As mentioned in my last post, the Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL) closed its doors for the last time on Friday 13thJuly 2018, after almost seventy years of existence. The school had repeatedly failed its Ofsted inspections and its insurers were no longer willing to provide cover, so closure was inevitable. In its death throes, the school has caused tremendous damage, not least to the public reputation of Steiner Waldorf education. In my time at the school, which ended in 2014, I was already beginning to experience some of the forces that have led to this sad outcome and in this post I would like to reflect on what has happened.
My association with the school began in 1998, when my wife and I enrolled our daughter as a pupil, but it wasn’t until two or three years later when I joined a study group for parents that I began to get more involved. I was trying to understand more about what lay behind the education and this was the start of a quest that continues to this day.
In 2004 I applied for and was appointed to a part-time role as communications officer for the school. I soon realised that, if I was to do the job properly, I would need to be able to sit in on the meetings of the College of Teachers and listen to their discussions. (For those unfamiliar with Steiner Waldorf education, it should be explained that in many Steiner schools there is no head teacher and the responsibility for running the school resides with those faculty members who wish to take on this additional task.)
RSSKL’s College of Teachers kindly agreed to let me join their meetings so I began to get an insider’s view of how the school was run. College meetings were held on Thursday evenings, just after the weekly meeting open to all staff, which I also attended. At first I listened and observed at the College meetings and, as I was not a teacher, did not say very much; but after a while I began to speak whenever a topic came up about which I knew something. After a year or two the College felt sufficiently comfortable with me that they asked me to chair the meeting – and so I became, as far as I know, the only non-teacher ever to be College Chair in a Steiner school. This I did for around three years, before later taking up a full-time post at the school.
As my role then was part-time, and because my wife and I were paying full fees for our daughter at the school, I needed to take on another job. In 2008 I found part-time work for the other half of the week as communications officer with the executive group of the Steiner Waldorf Schools’ Fellowship (SWSF) and so was able to widen my acquaintance with other Steiner schools in the UK. It was an exciting time to be at SWSF: Christopher Clouder was busy making links with schools around the world and putting the case for Steiner Waldorf education within the European Union; Sylvie Sklan was putting in the spadework that led to the creation of the first publicly-funded Steiner academy schools in England; Janni Nicol was doing wonderful work in Early Years’ education and helping to create understanding in government of the Waldorf approach; Kevin Avison was travelling within the UK and Ireland advising schools on a whole range of issues, while also finding time to develop a quality scheme and arranging for Steiner schools to receive their Ofsted inspections via School Inspection Services Ltd, a new company set up by former HMIs (Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education); while Jane Avison looked after administrative matters with great efficiency via the SWSF office in Stourbridge. Trevor Mepham and Alan Swindell, both soon to become principals in two of the new Steiner academy schools, were also active in the executive group at various times.
As part of my communications work with SWSF, I started to collect links to news items from around the world about, or of relevance to, Steiner schools . Each Friday during term time I would circulate these links to schools in the UK and Ireland, as well as to quite a long list of individuals who had asked to receive them. Thus it was that I became increasingly aware of the criticisms of Rudolf Steiner and Steiner Waldorf schools that were at that time starting to be widely disseminated online. I was upset by many of these criticisms, which did not accord with my understanding of Steiner or my experience of Waldorf schools. The sheer viciousness of the many misrepresentations I saw online led me to engage with some of these critics, in what with hindsight I now regard as naïve and well-meaning attempts to increase understanding and put the record straight. Today I would claim to have a more nuanced view of these criticisms, some of which were undoubtedly justified.
Back in 2004 a new chair of trustees at RSSKL, the excellent John Doherty (himself a parent at the school), was using his business expertise to steer the ship away from the rocks of financial disaster, caused largely by an over-lenient attitude from the school towards the collection of fees from parents. The trustees appointed a very good new bursar and John Doherty himself started to phone parents who were in arrears. Many of the outstanding fees started to come in, while some parents whose financial position was such that they would never be able to catch up with what was owed, left the school. These actions were not popular in some quarters, including with some members of the College of Teachers, but they saved the school from going bankrupt.
John and his fellow trustees felt with some justification that the College was not sufficiently responsible or knowledgeable about the school finances to continue to decide on such matters; and so the trustees (who are in law responsible for everything that happens in the school) decided to reserve to themselves all decisions about finances, fee levels, bursaries, health and safety, property maintenance etc, while devolving responsibility for pedagogy and curriculum to the College. Their view was that the College did not have time or sufficient expertise to deal with many of the matters related to running the school, such as preparation for Ofsted inspections, employment issues, dealing with complaints and so on. I think it was at about this time that some of the teachers began to resent the work of the trustees, though I should also record that a previous body of trustees had felt it necessary to resign en masse some years earlier, following what they perceived to be persistent and prolonged non-cooperation from the College.
In 2009 John Doherty invited me to take up a new post at the school, that of education facilitator, with responsibility for many of those issues that the trustees felt that College could not look after adequately. I accepted this on a half-time basis so that I could continue with my SWSF work; but it soon became clear that each job in reality required full-time attention so after a while I had to choose between them. I decided to relinquish my SWSF role and concentrate on the job at RSSKL, which had the advantage of allowing me to be at home more often and also, as a full-time member of staff, entitled me to a discount on our daughter’s school fees – which was very helpful for our family finances.
Very soon after taking up the education facilitator post at RSSKL, I was thrown right in at the deep end – a phone call was received from the lead inspector announcing that Ofsted would be sending in an inspection team the following week. This, in the days when Ofsted gave 48 hours’ notice of inspection, meant a frantic, up-all-hours period of work for me to try to get ready. Needless to say, apart from the work of one retired class teacher, the school had made hardly any preparations for this inspection, and I had to fall back on paperwork that had been done for the previous inspection in 2006. Nor did many people on College show the slightest interest in helping me, although I was grateful to the retired class teacher and a couple of other teachers who did take the matter seriously and helped to write some updated material for the inspectors to read.
This Ofsted inspection was the last one to be carried out at the school by “official” Ofsted, all subsequent inspections over the next few years being done by the excellent and highly-experienced former HMIs from School Inspection Services Ltd. (SIS). As an aside, I was always bemused by those critics who suggested that Steiner schools had somehow secured for themselves a more lenient form of inspection by way of SIS taking on the Ofsted contract for the inspection of the independent Steiner schools; this is absolutely wrong. As someone who in later life briefly became a lay inspector with SIS, I can tell you that these ex-HMIs were absolutely the best inspectors I’ve come across – formidably experienced and highly knowledgeable, they knew exactly where any bodies were likely to be buried and they were assiduous in digging out all our weak points. They did this while also taking the trouble to inform themselves about Steiner Waldorf education, and they behaved with charm and courtesy throughout the inspection. They didn’t miss a thing, however, and in their feedback at the end they were not only forensic in their report of what they had seen but – and this is where they really scored –their intention was that the school should find the inspection as useful as possible in identifying areas for improvement. I honestly felt that it was a privilege to be inspected by these people.
This first Ofsted inspection in 2009, however, was not such a happy experience. The lead inspector did not seem to know much about Steiner education, although she had attended some kind of briefing about it, nor did she seem to be much impressed by what she had heard. She did, however, ask me to set up a meeting for all the teachers in the staff room on the day before the inspection proper began, so that she could explain more about the process and answer any questions that the teachers might have. I shall never forget the acute feeling of embarrassment I had when only a handful of teachers bothered to attend this meeting. It was a direct snub to Ofsted by most of the teachers and the lead inspector was keenly aware of it.
This first inspection led to the school being rated as “Satisfactory”, which in Ofsted terms actually means “not good enough.” It was a baptism of fire for me but it also gave some useful indications of those areas for improvement which needed attention. In most schools, this would be a relatively straightforward, although arduous, process. Between the end of one inspection and the onset of another, the school would be expected to work on those areas identified by the inspectors. At the next inspection, the inspectors would look to see what progress had been made on the areas previously highlighted.
At RSSKL, however, working on our weaknesses was not a straightforward or easy process. There was a mix of cultural and organisational factors which made it very much an uphill struggle. No teacher enjoys Ofsted inspections but at RSSKL there was a strong sense among some teachers that the state and its quangocrats in Ofsted should have nothing whatsoever to do with what the school was offering. This attitude was encouraged by one or two experienced teachers who should have known better, who would say absurd things in College meetings such as: “We should just refuse to let Ofsted through the doors – what could they do to us anyway?” Well, the teachers who thought like that now know only too well what Ofsted could do to them.
I used to try to get College to understand what was at stake by saying things like: “If you run a car, there is a legal framework you operate within – you need to have car insurance, a road tax disc and a MoT certificate of roadworthiness. If you run a school, there is also a legal framework within which you have to operate – you need to be aware of issues such as pupil safeguarding; you need to have Ofsted inspections, which means that they will want to see your lesson plans, pupil assessments and sit in on your lessons. You cannot avoid this. In schools as in life, you need to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” But too many teachers were not prepared to render unto Caesar that which the state required of them. Some of them seemed to have a problem with any kind of authority; I remember one upper school teacher devising a show for pupils to perform, which he called: “Ofsted – the musical.” The climactic moment of the piece was an Ofsted inspector being done to death with the copper rods from eurythmy lessons. All very amusing, no doubt, but utterly irresponsible and childish in people who had taken on a serious commitment to run the school as a collegiate.
