Difficult days for Steiner Waldorf schools in England

These are dark and difficult times for Steiner Waldorf schools in England, so much so in fact that I fear for their survival.

I refer to England, rather than the rest of the UK, because it is the Department for Education (DfE) in England that oversees Ofsted which is responsible for inspecting a range of educational institutions, including state schools and some independent schools within England, and which is currently concentrating its efforts on giving Steiner schools as hard a time as possible. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the situation is different and the Ofsted equivalents in those countries do not appear to have it as their mission to close down Steiner schools.

It was of course the disastrous failings at the now-closed Kings Langley school that provided the main impetus for this campaign against Steiner schools. As Tom Hart Shea, a former head teacher who commented on my “Death of a Steiner school” post observed, “I fear the knock-on effects of this saga for other Steiner Schools. By this I mean it would be irresponsible for the DfE not to look for similar failings in other College-run Steiner Schools”.

So it has proved, except that Ofsted is not just inspecting the independent Steiner schools to within an inch of their lives but is also coming down very heavily on the state-funded Steiner academy schools.

The Kings Langley failures led to a wide range of highly critical articles about Steiner education in the national media. On 24th June 2018, the Daily Telegraph published an article with the headline: “ ‘Rotten to the core’ flagship Steiner school to close, as it emerges concerned parents were sent gagging letters”. The article, by the newspaper’s education editor, Camilla Turner, went on to say:

“A flagship Steiner school is to close amid fears over child safety, after it emerged that parents who tried to raise the alarm about safeguarding lapses had been sent gagging letters.

The Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL) has told parents that it will shut down at the end of this term, following a string of damning Ofsted reports.

Steiner schools, which are favoured by liberally-minded middle-class parents, base their curriculum – which emphasises creativity and imagination – on the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.

Parents have accused the school of attempting to “cover up” the full extent of its failings by trying to intimidate those who sought to voice their unease about the goings-on at the school”.

Camilla Turner returned to the theme in another Telegraph article on 20th October 2018, this time with the Steiner Academy Exeter in her sights:

“Ministers have been urged to order fresh inspections of all the Steiner schools in the country, as a second school is threatened with closure amid ‘serious’ concerns about child safety.

The Steiner Academy Exeter was warned by the government this week that it could have its funding cut off, after Ofsted discovered severe safeguarding and governance lapses.

Following the inspection, the regional schools’ commissioner took the unusual step of instructing it to close immediately while the issues were addressed, so it can ensure a ‘safe environment’ for its pupils. It re-opened a week later”.

On 6thDecember 2018, Sally Weale, an education correspondent for The Guardian, also wrote about the Steiner Academy Exeter under the headline:

“ ‘Inadequate’ Steiner school to be taken over by academy chain”.  She went on to report:

“A state-funded Steiner school in Devon is to be transferred to a multi-academy trust after the schools watchdog said it was inadequate.

Ofsted inspectors raised serious concerns about safeguarding and lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send) at the Steiner Academy Exeter, which opened in September 2013.

The academy is one of a small number of Steiner schools set up as a result of the government’s controversial free school policy and paid for by public funds. Other Steiner schools in the UK are privately funded”.

Sally Weale followed this up with another Guardian article on 17th January 2019:

“The future of state-funded Steiner education has been thrown into doubt after a series of snap Ofsted inspections found that three of the four such schools set up under the Conservatives’ free schools programme were inadequate.

The four have been inspected in recent weeks – alongside private Steiner schools, a number of which have also been found to be inadequate – following an intervention by the education secretary, Damian Hinds, over concerns about safeguarding.

Ofsted reports for the Frome and Bristol Steiner academies are due to be published later this week and have been shared with parents. Copies seen by The Guardian reveal inspectors’ concerns about a wide range of issues including safeguarding, bullying and lack of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The Frome report accuses leaders and governors of failing to provide pupils with a safe and effective education, due to a lack of understanding about the current statutory requirements”.

Humanists UK, which has for some years been campaigning against Steiner schools, tried to claim the credit for Ofsted’s actions:

“Humanists UK is calling for the urgent closure of three Steiner schools which were rated inadequate by the education inspectorate Ofsted after the schools failed to prove they could keep pupils safe. The inspections are the culmination of a long-running campaign by Humanists UK to expose the dangers of the Steiner school sector. (…)

Humanists UK has long standing concerns about Steiner schools and has consistently campaigned against state funding for these institutions. In 2014 it won an Information Tribunal case against the government, forcing it to publicly release briefings about serious problems with Steiner schools including the bullying of students and teaching racism.

Other concerns raised by Humanists UK included the presence of pseudoscience on the curriculum (including scepticism of evolution and vaccinations and support for homeopathy), homeopathy being given to pupils by the schools’ ‘anthroposophical doctors’, and the fact that a number of private and at least one state Steiner school have opted out of providing vaccinations.

