schools-in-england/

I’ve not worked in a Steiner school since 2014 and doubt if anything I could say would be up to date. I hope your report will be a rounded look at the education and not just a hatchet job.

Kind regards,

Jeremy”

 

The article linked to above by Sylvie Sklan (a former colleague of mine on the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship executive group) is a useful summation of the situation in the English Steiner schools at this point.

The Fellowship itself is moving on – Sylvie has retired, as have Kevin and Jane Avison, and the only one of my former colleagues still in post is the excellent Janni Nicol, who does a wonderful job of representing Steiner Waldorf early years education. A new team has come in, headed up by Fran Russell, who was instrumental in creating and nurturing the Greenwich Steiner School. Here is what the most recent Fellowship newsletter has to say about the current situation in the English schools:

“Steiner Education in England continues to go through turbulent waters, although we have certainly passed one cataract now with Ofsted having completed its round of the schools, as Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman’s letter signifies. While many people will have various reactions to this, it is important to appreciate that it concludes a period of uncertainty and whether good or bad, right or wrong, justified or not –to put it simplistically- we now know where we stand.

This can be seen as a new beginning with greater things to come. Certainly, in some countries that have gone through not dissimilar phases, something much stronger has emerged. It is probably important to remind ourselves that, while teachers, schools, school leaders and trustees, the SWSF and anybody who is interested in Steiner Education, navigate the emotional currents and turmoil of this wild water we are working towards a future where Steiner Education represents an established and well-respected stream within the educational landscape.

The Fellowship has engaged with Ofsted and the DFE in recent months through meetings and conversations and we have been able to establish a useful stream of communication, enabling us to maintain exemptions, advise on inspection styles going forward and inform the regulators regarding the content and context of Steiner Education. It is clear that in this context the Fellowship is invaluable as an associative body for Steiner Schools, as the DFE and Ofsted have stated that they will not engage with individuals or individual schools.

Furthermore, the Fellowship has also been actively engaged with Avanti and the Regional Schools Commissioners in order to ensure that, as far as possible, while the re-brokering of the academies is still underway, the commitment to the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum is maintained”.

To return to Sylvie Sklan’s article, in which she refers to the taking over of 3 out of the 4 publicly funded academies by a multi-academy trust, the Avanti Schools Trust: she says that “it remains to be seen as to how authentic a school ‘inspired by Waldorf principles’ can be”.

The omens are not promising; here, for example is a report in Schools Week that says Avanti has insisted that it never intended to keep the schools Steiner.

Sylvie also refers to the Avanti Foundation which has taken over the former Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, and which she says is separate from the Avanti Schools Trust. A report in the local newspaper Tring Today says that the new school is not being allowed to open by Ofsted as it has failed some pre-registration checks.

So it appears that the situation for Steiner schools in England continues dire. Can these schools in partnership with the new Fellowship gradually help themselves on to an upwards trajectory and away from disaster? Time will tell.

11 Comments

Filed under Kings Langley, Leadership in Steiner Waldorf Schools, Ofsted, RSSKL, Steiner Waldorf schools

11 responses to “A new beginning for Steiner schools in England?

  1. Silver Moon

    ARTE is known for its right wing views, and it is possible that it did want to put the knife in – the Lord knows why, because Germany’s government is a powerhouse for the simple reason that there is a leavening of Waldorf pupils at work in it. Few broadcasters in Europe share these attitudes.

    I must add that the Steiner schools in Europe have not faced the kind of opprobrium from their governments that they have in the UK – with the exception of the times when Hitler was in power in Germany (for obvious reasons).

    From my own perspective, the vitriolic attacks on the school at King’s Langley would have embarrassed anybody in a mature nation. If there were problems, the issues should have been looked at carefully and duly helped – rather than put under yet more pressure. But then, it is quite clear that the British government does not have a sufficiency of Waldorf pupils at work in it. I will add that a lady I met at the bus stop this morning stated that I should be the kind of person to be in government, I’m afraid I could only roll my eyes as the people in power are the kind who hound people like me out of office.