As education facilitator, I was under a triple disadvantage: I was not a teacher; I had been appointed by trustees rather than College; I had no authority other than moral persuasion to compel staff to co-operate. I tried to explain to teachers that if the school decided to follow wholeheartedly the best practice recommendations of the SWSF Code of Practice, then we would not only be a really good Steiner school but we would also sail through future Ofsted inspections. I don’t think many of them heard me, or if they did, they usually felt there were more important priorities for them to discuss in their weekly teacher meetings.
I also had to spend a certain amount of my time defending and explaining the College of Teachers system to trustees and bending over backwards trying to make it work, because I believed that it does have the potential to offer some real advantages to a school and that, despite the problems, this was how a Steiner school should be organised. What I didn’t recognise sufficiently was that this should have been a two-way process requiring goodwill from the teachers and a willingness to work towards improvement. A few teachers had this but not the majority, who seemed to think that the way they had always done things was just fine.
Despite the many difficulties, I did make some progress – our next Ofsted inspection under SIS in 2011 rated us as “Good”. In hindsight, I should nevertheless have acknowledged to myself that the task was insuperable and recommended to the trustees that they should impose the appointment of a principal with a teaching background to run the school. This would have caused a huge ruckus at the time but it might have saved the school from subsequent closure. Perhaps even this would not have been enough; in my worst moments I felt that the only thing that would save the school would be to close it down, make all the teachers redundant and then re-open with a new structure, a new culture and new teacher contracts.
I have written elsewhere about my thoughts on a school trying to run itself via a College of Teachers but I can’t resist re-telling this anecdote: some years ago I held a vision-building workshop at RSSKL as part of our Inset Days. To help me, I invited a very experienced businessman and friend, Mick Crews, not only because of his track record in similar workshops for big companies but also because he liked what he had already heard of Steiner Waldorf schools. As part of our preparations, I explained to Mick the ways in which the school sought to manage itself through the College. He listened very carefully and then he said: “It strikes me that, for your system to work, it requires a degree of personal integrity in the staff that you don’t find in any other walk of life”.
He was right, of course, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t find that degree of personal integrity in the RSSKL College either. Some of the difficulties I came across were to do with the College’s failures to monitor teachers’ behaviour, to discipline members of staff or to handle complaints properly. There were one or two members of staff who in my view should not have been allowed to continue teaching. Everyone knew who they were, but it proved impossible to ease them out of the school. This was partly due to an endemic weakness of will and misplaced kindness but it was also partly down to what I call the “chumocracy” that ran the school. Teachers primarily thought of their colleagues as friends, which is admirable in one way but is not helpful in a school where professional standards must come before friendship.
Teachers must be prepared to report on their colleagues if they suspect anything less than ethical is taking place, and in really serious situations the College must support the disciplining, sacking and reporting of these colleagues to the local authority and the police, regardless of any feelings of friendship – because the needs and safety of the children must come first. I remember saying to College on one occasion that I had never felt so lonely as I did in my job as education facilitator. This was received with surprise and some indignation but it was how I felt. In that job, one could be friendly but not true friends with colleagues because there might come a time when, as once fell to me, it was necessary to suspend a teacher from the school, report his gross misconduct to the local authority and the police and then end his employment. This obviously had a huge impact on the man and his family, and was not calculated to make me popular with his friends in the school, who at first didn’t believe that he had done that of which he was accused.
There were other unpleasant things going on. A group of teachers and parents briefed by these teachers had come together in their opposition to the school’s property strategy, which was intended to improve the school’s buildings and facilities, including the Priory, which after Miss Cross’ death had eventually come into RSSKL’s ownership. This was a Grade II listed building which had been sorely neglected for many years to the point where English Heritage was sending us warning letters about the need to maintain it properly. Most of the school buildings were also in need of proper maintenance and no new buildings had been put up since the construction of the Gym in the early 1970s.
For reasons which I still don’t wholly understand, some teachers took against the property strategy, which they seemed to think was being imposed on them by trustees. RSSKL had used the Priory for teacher accommodation rather than for classrooms and there were several teachers and their families living there. Under the property strategy, which envisaged bringing the Priory back into use for teaching purposes, two or three families would have been asked to move elsewhere, but would have continued to enjoy the benefit of subsidised accommodation. All sorts of stories about this were told to parents, and then some of the parents began to circulate various documents and emails, alleging that there was something wrong with the administration of the school’s finances and that there was power-seeking and corruption in the trustees and the school management. When I reported on some of this to the whole school staff meeting, someone present secretly recorded my remarks and passed the recording to the cabal of parents. I subsequently received a threatening letter from one of these parents, a high-powered lawyer, delivered by motorcycle courier for maximum dramatic effect. There was much, much more going on but even today it is probably not prudent for me to give further details. The person who had leaked the recording was never discovered. Clearly, any basis of trust for collegial management of the school had broken down irretrievably. Suffice it to say that in this atmosphere of sabotage and betrayal, it was impossible for the school to function properly or to deal effectively with these attacks.
I urged the College to tell these parents that they must desist in their undermining activities or else they would be asked to remove their children from the school. This the College did not do, being by this time so weak and divided that it was incapable of effective action. I came to realise that there are some teachers and many parents who, like children, need to understand where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie. When adults don’t find any boundaries and keep pushing, still with no response, then just like children, it becomes deeply worrying for them and they cause even more disturbance. Through the agitation and deep unpleasantness towards some members of staff and trustees from some teachers and parents, the property strategy fell by the wayside and a really good opportunity for the school to upgrade and improve its whole estate for the benefit of the children and teachers alike was lost. With the closure of the school, those teachers who currently live in the Priory or elsewhere on school premises will soon be facing the loss of their homes. It could and should have been very different.
After I left the school in 2014, I cut all ties and made no attempt to stay in touch, sickened by my experiences there. I have not kept up with all the twists and turns of more recent events and have no comment to make on them. I know, however, that the College did not replace me despite some desultory attempts to do so; and the school then managed to fail six Ofsted inspections within 18 months. Eventually the trustees appointed a principal (at around three times the average teacher salary) who specialised in turning around failing schools. Sadly, it was all too little, too late.
I looked online at the final Ofsted inspection report of 10thMay 2018 that led to the school’s closure, which listed a catalogue of continuing failures. I noted the name of the second inspector on this occasion; it was the same person who had been lead inspector during my first traumatic experience of Ofsted, the woman who had been snubbed in the staff room by so many of the teachers.
What conclusions do I draw from this whole sorry story?
First of all and despite my own difficult experiences as a member of staff, I am very sad that a school which provided a good education to my own daughter and to so many other children over the last seventy years, has had to close because of the weakness, cowardice and malice of teachers and parents who were unable to see what the consequences of their own behaviour would be for the school. While I was experiencing these difficulties at the school, my daughter was gaining three A* grades at her A-level exams and going on to a successful university career. There were some really good teachers at the school, and the exam results were much better than the national average. The Waldorf curriculum taught alongside the exam curriculum at the school produced articulate, well-rounded and well-socialised young people who go on to do very well by society and in life. I want to celebrate what the school did well and remind myself that not all Steiner Waldorf schools should be damned because of RSSKL.
Second, in my view no Steiner school nowadays should attempt to run itself with a College of Teachers as its main management body. It is unrealistic to expect a school to be run satisfactorily by a body of teachers meeting once a week after a long day of teaching, even with a system of mandates running alongside it. The College of Teachers is worse than useless as a school management body in today’s conditions, despite anything that Rudolf Steiner may have had to say in its favour nearly a century ago. I don’t think it even worked very well in Steiner’s own time, when despite recruiting leading talents from across Europe to become the first teachers in the Stuttgart Waldorf School, the school experienced all sorts of problems and never managed to come to a definitive form and role for its College – and throughout it all, Steiner still found it necessary to act as the de facto headmaster. Where the College is still worthwhile is in areas such as pedagogical discussions, child study and the sharing of research; and where the College includes administration staff as well, it can help to establish a sense that the school is the responsibility of everyone, and all staff whatever their job titles, are educators. This sense of common purpose was never achieved at RSSKL. To run a truly complex organisation like a school in today’s regulatory environment, I think it is necessary for a principal and senior management team to work alongside the College to achieve the best results.
What of the role of Ofsted in all this? I have no means of knowing for sure but I strongly suspect that there was some kind of turf war going on between “official” Ofsted and the former HMIs of SIS Ltd. Long after I had left the school, when parents began writing to Ofsted to complain about the way the school had handled their safeguarding concerns in connection with a teacher (as they were fully entitled to do), it seems likely that Ofsted saw it as an opportunity to step in and over-ride the inspectors from SIS, who would have been perfectly capable of dealing with the matter. But given everything that was happening at the school, it was inevitable that Ofsted would at some point have to pull the plug. I recently met a parent and former trustee of RSSKL, who said: “Thank God for Ofsted – and I never thought I would find myself saying that.” This was of course before the school was forced to close.
A major weakness of the Steiner schools in the UK is the fact that the exceptional autonomy of each Steiner school makes coordinated responses to movement-wide problems very difficult. This lack of centralised authority also makes it almost impossible to fix problems that individual schools have been unable to solve for themselves. RSSKL has now tarnished the name of Steiner Waldorf education far and wide – the BBC and national and local newspapers have carried extensive reports of the problems, leading figures in education have been quoted as saying that this should be a wake-up call for government to intervene, and of course the whole fiasco has been a gift to online Waldorf critics. One looks in vain to Dornach, the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, or the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (now somewhat reduced in staffing and resources) for a response.
Yet a response and positive corrective actions are surely needed. There are, for example, real deficiencies in some of the Steiner Waldorf teacher training courses. If I were recruiting teachers for a Steiner school now, I would do my best to employ only people who already had acquired QTS (qualified teacher status) and who had then decided to convert to the Steiner Waldorf system. That way a school would have some chance of getting gifted teachers who are also familiar with lesson planning, pupil assessment, record-keeping, classroom discipline etc., and all those issues on which RSSKL was judged to be failing.
I’m concerned that, because they have not sufficiently evolved and developed their administration, professional practice or the curriculum, the independent fee-paying Steiner schools are slowly declining. In recent years schools in Aberdeen, Canterbury, Glasgow and now Kings Langley have closed. It is possible that more will follow. There are of course also some excellent independent Steiner schools such as Edinburgh, Elmfield, Michael Hall, Wynstones and others; but my main hope for the future of Steiner Waldorf education in the UK now resides with the publicly-funded Steiner academy schools at Hereford, Exeter, Frome and Bristol. It is ironic that SWSF was criticised by many in the independent schools for supporting Steiner academies, on the grounds that public funding was likely to lead to government interference with the Waldorf curriculum, or that free Steiner schools would threaten the existence of the fee-paying schools. What these people forgot is that the government can and will intervene at any school, whatever its status, which is perceived as failing. Because the Steiner academy schools receive public funding, they are held much more accountable by government – but because they are now part of the maintained sector, they are seen as a valid part of the pluralistic education system in England in a way that the independent schools never managed to achieve. Not the least of RSSKL’s disasters is that it makes it far less likely that any government will wish to allow any more publicly-funded Steiner academy schools to be created.
My final conclusion is that to hold today to the letter of what Steiner did, rather than seek to express the essence of what he was really about, is to doom your school to irrelevance. I recently found a quotation from Karl König, founder of the Camphill Movement, which put this rather well: “Tradition is nurturing the flame, not worshipping the ashes.”
65 responses to “Death of a Steiner school”
Sad story. The conservatism of the College of Teachers appears to have been nurtured by the general rise of authoritarianism in the world in the last fifteen years. The College grew older, but also became more paranoid about the opportunities of the modern world.
“Well, so this is the background from which we are to face the world!” (Ivy Compton-Burnett, Elders and Betters, 1944, Google Books muXXuIbT-nYC)
Anthroposophical news (Tue, 24 Oct 2017): Kings Langley Rudolf Steiner School on reforming path to avoid closure
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Thoughtful and excellent article. Thank you. I worked in various administrative positions at several Waldorf schools over 22 years. Every word you wrote rings true for me.
Thank you, Wendy – but, oh dear! I had hoped that things were only this bad at Kings Langley!
Excellent article. Much of what you say is similar to my experiences. Your conclusions are spot on. The amazing Steiner Wakdorf curriculum and it’s development are seriously at risk of survival as schools without excellent leadership and management will not survive. The College of Teachers, riddled with fear of authority and hierarchy, while itself creating unseen authority and hierarchy will be the death of Steiner education. It is hard to understand how children can be regarded as a priority in a poorly managed school.
The larger schools are most at risk. But it is encouraging that there are still well managed schools such as in Cambridge, Nottingham and elsewhere.
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Thanks, Magic E! It’s good to be reminded that there are still some well managed independent Steiner schools – but see Tom Hart Shea’s comment below about the likely effect of RSSKL’s demise on the government’s Department for Education.
Before asking some questions, I’ll present my credentials to show that I have experience in Steiner schools in Argentina, Switzerland and Germany. In Argentina I was co-founder of two Waldorf schools, and co-founder of the Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar in Buenos Aires. In all three initiatives I was a part-time teacher (English as a foreign language) and member – usually president – of the Board of Directors. In Switzerland I was founder of an (eventually failed) fund raising institution for third world schools), in all three countries a parent. In the Seminar I taught general anthroposophy and school organization.
Questions: 1. What is the “trust”? In all three countries where I was involved the schools are legally owned by a not-for-profit corporation or civil society (Verein in German). Think in the uk you call this “charity”. Is that the “trust” you mention? Who are its members?
2. What were the sins committed by K.L. ? Were they only failing to fulfill bureaucratic requirements or did they ignore safety laws, fire, etc. Were children abused? Were state exams failed, etc?
3. 3. You seem to think that the school deserved to be closed. True? For what reasons does the state have the legal authority to close a private school it does not finance?
I’ll answer your questions in the same order in which you asked them:
1. Yes, schools that have charitable status in England, such as many Steiner and other independent schools, are formally administered by a Board of Trustees. In older trusts such as RSSKL, there would be some teacher-trustees, as well as parent and external trustees, but nowadays having employees such as teachers as trustees would not be approved by the Charity Commission, which oversees the regulation of charities in England.
2. The failings at Kings Langley as identified by Ofsted can be seen in various Ofsted reports. There is a link to the official Ofsted site here:
Reports by SIS can also be found via a link on that page.
3. I don’t think RSSKL deserved to be closed – it was more a self-willed suicide over many months. The children and some of the staff deserved much better than what has happened. The state in England takes for itself the right to intervene in any failing school, independent or publicly-funded.
Thank You, Jeremy. You have unfolded this history very well from the long years of healing creative education through to the sad ending.
It was a horrible time when that cabal of teachers and parents worked together to undermine the school. I have never witnessed anything so destructive and unprofessional in my 40 years of teaching and school management.
I fear the knock-on effects of this saga for other Steiner Schools. By this I mean it would be irresponsible for the the DfEE not to look for similar failings in other College-run Steiner Schools.
Thanks, Tom – if I’m not giving away any secrets, I think you were a member of the trustee body at RSSKL which resigned en masse some years ago, after experiencing prolonged non-co-operation from College. What was your experience of being a trustee at the school like at that time?
Jeremy, please let me say that this was an awesome post, and I felt your personal angst in the rendering. You promised a front-story to the backstory with all its historical relevance, and so here we are. The machinations of your experience in supporting the Steiner schools in England since 1998 is astounding. I personally have nothing to corroborate except my sincere belief that your daughter received a great education which has further proved your current assertions.
So, what it seems to be is that this so-called, “College of Teachers” is the culprit in creating all the problems of not adhering to oftsted standards, And it is likely that they adhere to Steiner’s education principles without exception. This point has adequately been gone over in other posts in which a course that Steiner gave to the Department of Education in Basle in the aftermath of first Steiner school in Stuttgart were given.
And maybe this leads to what the trustees in this whole issue have to say. Please remember that some of these trustees were former school teachers and even headmasters in the whole idea of gaining an education in the outer-external parameters of knowledge.
So, what appeals to me to ask is this: Are there Steiner schools in England which are completely independent and therefore without ofsted rules? This could prove important when we consider a school like RSSKL, which was both private and yet sought state funding. Now, what does it mean that a private school still seeks state funding? Well, in the case of RSSKL it meant that a yearly education of nearly 10,000 pounds was possibly kept from being doubled that number if they were a completely independent school. This is what it takes to be completely free and without officials investigating your school..
Here in America, they do it, and it is a fine line. Why not? The private Waldorf schools succeed, and even the publically funded (charter) schools are working.
So, maybe the real front and backstory here is how bureaucracy works in England to end a school, and here in America it keeps on going.
Thanks for your kind words, Steve. You ask whether there is any type of school in England which is totally free from Ofsted inspection: no, each and every school is subject ultimately to Ofsted inspection. For many private, fee-charging schools who are members of the Independent Schools Council (no Steiner school belongs to this), they receive inspections from the Independent Schools Inspectorate, but ISI is answerable to Ofsted. So it is not possible to open a school in the UK without some form of government oversight.
If a private school were to seek state funding, then it would have to give up all its assets to public ownership. That might be the best future for RSSKL, if it could become a state-funded Steiner academy school. But I suspect that government wouldn’t want to touch it with a barge-pole, unless there was a total clear-out of everyone associated with the old school. The interesting question is who will now control the assets of the school, which is on 10 acres of very valuable real estate.
Hi, Jeremy, I resigned sometime around 2006 due to my wife’s terminal illness. She died in 2008. So I was gone before the mass-resignation of trustees took place. I was then very preoccupied with looking after her and had no direct connection with the school until I was a Trustee again around the time when the building development plan went astray.(around 2012?)
During the period when there was a cabal of teachers and parents working against the school I was asked to be a Trustee again. The saddest aspect of that disruption was the unprofessional behaviour exhibited by a significant number of teachers and other employees.
Some of those people who behaved badly felt that their opinions were being ignored.
This points to another weakness of the college system. In a state school everyone knows that policies and plans are devised by the Principal together with the senior management team, and either approved or rejected by the Trustees. A regular employee would at best be involved in consultation but would have no say in the final decision. So everyone knows how things stand. If they can’t live with it, they leave.
In contrast, the college system seemed opaque.
Throughout my 30 year connection with the school it was never very clear to me how anyone got to be a member of college or how the college managed anything.
Right from my first contact with the school in 1986 it was apparent that some people where unhappy with the way college mostly failed to be decisive. It might take weeks to get a response to a concern, and there seemed to be no-one else to appeal to if the concern remained unresolved.