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  2. Tom Hart-Shea

    I find Silver Moon’s response interesting, mainly for the unfounded assumptions and evaluations in it. Moon says,
    ‘From my own perspective, the vitriolic attacks on the school at King’s Langley would have embarrassed anybody in a mature nation’.
    Moon’s use of two words here, ‘attacks’ and ‘vitriolic’, indicate to me that he/she has no insight into the history of education in England.
    In the most recent OFSTED report on the prospective Langley Hill Independent School, there is no vitriol. There is a calm listing of all the ways in which the prospective school does and does not meet all the requirements laid down by successive governments to ensure the safety, well-being, and efficient education of children – and the well-being of all the adults working in the institution.
    None of the OFSTED reports on Rudolf Steiner School, Kings Langley contained vitriol either.
    The other word, ‘attacks’, has often been used by proponents of Steiner education over the last 30 years to describe any perceived criticism or questioning of Steiner schools or their teachers and activities.
    As long as Steiner teachers lack the professional training that will enable them to explain and justify what they do in their classrooms, and as long as they continue to ignore government/local authority guidelines on safeguarding, they will be subject to criticism and investigation – these are not attacks.
    It really does not help the cause of Steiner education to imagine that all criticism and questioning is an attack.

    Moon says, ‘Steiner schools in Europe have not faced the kind of opprobrium from their governments that they have in the UK – with the exception of the times when Hitler was in power in Germany (for obvious reasons).’
    I wonder how objective this statement is?
    I know that Steiner schools in France have been regarded with deep suspicion and that in Sweden the Government withdrew funding for the university of Stockholm’s Steiner-teacher training.
    My impression is that in some european countries where Steiner schools are receiving government funding, questions are being asked about the ‘value-for-money’ of Steiner Schools, and exactly how the money is spent in Steiner schools. This is important when tax-payer’s money is involved. In at least two of the Steiner Academies under review by OFSTED, money for children with SEND was not properly accounted for. This is not justifiable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen Hale

      Steiner gave a very robust lecture-course to the Department of Education in Basle in April/May of 1920. It was very much anticipated, and appreciated when it was given. As such, it conveys everything that needs to be known about how and why the science of the spirit could also be an education of the spirit in a human life. It is also completely reasonable in how it imparts its knowledge.

      https://www.rsarchive.org/Download/Renewal_of_Education-Rudolf_Steiner-301.pdf

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    • Silver Moon

      Tom Hart Shea wonders, “I wonder how objective this statement is?
      I know that Steiner schools in France have been regarded with deep suspicion and that in Sweden the Government withdrew funding for the university of Stockholm’s Steiner-teacher training.”

      Yet he says nothing about the schools elsewhere in Europe, choosing to pick the facts that please him.

      May I ask him how objective this is?

      As to the things he opines about the ‘value for money’ – is this not the approach he would expect from reports in the British media? I assume here that he does not have access to the local media.

      It would be interesting if he was able to show how mainstream schools were given help by OFSTED in the way mainstream (and Steiner) schools are aided by the European equivalents of OFSTED.

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      • Stephen Hale

        This is so humorous it is almost beyond belief. I love it. You see, here is the issue. Do Steiner schools with their special program get inspected like any standard school, and they do in the UK. Okay, so nobody is missing that fact. Yet, here in the United States, these schools get to exist without any kind of onerous inspection system. And they thrive by that very fact. Earlier this year it was brought to attention how the American system was superior to the British, and so it goes, even as we speak today .