The school seemed to me to be very anarchic with little or no internal discipline. It seemed that no-one believed in monitoring anyone else’s behaviour or questioning the actions of others.
So when employees behaved anarchically I was not surprised but saddened and worried. In a state school every one of those teachers and other employees who plotted with parents against the Trustees and the Administration would have been sacked for professional misconduct. Similarly the person who illicitly recorded your meeting, and the teachers who failed to come to the OFSTED briefing.
I believe very strongly in the Steiner way of educating children. In Kings Langley the education was generally good and often inspiring.
I think that trying to run a school without a hierarchy of responsibility, with a single person at whom the “the buck stops!”, is a serious mistake.
Steiner got that bit wrong.
Feel the need to weigh in here as someone who has had a similar experience of a failing Waldorf school. Really resonated with the Judges comment that Steiner had taught them to do everything but how not to row! For me, this is the real problem. Yes, there is a degree of pressure from the state, as well as a pretty vehement presence of atheist
lobby groups, but they are more than manageable. It’s the pressures from within the schools that are rolling Waldorf back in these isles.
At a certain point, the school I was working with faced pressures both internal and external – and the solution seemed to be to turn on each other, thereby magnifying the problem several times over. The “flat heirarchy’ quickly became an observable incredibly steep, 2 tier hierarchy. Issues of ownership – such as the ones with KL in days of yore you describe above – also came to the fore. Generations of families worked, attended and even lived at the school, donating time and money, with many long term friends and family members doing the same, so it was somewhat inevitable strong feelings of either possessing the school, “guarding” it or knowing what’s best (and, of course, settling old scores) meant collaboration , or even being welcoming to new voices,a spiritually vital part of the work of the school, was damn near impossible. Sacrifices were expected, in addition to a low wage. It really was a miserable place to work compounded by the enmity you had to wade through. Trust was gone and passive aggression was the order of the day. But I expect the rot really set in years – even generations – ago being the reason you posted all this history.
Huge shame. The people doing the rounds with “cure all” buy in management plans are exploiting the situation too.
Schools have GOT to get this right. Teachers need to be supported – wage and conditions need to be fair. The purpose of a non heirachical structure was to ensure the will of the staff was the guiding principle of the school, rather than dictatorial decrees. So much inner work in this age of impetuousness masquerading as a rebalancing of the legal sphere means that patience, respect and tolerance need to be cultivated. The schools need to be seen as more than the bricks and mortar, rather the free gift of the teachers who work there, all of them. A gift isn’t free if you expect extra kudos, acknowledgement or prestige back for your labours. Thirdly engagement with the outside world, not isolationism, would be very healthy. Friendly handshakes extended to fellows in their local environment would mirror an inner attitude of openness and positive disposition to people rather than an attitude of withdrawal and antipathy. So much misunderstanding could be countered as well as eliminating the need for the horiffic industry of advertising by relying on word of mouth!
I have not yet seen a lack of awareness of Waldorf theory being a major problem, but inner strife and people being protected and backed up despite wrongdoing by their extended familial ties is clearly one.
The trouble with some Anthroposopical Charitable Trusts is they are neither charitable or trustworthy. My thriving Kindergarten of 25 years with good to outstanding Ofsted reports was closed down by one such body who thought they could run it themselves. Greed being the reason. They lasted for about two years. The beautiful building built by fundraising and the wonderful Biodynamic farm built and run by my husband no longer house a kindergarten or a farm. We were given a years notice. 40 children, 5 staff, special needs young adults, cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. My husband and I lost our livelihood but oh so much more, our hearts were broken.
As far as I know, Steiner said nothing about teachers entirely running a school. He was emphatic, though, that they made the decisions about pedagogy itself. The problem is that almost no decisions at a school, even ones that teachers are usually ill-suited to handle, are devoid of pedagogical implications, and teachers can be more aware of those implications, and give more weight to them, than non-teachers.
I don’t know how you unravel that conundrum.
Also, as far as I know, Steiner said nothing in support of entirely collegial, non-hierachical government. He only said that all teachers should do administrative work (which you’ve properly raised your eyebrows about). In other words, there’s no inherent Waldorf reason why a school shouldn’t have someone who doesn’t shy away from holding people accountable, as non-hierarchical colleges too often are.
Re the conundrum you mention, I think there may be a clue in something that Steiner said about self-administration: “The administration of education, from which all culture develops, must be turned over to the educators. Economic and political considerations should be entirely excluded from this administration Each teacher should arrange his time so that he can also be an administrator in his field. ” (quoted in Vol. 1 of the Conferenzen, published by SWSF.)
The significant words here are “in his field”. So the subject or class teacher should not have his or her own judgment overturned in the area of their own subject, their specialist field – but as you say, this does not exclude the school from having someone who can hold the teachers accountable, e.g. a principal or head teacher. The trouble, at least in the English schools, is that they have developed their own mythology about how a Steiner school should be run, hence our present problems.
Provided the person holding people accountable is also currently a teacher, I agree–
“Pedagogy [Erziehungs- und Unterrichtswesen] , out of which all
spiritual/intellectual life grows, must be placed into the administration of teachers…. Nobody gives regulations who is not at the same time engaging in living pedagogy. No parliament, no person who perhaps at one time taught but who no longer does, speaks in the discussion.”
I’m sorry that I don’t have an English source to hand for the quote, but a google German search like “Das Erziehungs- und Unterrichtswesen, aus dem ja doch alles geistige” will pull up the original from multiple Steiner books. It deserves a lot more thought than it has gotten (i.e., none) in some heavily promoted recent American models for Steiner school government.
As a non-dogmatic rule of thumb, I think it would be an excellent prescription for just about any school.
“Das Erziehungs- und Unterrichtswesen, aus dem ja doch alles geistige” will pull up the original from multiple Steiner books. It deserves a lot more thought than it has gotten (i.e., none) in some heavily promoted recent American models for Steiner school government.”
My experience of the so-called “American models for Steiner school government” is that it is rather simplistic, and related to the science of the spirit in which Steiner outlined his pedagogical system for the education of the child. As such, here in America there is a private school system which seeks to promote Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about what childhood education means in the attempt to keep the child within the kingdoms of nature, and also educate them in the outer-external world, which is an inevitability.
Now, leaving that aside for now, and knowing that it is true, I would like to hear comment on a recent report that asserts that RSSKL was closed because of possible malfeasance in terms of child safety and protection. I know that Jeremy has asserted his own misgivings with regard to child protection issues, and wherein even the police should have been called in. These are his own assertions. So, where do the lines get drawn and help is forthcoming?
Kings Langley had very few objections from Ofted to overcome and remain a viable entity, and yet they failed, and this caused their closure. Why? Child safety and protection is an easy issue for a school to uphold and prove, and yet, here we are. A school some seventy years old is closed. Why?
Steve, I’ve been careful to say that I have no comment to make on any events at RSSKL that may or may not have occurred after 2014, which is the last year of which I have any experience of the school. Nor do I intend there to be any discussion of specific allegations here. The Ofsted reports contain as much information as we need here for any discussion on safeguarding failures.
Well, I certainly would agree with your assessment, and since nothing can be done about it now, it becomes something to possibly ruminate about in terms of identifying those players who might have offended the system. Yet, since the system at Kings Langley seems to have been corrupted on a number of levels over the years, it seems that your tenure as education facilitator was doomed from the beginning. At any rate, a combination of circumstances can lead to what happened, and likely the most relevant factor is the fact of its being in existence for some seventy years. Who wants intervention in such a time honored system? Ofsted came along and found some flaws that simply were refused to be resolved. And so, the school closed.
But, it didn’t have to, did it? I guess that is my point. Here in America there is a simplicity model that works and wherein happiness is the inspection.
This was excellent–
“I came to realise that there are some teachers and many parents who, like children, need to understand where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie. When adults don’t find any boundaries and keep pushing, still with no response, then just like children, it becomes deeply worrying for them and they cause even more disturbance.”
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Here is what I take to heart – also excellent.
Jeremy writes: What conclusions do I draw from this whole sorry story?
“First of all and despite my own difficult experiences as a member of staff, I am very sad that a school which provided a good education to my own daughter and to so many other children over the last seventy years, has had to close because of the weakness, cowardice and malice of teachers and parents who were unable to see what the consequences of their own behaviour would be for the school. While I was experiencing these difficulties at the school, my daughter was gaining three A* grades at her A-level exams and going on to a successful university career. There were some really good teachers at the school, and the exam results were much better than the national average. The Waldorf curriculum taught alongside the exam curriculum at the school produced articulate, well-rounded and well-socialised young people who go on to do very well by society and in life. I want to celebrate what the school did well and remind myself that not all Steiner Waldorf schools should be damned because of RSSKL.”
Jeremy has borne his soul with this kind of rectitude. It deserves recognition as the effort of an honest and simple man to achieve results when that is all he saw to achieve on behalf of Steiner education. Thus, the factors that led to the demise of RSSKL remain their own undoing, and I wonder if they know this today? Sources say that RSSKL is planning a comeback already, under a new guise, and yet, how could that even remotely be possible?
Yet, miracles are said to happen 😉
Dear Jeremy, I very much appreciated your posting and description of events at Kings Langley as well as the many responses. I have worked with many Waldorf schools in the States and in other countries and have had the pleasure of running a course for Waldorf School Administrators over many years. I think Steiner’s main intent in making sure that teachers were involved in all essential decision-making was that the central connection between the teacher and the child was considered in all important decisions. And as you and others have pointed out from Frances Gladstone’s valuable little booklet, Republican Academies, Steiner, himself as the de-facto director of the first school had great difficulty in getting his colleagues to work together effectively. But I believe this is in part what he intended, to find social forms which forced individuals to confront the anti-social forces in themselves and to develop interest, empathy and love toward others. So Waldorf education, in addition to being a new education was also a social experiment, an experiment which I think requires inner work, consciousness and clarity. See Steiner, Social and Anti-Social Forces, How Can the Soul Needs of the Time be Met etc. I have found that clarity around the roles and reciprocal relationships between teachers, administrators, trustees and parents is critical and that a leadership team, (executive committee) consisting of pedagogical chair, head of administration and finance and possibly a trustee and an other experienced teacher most helpful. See my Partnerships of Hope: Building Waldorf School Communities, Chapter III. As the success of any school depends on the quality of the teaching and the college of teachers or a faculty committee hires, evaluates and dismisses colleagues in Waldorf schools it is absolutely essential that these processes are clear, transparent and involve outside evaluators. The absence of a strict adherence to such policies and a lack of professionalism generally around personnel issues is to my mind one of the greatest weaknesses of many Waldorf schools and the cause of countless social difficulties, including with state authorities.
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As someone who was in the audience for your recent talk at Emerson College on the theme of “Trump and Transforming the American shadow”, it’s a special pleasure to welcome you to this blog.
I had a conversation some time ago with Christopher Clouder, formerly from the SWSF executive group and an experienced teacher before that; and he told me that he had been looking through the books in Steiner’s library, which is kept at the Goetheanum. While turning the pages of a book on educational reform written by someone called Kirschlager, CC noticed some passages which had been heavily underscored by Steiner. They contained the same thoughts with which we are familiar in any discussion of leadership in Steiner schools: there should be no head master, the school should not be dictated to by the state, the school should be a republican academy. If these ideas were current in educational circles in Germany in the second decade of the 20th century, is it possible that Steiner, rather than bringing a vital concept for the development of humanity in the future from his vast spiritual insight, was simply aligning himself with the advanced educational thinking of his time?
Whatever the true origins of this idea, I agree with you that a leadership team, working alongside the College, is a necessity today. Another point to bear in mind is that, whatever structures a school may put in place, what really matters is the constellation of people you have as teachers and administrators.
I still believe that it is quite wrong for one school to be in a position to bring the whole anthroposophical movement into disrepute, as has happened with RSSKL. This is why I believe that Dornach, the ASinGB and SWSF need to consider ways in which schools can be accredited as worthy of bearing the names “Steiner Waldorf.”
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Some of us in this discussion have experienced the organizational weakness in many Waldorf schools – although not to the extent of being closed down by the authorities. However, I think that one of the greatest strengths of such schools is that the teachers, knowing that “the buck stops” with them , that they are ultimately responsible, that it is “their” school, results in very strong motivation on their part.
There are some really interesting thoughts and observations here.
I do not know a much of the detail of Steiner’s life but I have the impression that he never worked as an employee in an institution where he worked under direction and was held accountable and responsible to others for what he did. Am I right?
He seemed to be unaware that colleagues on different levels can work collaboratively and collegially even where there is a hierarchy of defined responsibilities – that even in a strictly hierarchical institution there can be the possibility of free and creative work.
On reading this comment, ‘ So Waldorf education, in addition to being a new education was also a social experiment,….’. I am left asking, ‘is it moral to try and carry out social experiments which will impinge directly on children’s well-being and life possibilities?’ (I mean via their education).
This question is a familiar one in the context of the British education system. There has been a hard fought debate in the United Kingdom over the content and form of education ever since the introduction of comprehensive schools in the 1960’s. It is still going on.
In the aftermath of the closure of this school I have come to doubt the wisdom of Steiner’s judgement when dealing with ordinary daily affairs such as the management of a complex organisation.
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I suspect that a lot of the most idealistic Waldorf teachers would avoid a school where they were treated de facto as employees, even if that had to be their standing de jure. That isn’t what they are looking for. When 4rmer writes above about schools being “the free gift of the teachers,” I’m hearing a familiar Waldorf teacher voice, but I’m not hearing someone looking to be an employee, and my own sympathies lie with that voice. I have no direct experience of state schools teaching with Waldorf methods; I suspect my reaction would be that something important is missing. I should probably add that I mean no disrepect to the people who are introducing those methods, only that the one doesn’t substitute for the other.
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Tom, I think it is important to continue this discussion as far as possible, and you always bring in interesting observations and questions. At least, I know that they compel me to speak when I often would rather be silent. Both you and Jeremy were involved with the Kings Langley school for many years, and you had said that your first tenure as a member of the Board of Trustees goes back to 1988, some ten years before Jeremy enrolled his child as a student in the school. So, we have a current history of involvement with the school, and you two are the key players within the scope of this anthropopper discourse.
Relative to Rudolf Steiner, yes, he was employed as an employee who was expected to perform his function in a responsible and accountable manner. He worked at the Goethe-Schiller archives from 1890 to 1897, and describes it in some detail in his autobiography, which you apparently have never read. I only say this because Steiner was very candid, and even critical about himself, and I think none more so than this period of time at Weimar. Yet, he produced a great deal of work during this period, and it even culminated with his second book on Goethe, i.e, “Goethe’s World Conception”. This he wrote and published just before moving to Berlin.
Now, here you write something that clearly challenges Rudolf Steiner’s own dedicated interest in seeing that the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart remain a going concern among many problems that required his attention. You wrote:
“He seemed to be unaware that colleagues on different levels can work collaboratively and collegially even where there is a hierarchy of defined responsibilities – that even in a strictly hierarchical institution there can be the possibility of free and creative work.”
You see, I don’t understand this kind of assessment. Steiner was working with one school within a new framework. And he often went there to hold faculty meetings in order to discuss their concerns. We’ve discussed this before in the famous post on switching from French to the Russian language, and how much Steiner gave his all, concerning the suggestion. Thus, the volumes that contain the Faculty Meetings with the first Waldorf School from 1919 to 1924 thoroughly contain Rudolf Steiner’s view of what this school meant, and without public interference, and this extends to the state-hierarchical level that you seem to see as so integrally important for success.
Yet, Steiner was an idealist; he thought it could happen, and extend itself from there. Here in America, it works without government standards of inspection, and why Waldorf only works when it is allowed to work.
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Any American Waldorf teacher would recognize the governance challenges that Tom and Jeremy are talking about, separate from the issue of state inspections. Schools have been torn apart by them.
Well, of course there is a difference between the British governance system and America. That is, ostensibly, why the so-called, ‘New World’ was discovered under the auspices of King James, VI & I, the successor of Elizabeth I, who saw Spain as her big enemy to defeat. With James, and his huge benefactor, Francis Bacon, the colonization program of the American continent began. Now, the idea for this program was planted in certain ways designed to influence the mind of the British people against the monarchy, the anglican church, and toward a more adventuresome spirit that would seek to expand itself. Thus, one of the key influences involved Shakespeare’s plays, which were designed to bring the human astral body into a kind of awareness that would seek to escape the bonds of the very restrictive structure of British society in the early 17th century.
Now, if we jump forward to the present world scene, we have the American model of independent schooling vs. the British model, which demands inspections to official standards of expectancy, even if the school is private and tuition runs into some 10,000 pounds a year.
So, I was only calling attention to the dichotomy between the two systems, and why Tom and Jeremy work so hard and conscientiously under the British system, and why it could be considered a very sad and defeating experience. The heart works here, and wants to say something about it.
Jeremy, how exciting! I never thought I would see you as the Anthropopper himself hailed as a Waldorf Whistleblower in the British Press, but there you are the focus of this exclusive Hemel Today article by Ben Raza about the demise of the school.
Inspectors ‘whipped’ in school play about Ofsted at Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley
Ofsted inspectors were ‘whipped to death’ by students in a play devised by a teacher at a £10,000-a-year private school, a senior insider has claimed.
‘Ofsted The Musical’ was performed by students at Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL), which was forced to close last month after a succession of problems lasting several years.
These included Ofsted repeatedly highlighting problems with the school’s leadership and safeguarding of students.
However the school hopes to re-open under new ownership – albeit with the same staff, on the same site, and teaching the same curriculum – in September.
RSSKL said the claim about the play was not accurate.
The whipping was among a series of claims made by Jeremy Smith, a former employee of the school whose children were taught there.
Over 10 years Jeremy Smith was successively the school’s communications officer, chair of trustees, and education facilitator. And he has made a series of extraordinary revelations about the school, including: . . .
Jeremy, I love the play! Can you tell us more about it? Maybe it’s up on YouTube. (I will search!) What a wonderful Waldorfian way to allow the students to blow off necessary steam about the mean old authorities responsible for closing their school!!! Somehow the whipping of the inspector with copper eurythmy rods reaches the sublime, possibly Devachanian level of “sacred slapstick” worthy of the 3 Stooges, the Marx Brothers, or even more appropriately, your hilarious British hero, Benny Hill.
And you’ve really got the tongues wagging at the Waldorf-Critics Yahoo group. Dan Dugan first reported the article and the usual clucking and tsk-tsking is now taking place as they so haughtily disapprove of that wondrous Waldorf theater piece.