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  3. Luke Wiseman

    Dear Jeremy,
    Thank you for these articles.
    I would just like to put in my little bit. I’m the father of three, now grown-up, children. All went to Waldorf Schools; two to Wynstones and one to Michael Hall and Kings Langley.
    As praise for the education the two older ones, both boys, are now [in their mid-thirties] engineers. One went via the Diploma route (practical)and is now in helicopter maintenance; one went to university and now works for a multi-national company in which he ‘trouble-shoots’ problems in gas-turbine-driven generating sets. At the job-interview for a previous multi-national engineering firm, one of the other hopefuls was a previous class-comrade, who had gone to a different uni. They both got a job. The third, a girl, went to a grammar school after RSSKL, then to uni to study law and now [in her mid-twenties] works in that profession. All three seem well able to ‘impart direction to their lives’. She, not I or her mother, chose the grammar school and the subject of study and the university; arranged the student loan and so on. So much for Waldorf Schools only being for ‘arty’ types.
    The girl, who went to RSSKL, never mentioned anything about ‘feeling unsafe’ or worries about ‘safeguarding issues’. She did not get on well with her class teacher, but when she heard, long after she had left the school, that he had had to leave because of a ‘safeguarding issue’, commented “They don’t deserve that!” [Neuter pronoun used to preserve anonymity] As far as I could judge, the ‘safeguarding issue’ revolved around trying to comfort a child in distress. We are not supposed to be humans anymore, in some situations.
    Best wishes, Luke

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  4. Luke Wiseman

    Dear Jeremy,
    Sorry, further comment.
    Having read Sylvie Sklan’s article, I was reminded of being told, [about twenty years ago] in the course of a parents’ evening, by a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher about an inspection. She had, before joining the Waldorf School, been a conventionally-trained Kindergarten teacher, so knew a bit about how ordinary inspections worked, and, crucially, the sort of words and phrases that the inspectors used and were expecting to hear.
    Well, it seemed that the inspectors were interested in three main areas: number-work, reading, and socialisation [my terms; the official ones may be different]. When asked if the children knew about numbers and counting, she replied that, when one or the other child was putting out the bowls for the other children in the class for their mid-morning snack [on Mondays it was always ‘rice-and-raisins’, which my daughter hated …because of the raisins; she still hates them, I don’t know why!] “they always got out the correct number of bowls” [or whatever]. The inspectors’ box was ticked. When the question was about reading, she told them that when any of the children picked up a book “they always knew which way up to hold it”. Box ticked again. “And we can see that they are very socially engaged”, the inspector said and ticked that particular box.
    Sometimes, unfortunately, it is just about using the correct words and phrases. She neither lied, nor did she ignore or negate the inspectors’ questions.
    Best wishes, Luke

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  5. Midnight Rambler

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought there were now quite a few Charter Waldorf Schools in the USA (e.g.in California) and that these must account for students’ educational progress, meet state-wide performance standards, and participate in state-mandated testing programs ?

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  6. Tom Hart-Shea

    In response to Luke Wiseman’s comments.
    Luke speaks of his daughter’s experience with a particular teacher. This amounts to ‘anecdotal’ evidence. It is the story from one person’s point of view. It may or may not be a complete version of events surrounding the dismissal of this teacher, or be a well-rounded and balanced account of the incidents/behaviours being described. Though no doubt his daughter spoke truthfully of what she had experiemced, her judgement on what the teacher ‘deserved’ is simply an opinion. That opinion which may lack a whole raft of background which she is/was not aware of.
    I can attest that in the case of the well-known teacher sacked from Kings Langley School, it was not simply a case of comforting a child. If Luke researches online he will be able to find reports of the sacking and the statements issued by the Trustees.
    What is not reported in the media, because the cases are still on-going, is that the school closed after being brought to the verge of bankruptcy by the legal costs of defending litigation brought against it by the parents of 6 girls in the teacher’s class.
    The man concerned was not sacked because of any particular incident but because he refused to alter his behaviours in any way when instructed to do so by the managers of the school.