Jeremy, you have a future in the British media. A Steiner star is born! Today, the Hemel Today. Tomorrow, the Sun, the Mirror, maybe even the Guardian! On to the BBC! Then I will proudly say: “I knew Jeremy when. . . . “
It must have been a slow news week in Hemel Hempstead…and of course, they got all sorts of details wrong. I didn’t say that an Ofsted inspector was whipped, I said that he was “done to death” with the copper rods from eurythmy lessons – stabbed or battered, I can’t remember which it was. Nor was I “chair of trustees” but “chair of College”, etc., etc. But if anyone from RSSKL would like to come to the blog to correct anything they say I’ve got wrong, they will be very welcome.
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Thank you for your excellent and sad article. As a Waldorf teacher in America, I can assure you all the issues (minus Ofsted) are identical. And as it turns out, Ofsted is not required for the issue to rip schools apart. Whomever has the solution better start speaking up, or there will be a lot of ashes to worship.
I have a treatise/ proposal but Jeremy has declined to post a link to it. Anyone interested can e-mail me directly at Golden3000997@cs.com. I also have it on Facebook at a closed group “Threefold Waldorf Education.” You can request to join the group. Jeremy, I hope that you will allow this much. Thank you!
I hope you remember me because we used to converse many years ago, and I remember your treatise/proposal, and I found it to be very important. It helped me to understand how Rene Querido could have suddenly left Spring Valley, New York, where he ran the Waldorf School there until 1976, and then suddenly moved to Fair Oaks, California, in order to intervene on Carl Stegmann’s idea for a Center for Anthroposophical Studies, and turn it into Rudolf Steiner College.
Now, what I remember is that you were also excited to make this move. The rest is something that you should explain with a certain finesse, based on experience, and would have certainly gained the necessary respect from Jeremy. Don’t expect to just post a long treatise and get recognition. Play your hand, and start slow. This blog has been around for nearly four years, and some see it as a work-in-process. So, please start from the beginning of what brought you to Waldorf. It is really good, but only you can explain it.
When I took my Waldorf Teacher Training at Rudolf Steiner College in Sacramento, CA in the early 80’s, Rene Querido was fond of reciting this saying of Steiner as a kind of mantram for us trainees.
“Waldorf schools will continue to exist in society as independent separate schools until the impulse that lives in Waldorf Education permeates education-at-large — at which point, separate Waldorf schools become unnecessary.”
When queried about it meaning, Rene would employ his favorite metaphor of a sugar cube dissolving in a teacup. He would say in my reconstructed words: “In order for the sugar to permeate the entire tea, the sugar cube must sacrifice its form and structure. Also, the process of permeation is quite invisible and can only be proven by drinking the tea.”
Of course, the question today is: have we reached that point of dissolution and permeation? I say, resoundingly, yes we have!
In fact, I would take the death of the RSSKL as prima facie indirect evidence that whatever living impulse existed in the original school has long since been liberated by the dissolution of the old forms and structures, and that essence is now permeating education-at-large in the UK (e.g., as Jeremy describes the various publicly funded Steiner Academy schools.)
In the USA, the permeation seems clearer in the proliferation of Waldorf inspired Public Charter schools that consciously “cherry pick and choose” what Waldorf methods will or will not work today.
(Rene Querido would also remind us trainees of Rudolf Steiner’s own statements to the effect that Waldorf is a method, and as a method, can thus be applied anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. )
Here is a representative acknowledgement of that permeation today:
Research Confirms Waldorf Educational Methods
So, Jeremy — and others here — rather than keep on throwing a lugubrious “pity-party” to lament the demise of RSSKL, why not throw a much salubrious tea party to celebrate the liberation of the Waldorf essence that is now busily permeating education-at-large throughout the UK? So stop crying in your beer and start laughing in your tea!
The Waldorf School is dead! Long live Waldorf Education!
(I’ll have one sugar cube in my teacup, thank you!)
Most people who hold that the Steiner impulse for education now has been absorbed by the mainstream educational movement seem not to have recent experience with the latter. I have.
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I would certainly agree that the mainstream model has not even remotely introduced the Steiner idea of what it takes to bring the child forward from the kingdoms of childhood. Many people can relate to early childhood, and how they were referred to the nature spirits, and how the kingdoms of nature were seen as the earthly reflections of the upper worlds, as seen with the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms. I remember myself, living in a kind of amazement that the gods had made this earthly world into a kind of replication of what had just been experienced before birth.
Now, you say:
“As a Waldorf teacher in America, I can assure you all the issues (minus Ofsted) are identical. And as it turns out, Ofsted is not required for the issue to rip schools apart. Whomever has the solution better start speaking up, or there will be a lot of ashes to worship.”
Come on now, as a teacher in a Waldorf School you should know that it is really all about the child, and how the child needs to be easily brought into the three-dimensional world of subject-object distinctions. So, what would be the problem? Where does the interference come from?
Yours to answer.
Steve, I think you will find that there are just as many problems in Waldorf schools in the USA – perhaps there are even more, as there is no Ofsted to bring out the full extent of what is there. In my view, the AWSNA schools made a big mistake in not allowing the charter schools based on Steiner’s methods to call themselves “Waldorf”. And I think it is now time for all schools using Steiner’s methods to change their names from “Waldorf” to “Steiner”.
Well then, Arne, do tell us of your experience with mainstream education.
And I am quite puzzled by your assertion about “most people”. I don’t know anyone who claims that the Steiner Impulse for education has been “absorbed” by mainstream education. That’s quite an exaggeration and strikes me as “protesting too much.”
Remember that it was Rene Querido who told us 35 years ago about the full permeation of the tea. In my view, we are still at the beginning stages of the crumbling away of the sugar cube, and very little of the invisible sugar Impulse has made its way up and out from the bottom of the cup.
But what I do see is that the positive Impulse of Waldorf Education is trickling its way up “education-at-large” and its positive progress can actually be measured by the negative collapsing, deconstruction, disintegration (choose your favorite “catabolic: word) of the traditional form and structure of the old established schools like RSSKL.
It’s beem a whjile since I talked with anyone involved with public schools using Waldorf methods and training teachers for public Waldorf teaching, so I might be out of date.But at the time, they were extremely conscious, and rightly so, that public schools in the states are secular and that they had to be extremely cautious about even teaching public school teachers in using Waldorf methods in a way that could be construed as anything but strictly neutral about the existence of a spiritual dimension to life, quite apart from how those teachers were then to teach their own students.
While Waldorf schools don’t do enough, in my experience, about assessing student learning outcomes, I have serious doubts that working within the strait jacket assessment system that is mandated for public schools can be done without putting a lot of pressure on Waldorf approaches to learning.
So I’m all for Wladorf methods being used in public schools, but i’m a lot less persuaded that a school working within the contraints of the public school system in the United States should be called a Waldorf school without any qualifiers, quite apart from issues of governance. .
Jeremy, I used to be a kind of lay advocate in support of Waldorf education in America, and this was designed to offset the unrelenting criticism of the Waldorf-Critics list. So, I have some idea of where the problems exist. One day, I got the great idea to bring in the officials of AWSNA in order for them to hear about the concerns of the critics, and so I wrote a kind of Waldorf Outreach letter.
So, I hope you see that I know that the issues are large, and whenever a Waldorf teacher writes, it is important to find out exactly where they think the problems are to be overcome. Tom Mellett has also shown a concerted interest in this. Yet, it can be shown that on all too many occasions when Waldorf teachers are asked to speak about what they hold near and dear, concerning the prevailing problems and challenges, they choose to never write again about it. Possibly, they think they are being challenged in a negative way, but I can assure you this is not so. It is very vital to know what the active teachers are experiencing and feeling in today’s Waldorf/Steiner world.
Jeremy wrote: “And I think it is now time for all schools using Steiner’s methods to change their names from “Waldorf” to “Steiner”.
Reminds me of a joke we used to tell when our children were at their (excellent) Steiner schools. We called it the “Steiner WalledOff” method.
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Well, it could hardly be considered a “walled off” method, unless you were suggesting that it wanted to try to keep the child within the fold of childhood, rather than expose them rather abruptly into the three-dimensional paradigm of early childhood education, which is the norm today. Steiner even gave a course of lectures on it in the summer of 1924, i.e. “The Kingdoms of Childhood”.
I think he wanted to express how much his initiative for a gradual introduction of the child into the three-dimensional paradigm was important. In today’s world, the child is assaulted with abstractions, even before pre-k, and they have a ‘tablet’ to prove it. My two grandsons are already very clever, and this proves something. And. believe me, neither one will ever come close to a Steiner school, which is a sad joke in the reverse sense, which could relate to what you mean from the European sense of schools for Steiner methodology.
In other words, very few here will find it, although it does exist. It takes the fine and discriminating mind of the parent in order to detect such a school. Here in America, some 141 Waldorf schools exist, and that is no joke. There are parents that want their child to ease into the world of subject-object distinctions, and possibly make it into a fine art; an art of world becoming.
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Thank you for the post, it is very well written and hopefully useful to other organisations who are willing to learn from these mistakes. Alas this sad story has been repeated in the schools you mention and quite a few other anthroposophical endeavors. I have worked in anthroposophical circles for quite a large part of my life and I have become familiar with much of what you describe, much to my sadness and frustration. There is a dynamic going on for which anthroposophy provides no answer. Several years ago I came across psychosynthesis psychology via a friend. I immediately saw that psychosynthesis could perhaps provide some answers to this conundrum. The beauty of psychosynthesis in relation to anthroposophy is that the two approaches overlap and integrate very well, they are quite compatible and I would say psychosynthesis addresses the bits anthroposophy hasn’t developed.
I would have to admit myself as having somewhat ‘suffered’ from a sort of “anthroposophical identity disorder” for almost thirty years or so. It was simply an over identification on anthroposophy, my chosen ‘ideal model’. I still value anthroposophy as much as I ever did, but I have realized in recent years since studying psychosynthesis psychology is that spiritual development or alignment needs to go hand in hand with psychological development and growth too. Otherwise part of the dangers of idealism and spirituality is that we become unbalanced, we place too much value and emphasis on the ‘ideal model’ and over identify with it and become not fully integrated or sufficiently aware of all the levels of our consciousness and then these ‘disorders’ become manifest and spills out with the result that impacts hugely in the social and working environment and compromises healthy cooperation and healthy collaboration ceases.
To put it at is most basic, idealism of any sort helps the human soul stave off depression from early wounding and trauma and the very real and harsh realities of life. In the psychosynthesis model of the person this area is designated the lower unconscious. (this diagram is helpful) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychosynthesis#Model_of_the_person)
If the idealistic model,whatever that may be, becomes challenged whether actual or imagined there can be strong emotional re-action and defensiveness as there is almost existential need for the ‘ideal model or spirituality’ to stay untainted and afloat otherwise the threat of the unconscious ‘depression’, ‘sense of abandonment’ and ‘aloneness’ etc. comes back into full consciousness. It can almost feel like its life threatening. (I went through this process myself in my twenties, I wrote an article on my own experience of this when someone rather unkindly and abruptly pulled ‘my anthroposophical rug’ from under my feet (I put in the summer 2017 New View magazine / the article is called Spiritual Emergence Spiritual Emergency)
Other institutions will very likely close unfortunately and it will only change when the anthroposophical community begins to become more psychologically awake, but it unfortunately seems to be resistant to anything outside itself. It’s failing is in my opinion, it generally tends to only self refer. Spiritual science is bigger and wider than anthroposophy these days. The anthroposophical community seems as far as I can see, to generally assume that spiritual science and anthroposophy are the same thing. I don’t think that is necessarily the case, because there are other spiritual sciences and fields of knowledge that attempts to understand spirituality and spiritual phenomena in a very ordered, lucid, experiential and scientific way But it comes under various titles such as transpersonal psychology, psychosynthesis of course and now there is the science of neuro-theology and there are others too. All of these approaches can be helpful to create a balanced, harmonious and wholesome integration of idealism and or spirituality with our woundedness which though, may be unconscious at some level, is ever present and active and gets ‘acted out’ without our full awareness. These spiritual sciences and psychologies can help us to understand and support ourselves better and hopefully one day we can put an end to scenario’s such as happened at Kings Langley which alongside many other institutions before, was an unconscious act of self sabotage. I also fully include myself and take responsibility for my own shortcomings in the institutions that I’ve been involved with. I’m only sharing this and speaking out is because, at the very least, I hope the anthroposophical community can wake up and acknowledge the lower unconscious realm of the soul, understand it, empathise with it and heal it It is our inner Amfortas after all (lower unconscious) it is the counterpart to our inner Parzival (higher unconscious) the question is to begin with not so much as “What ails Thee?” but “What ails me?” and each and everyone of us and why on earth do scenarios such as this keep happening?
Steiner actually attempted to develop a kind of psychosynthesis of the system of spiritual science in order to bring forth the first measure of the threefolding enterprise that he had in mind. Thus, threefolding begins with the initiative of spiritual science itself, which encompasses the three parameters of time: past, present, and future. Steiner’s own commitment was to the anthroposophical component, which is why he was always referring to the past.
He gave a seminal lecture-course on this, which encompassed the three years of 1909-1910-1911, and wherein, anthroposophy, psychosophy, and pneumatosophy, were given in their potential forms.
Yet, it was Steiner’s own charter to begin the process of self-remembering by bringing the consciousness of the past into the present. This represents the scope of anthroposophy. The remainder represents the scope of what we do today in the further pursuits of the science of the spirit, in terms of present and future.
And so, psychosynthesis is here and now, and that is to be expected. Yet, people today cower in the face of a such a proposition. Why is that?
Just for clarification on your last sentence. What do you mean by people cower at such a proposition? Do you mean people cower at the proposition of psychosynthesis?
No, I think that drawing attention to psychosynthesis is important because it represents a kind of macrocosm of the general scope of an organized, systematic and functional spiritual evolution on earth. As such, we have a few individual components of this system, which serve to provide the content of consciousness needed to achieve individual progress. One of these contributions is the work of Rudolf Steiner, and wherein he actually outlined three specific iterations wherein the theme of the past, present, and future of mankind was taken up as a kind of total endeavor, and in which the goal was for the consciousness of the past, present, and future to co-exist as a kind of simultaneous experience.
As such, this is possible today, and serves to pay homage to the psychosynthesis envisioned by Roberto Assaglioli (1882-1974).
Many specific contributions can be named in support of this general initiative:
2) Rudolf Steiner
3) Sri Aurobindo
4) G. I. Gurdjieff
5) P. D. Ouspensky
6) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
7) Paramahansa Yogananda
8) Jean Gebser
And this is just a short list of individual contributors to what encompasses the domain of Psychosynthesis. What serves to cower modern-day humanity in terms of taking responsibility for such an enterprise is merely the all too human phrase of the mortal human being, in which the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
I would highly disagree that “there is a dynamic going on for which anthroposophy provides no answer.”. Rather, I would say that the answer is given in spades when we consider the total scope of a psychosynthesis involving anthroposophy, psychosophy, and pneumatosophy
I was encouraged to look for your essay on “Spiritual Emergence – Spiritual Emergency”, and it is given a glowing review by the editor of New View magazine here:
So, possibly Jeremy Smith could invite you to write a blog post here in which this topic is entertained. It would be a wonderful relief from “the death of a steiner school”; so sad indeed, but you seem to give a new impetus, which could even take us into the Michael season this year. I hope to hear of it.
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You have written a very balanced and entirely accurate article about RSSKL between 2004 and 2014.
I completely understand why you have cut all ties with Kings Langley – you were betrayed by a small number of teachers – your colleagues – who quite frankly should have known better. I acknowledge the objectivity and even-handed-ness you have brought to this article, in spite of all you have been accused of.
I am the parent and ex-Trustee who said ‘Thank God for Ofsted’ when we met at the Class 5 Olympics last summer (fabulous experience for the pupils btw). And I absolutely stand by that statement. RSSKL was incapable of reform from within – rotten to the core underneath it all – and the authorities needed to take charge, for the sake of the children.
As others will know, there’s a lot more to say, some of which will no doubt come out in the wash going forward!
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“I am the parent and ex-Trustee who said ‘Thank God for Ofsted’ when we met at the Class 5 Olympics last summer (fabulous experience for the pupils btw). And I absolutely stand by that statement. RSSKL was incapable of reform from within – rotten to the core underneath it all – and the authorities needed to take charge, for the sake of the children.”
What does “rotten to the core” mean?
Thank you for your comment. It’s good to hear from someone who was not only a parent at the school but also a trustee. In fact, apart from Tom Hart Shea who was a trustee as well as a grandparent of pupils at the school, you are the only person from RSSKL who has made any comment on this post! No other parent or teacher has so far had anything to say, which is quite strange.
Those who are keeping quiet in the hope that they will be able to re-open the school under new owners but with the same staff should be under no illusion. I understand that the Department for Education will not allow this to happen unless there is a total and complete clear-out of all existing staff.
I think the best and most creative way forward (and the only way to keep Kings Langley as a Steiner school) would be for the new set of trustees to offer the buildings and grounds to the government for a new publicly-funded Steiner academy school. Otherwise I fear that you will end up with a new 10 acre Barratt housing estate on your doorsteps. “Follow the money” and “cui bono?” should be your watchwords over the next few months.
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Thank you for your insightful post. As a class teacher and 4 years Chair of College in a smaller school I sorely identify with all the issues.
Michaela Glochler, Chair of the Medical Section at the Goetheanum has identified the two most overwhelming difficulties that teachers are currently faced with; over administration and over digitalisation. The first is a result of lack of trust in teachers. The second results in a need for even more rigorous teacher training in the principles of Waldorf education whereby an environment can be created where children truly experience the world.
Looking to these two unarguable truths we have to return to first principles and look at what we are trying to do as Waldorf educators. While it is wonderful that some children go on to do excellently academically, as indeed one of my own daughters has done, this as I’m sure you’re aware, is not the overriding aim. Not at all. The overriding aim is to educate children in the ways of the world in such a way that they remain in touch with their sense of who they are, physically, emotionally and mentally and can therefore, comfortable within themselves, contribute to the world.
I think you will agree that given the state of the world, this is no mean task and calls on particular skills that have to be developed and practised.
Teaching is a vocation. As such, time for reflection and self development is essential. Timetables, famously, allow little time for planning and assessment, let alone reflection and self development.
My experience of teachers who have first qualified with QTS is that they are drilled excellently in the tasks of planning and assessment and they are very often excellent at holding a class and with a top up of Waldorf training one could ask what more could be needed ? I have excellent reports from schools and parents of such teachers which is surely what we want to hear?