    As regards the kindergarten teacher story. I have often heard such tales from Steiner teachers. It is an anecdote and shows no understanding of why the inspector concerned was using a sampling technique to get a snapshot of the behaviours occurring in the classroom. Both the ‘ticks ‘ mentioned were appropriate, if the children can match bowls to bodies accurately, that is a part of mathematical understanding; if they know which way up to hold a book then they understand one of the basics of using a book in european culture. (Some children do not know how to do that when they start school). And, I guess, he/she could clearly see the social-engagement of the children
    The person reporting this incident does not speak of or maybe does not know what other attainments may have been recorded by this inspector or what level of attainment the inspector is instructed to look for in a kindergarten.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tom Hart-Shea

    Silver Moon says, ‘It would be interesting if he was able to show how mainstream schools were given help by OFSTED in the way mainstream (and Steiner) schools are aided by the European equivalents of OFSTED.’
    I am not sure that other nations have anything which is the equivalent of OFSTED.
    OFSTED was created by a Conservative government in the 1990s to critically analyse each school’s performance. Its mission is NOT to aid schools, nor teacher’s nor children. It was to assess individual school’s performances against each school’s declared aims and objectives. An OFSTED inspection is not designed to offer support in achieving those aims and objectives. Over the last 25 years other elements have crept in, such as only recognising certain approaches to teaching to be effective, or the emphasis on safeguarding, and sex education as part of Personal, Social and Health education. These are areas which are all permeated by value judgements.
    The inspection report, it is claimed, gives a picture of school effectiveness, in other words, of value for money.
    Part of the original rationale was that schools have different methods of teaching and this should be allowed for, which is why schools were assessed against their own stated aims and objectives. (So it was believed that in principle an OFSTED inspection team could assess the effectiveness of a Steiner school against its own stated aims and objectives.)
    However within 5-10 years orthodoxies crept in. OFSTED teams were instructed that, for example, if a school was not teaching phonics from the age of 3 it was NOT operating effectively. Another example, if a school was found not to be following the National Literacy Strategy inspectors would ask, ‘where is the evidence based research that shows the effectiveness of your approach to teaching and learning?’.
    Other measures of school performance were used, notably the SATS assessments at 5, 11 and 14. These assessments were only intended to be a measure of the effectiveness of the teaching in the schools. For this reason only in very special circumstances would exemptions from SATS testing be allowed.
    SUPPORT for schools was expected to come from the local education authorities, but the New Labour government created the Academies to allow schools to break free from local authority control.
    Independent Schools such as most Steiner schools in England cannot call on the Local authority for help, so private contractors are used.
    Academies pay for support out of their own budgets.

    One can see how the notion of market forces loved by Margaret Thatcher and embraced by Tony Blair was brought into education. School effectiveness would be measured by OFSTED and SATS, and the information made public so that customers (parents) could make informed choices. It was believed that parents would naturally choose the most effective schools, and the ‘failing’ schools would simply wither as their pupil numbers dwindled.
    If Moon knows of any system like this operating in other european countries I would genuinely be interested to hear about it.
    The following link is interesting for its last sentence. Very few schools have ever won an appeal against an OFSTED judgement. Virtually the only grounds for winning an appeal are to do with process or the conduct of the inspectors.

    https://schoolsweek.co.uk/how-can-schools-lodge-a-complaint-against-an-ofsted-judgment/

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  8. Ottmar

    I m not sure of what to make of the remarks about the TV station ARTE.
    Saying ARTE is a right wing TV station is absolute nonsense. SilverMoon doesnt seem to be familiar with the system of public TV in Europe. Political parties and other groups like trade unions, churches etc. watch anxiously that there are reports „from both sides“, showing or representing ALL aspects.
    ARTE is a TV station for the cultural elite in France and Germany like 3sat for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. I can only wish that there are similar TV stations in the USA.

    So yes, there can be critical reports about Waldorf pedagogy on ARTE just like there are positive reports. Take the film „Barndom“ Danish for childhood of the Danish director Margreth Olin, produced in 2017, for a short time in the cinemas in 2018 and now on shown on ARTE and in artemediathek.
    https://www.arte.tv/de/videos/092209-000-A/kindheit/ The film was taken in a Waldorf kindergarden in Norway and is 100% positive about the work and standards there.
    A film trailer here https://www.kino-zeit.de/film-kritiken-trailer/kindheit
    Both the trailer and the whole film here only in German, but if you like turn off the speaker and enjoy the film. You d certainly love to be a child there!!

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