It is difficult to express what is not unusually lacking however their formative experiences in teacher training colleges seem to iron out a lack of trust in themselves or perhaps they have more respect for a system than for themselves ? Obviously this is most certainly not always the case but is the case in many of those I have witnessed as having first ontained QTS. I truly believe that children, to fulfill their true potential, need to be taught by teachers who deeply recognise themselves and trust their instincts. This is a journey for the teacher themselves that requires excellent teacher training and excellent mentoring and a will and openness to develop. A teacher blessed with these gifts is often able to source the remedies, either a book, a training course, a conversation etc to attend to the most difficult needs in a class in a way that fits those children and that class and leads to healthy growth of all the children in that class. My experience is that given the huge time restrictions we work under, teachers who come to teaching from the Waldorf trainings take this as their priority over, yes, the sittting down to establish target grades or assess on what is quite frankly, a dead number system. Those initially trained for QTS prioritise their skills in satisfying a system, with, it cannot be denied, reasonable short term results, Perhaps that is all that is needed ? It is not what I learned on my teacher training course and Godi Keller, a Norwegian teacher educator has different experiences which he has written about.
Over administration has depleted the gift of self self development and the teachers feel this. The acts of some teachers, while not condoning them, are a reflection of the need to have this aspect of teachers work acknowledged. It is quite right that teachers should be transparent, that they should attend meetings, be wholly accountable for their actions, plan and give meaningful feedback to pupils, parents and colleagues, of course, and I am aware this is not always the case. However, I do believe we have to be careful of initiating hierarchies. It has been proven in management that those employees who feel responsible for the company they work for and feel part of the decision making processes, are more fulfilled and this of course leads to greater creativity and trust which is exactly what is required in a Waldorf teacher. Will a hierarchy really teach children to trust themselves ?
Rather than advocating principles and management leaders for schools, that I agree have been needed to cope with the onslaught, it would be more useful if we could, as a movement, look at how to counter the phenomenon of over administration which is without doubt bringing the whole British Education system, not just Waldorf Schools, to its knees. Anyone who knows a teacher teaching in any maintained school right now, in some cases, maintained Waldorf Schools, more than any, will attest to this. Waldorf Education is full of gifts among which are the tools to cooperatively, non hierarchicaly, manage and run our schools but is being sabotaged to great effect. Analysis of failure is crucial but it must be put into the context of the current educational climate. Acknowledgment and acceptance are more useful in moving forward than blame.
I take on board the need to render to Ceaser what is Ceaser’s but my question is; What is Ceaser’s ? I don’t believe it is our humanity. I long for when we as a movement; schools, both independent and maintained; The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship; The Anthroposophical Society, both here in the UK and world wide, can rise together in support of what the future generation really needs which is teachers who are trusted and teachers who have time to reflect and develop. I long for our voices to speak out together about the dangerously deadening effects of over assessment, and over administration that is strangling education and to which Waldorf teachers in particular, are sensitive. I long for a renewed trust in the art of teaching and I truly believe that management too is an art that begins with self development, not hierarchies. I believe this is the harder of the two paths. But I suspect it is easier to give Ceaser our humanity.
To answer your question, being a parent that was opposed to RSSKL’s “property strategy”, my reasons were simply that the money didn’t seem to be well spent for the supposed improvements. If someone you care about is getting further and further into debt and seems oblivious to the consequences, what is your reaction when they announce they want to buy themselves a Porsche? The fact of the matter was the existing school buildings obviously hadn’t been properly maintained with paint peeling off everywhere, rotten window sills, teachers were not being paid properly and it seemed utter madness to make the school cosmetically look better (mainly at the front) before a whole host of more urgent improvements was tackled.
Your account of the lead up to the closure of RSSKL I found very interesting and enlightening however.
As a pupil from 1960 – 71 I’m saddened to learn about the closing of the school. My only hope is that something fresh and new will arise from the metaphorical rubble. Above all it would be a tragedy if Mr Ayre’s kindergarten building – a true masterpiece – could not go on functioning as intended by its creator.
BTW my newly published memoir on Amazon, ‘Long Road to Chavin’ contains my reflections on having received a wonderful education at the school. I will always be grateful for the loving attention of my class teacher Clare Dubrovic on my young self in my formative years.
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Thank you Jeremy for your detailed and considered view on the closing of the school. I appreciate it and the comment thread below. Something of real value has been lost.
Thank you, Melissa! Are you by any chance related to the late Nelson Willby, who ran the Wellspring bookshop in London?
Yes I am Jeremy. Nelson was my husband. He also was a former teacher at KL. And it still feels strange to say “was” in that second sentence.
I have written a similar blog about the death of a Steiner school in South Africa. I was one of the founding teachers. It was only the fledgling High school that was closed, and so the school continues in its rocky way. Fortunately in South Africa, the Government is very supportive of Waldorf education, and so we had minimal problems there. Our problems were more personal. I also spent a year in England on sabbatical and realised how anti- Waldorf, in fact how extremely secular England had become. I also saw the damaging effects of Ofsted a number of times. England is Waldorf-unfriendly in so many ways, I would never want to teach there (I did for 1 month and never to want to again), let alone start a school there.
Waldorf schools are very complex BECAUSE of the circle management but when you try to circumvent this it ALWAYS falls down. It takes time, it takes courage and patience, but it is the only sure way to run a Waldorf school. It MUST run from the inside to the outside if it is to keep its heart. Without this, it is a parody, a mimic of a Waldorf school, even if it is as old as the Hills (often these have lost their centre, and thats why they fail). In England schools are interfered with from the outside so badly, that I am uncertain that there are any Waldorf schools that haven’t compromised too much.
I have been following what has been happening at RSSKL and am very saddened, but I believe that an impulse never dies, and so I see the school arising afresh from the ashes. Sometimes this enables the dead wood to be lost..and there is often a lot accumulating in Waldorf schools. So I am wishing you well, and dont ever think that what you have given is lost. https://carolstravelsblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/ there are two posts on this if you are interested.
(Ultimately I have not written about the deeply personal issues that lead to our high schools demise…and yet, they are the real reasons.)
I just wanted to write to say that I very much appreciate your comments, and where the demise of Steiner schools occurs from England to South Africa. Now, I was very vocal on this thread concerning OFSTED rules of inspection when it comes to private schools, and Jeremy wrote that the British government lords over every little inch of its domain, both public and private. Your own school failed by reasons that you can likely admit, if you choose to, and yet, the issue with the Ofsted in England concerning RSSKL in particular circulates around child safety issues. Yet, not one concrete example was ever given for what was lacking and needed to be improved on this matter. Rather, it was more like the offenders, i.e, the College of Teachers, needed to be protected in all matters, and this is why the school was forced to eventually close, According to Jeremy, this collegiate holds to their own vested high standards, and yet likely failed to see that their *studentage* is of the modern age, or even post-modern, if that describes it better.
Yet, child safety is a huge issue worldwide, and a large part of it has to do with exploitation of children and adolescents in the school environment. Now, in my immediate vicinity there is a public high school right across the street from where I live, and students from this school leave campus every day in order to invade the surrounding neighborhood at lunch-time in order to loiter, carouse, litter with their lunch meals, smoke cigarettes, and also marijuana (which is legal in Washington state if 21 years old). As well, these students often engage in fist-fights, which is a child safety issue, and requires the intervention of the community, as well as calling the school to report, and also the local police.
Yet, the authorities, both school and police, seem to fail to see what is really taking place before their eyes. You see, these children and youngsters all walk around with an i-pad, which is their supposed connection to the world. Thus, they have no respect for anything of value, and disdain education for the latest twitter feed.
Now, of course, this is the technological materialism that Steiner warned would occur in order to try to drive humanity below the surface conditions into the sub-earthly. Kids today are demonstrating this, as we speak.
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I saw this on RSSKL facebook page:
RSSKL Kings Langley
Yesterday at 10:54 AM ·
To our community,
We write to you to correct significant misconceptions you may have been given in respect of the reasons why the school closed.
You will be aware that in August 2017 The Council of Trustees and Tim Byford, Principal, issued a Public Statement, that included:
“In particular, the school wishes to apologise for any suggestion that may have been made in the past by school leaders or staff, publicly or privately, that family members who had raised concerns about safeguarding or SEN provision were the cause of the difficulties the school has found itself in. The latter is wholly and entirely of its own making”
However, despite issuing this public statement it is evident that Trustee Board Members and senior leaders at the school did not act, least of all decisively or assertively, to redress the issues of blame attributed by the wider parent group to families who had raised concerns about safeguarding and SEN provision in the past. As a result, a false narrative continued unchecked.
Our failure to act caused distress to families and their children and we seek to put that right now. We wholeheartedly condemn the false narrative that ex-parents were responsible for the closure of the school. The school closed for its failure to meet the Independent School Standards.
We have now offered our sincere apologise to the families for our failure to challenge the false narrative and for the immense distress caused.
We wish to re-iterate the key message from our earlier public statement:
“the school wishes to apologise for any suggestion that may have been made in the past by school leaders or staff, publicly or privately, that family members who had raised concerns about safeguarding or SEN provision were the cause of the difficulties the school has found itself in. The latter is wholly and entirely of its own making”
The school closed for its failure to meet the Independent School Standards.
The Trustees of RSSKL