 The Guardian also reports that the School Inspection Service (SIS), which Humanists UK has long campaigned to see shut down on the basis of concerns about its efficacy, has now been closed. Ofsted has hitherto not inspected Steiner schools routinely as that has been the SIS’s responsibility. The SIS was set up by the Exclusive Brethren and also inspects Brethren schools, and Humanists UK had concerns about the quality and impartiality of its inspections. Humanists UK is seeking to clarify its reported closure with Ofsted”.

It is ironic, to say the least, that Humanists UK have been so keen to close down schools offering a thoroughly humanistic (though not atheistic) education. But their last point about the closure of the School Inspection Service (SIS) appears to be true, although I can find no mention of it on the SIS website.  I am sad about this closure, because as I wrote in my Death of a Steiner school post, the ex-HMIs (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) of SIS were the best inspectors I have come across. They were headed up by Jane Cooper, who was formerly a highly respected Principal Inspector for Ofsted. SIS also inspected the Cognita Schools group, which was set up by the late Chris Woodhead, himself a former Chief Inspector of Ofsted. So I think we can be quite certain that SIS really knew their business. As I suspected, it seems likely that they have become the victims of a turf war with Ofsted.

The Guardian returned to the attack on 18th January with an article by their columnist Zoe Williams, headed: “These Steiner ‘failures’ are really a failure of the free school agenda”.  Ms Williams had spotted an opportunity to have a go at the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who had been responsible for a huge expansion of the government’s free schools programme, under which four publicly-funded Steiner academies had been created:

“Ofsted inspectors have found three of the UK’s four Steiner state schools “inadequate”, in reports that will be published this week. Their core concerns are believed to be safeguarding, bullying and a lack of support for children with special educational needs. A number of private Steiner schools have also been deemed inadequate.

In a brilliant primer written in 2014, when free schools were still a jewel in the crown of the coalition government, the BBC journalist Chris Cook described the core controversies that might be thrown up by Steiner schools. At that point, and to this day, these are mainly private schools. In a way, the handful that opened on the state’s dollar were the apotheosis of Michael Gove’s promise to parents: if you want to replicate a private education, even at its very wackiest, and you have the energy, you have our blessing.

The headline contention was the very pronounced racism of Rudolf Steiner, who thought black people lived an “instinctual life”, and white people an “intellectual life”. Somehow, though, this was passed over rather mildly as an unfortunate tang of times past, nothing to do with his educational writing, according to the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) – just as a pro-choice campaigner today might shrug off the hardcore eugenicism of Marie Stopes.

Yet the two are not analogous, since Steiner’s white supremacism is a thread running through the rest of the creed, a mulch of reincarnation and homeopathy. One piquant detail of the BBC’s investigation was that four white teachers at a private school, on a diversity training day, when asked their ethnicity, “ticked every box” on the basis that they had only ended up white having passed through every inferior race in their reincarnation journey”.

Ah yes, racism and white supremacism. It is impossible to have any kind of public discussion about Steiner Waldorf education without these accusations being thrown at the schools, however much the schools may emphasise that they do not agree with Steiner’s racial theories. Here, for example, is a statement from the website of the Steiner Academy Hereford:

“Steiner Education is opposed to all forms of discrimination against any person or group of people on the grounds of race, gender, faith, disability, age and sexual orientation and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity and reflecting the diversity of the children, staff and parents served by Steiner schools.  The following is taken from Steiner’s book, “The Universal Human”.

‘ … the anthroposophical movement [ . . .], must cast aside the division into races. It must seek to unite people of all races and nations, and to bridge the divisions and differences between various groups of people. The old point of view of race has a physical character, but what will prevail in the future will have a more spiritual character.’

Nevertheless, even though Steiner’s ideas are based on a profound respect for the equality, individuality and shared humanity of all people, regardless of race or ethnic origin, his works do contain a number of statements on race that are inappropriate in a modern context.

Steiner education thrives on every continent, in every culture and within a wide range of ethnic contexts. For example, during the period of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the only school catering for mixed races was a Steiner Waldorf school and today there are schools following Steiner’s indications on education in diverse cultures and communities, including: Israel, Egypt, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil or Hawaii, over 60 countries in all”.

Schools can say this sort of thing until they are blue in the face but it will make no difference to the critics, who have found the accusations of racism provide an excellent stick with which to beat the schools out of existence.

Zoe Williams’ article produced a backlash from parents and supporters of Steiner schools in The Guardian’s Schools’ section letters page, including this rather clumsy defence from a governor of the Steiner Academy Bristol:

“I am dismayed by Zoe Williams’ caricature of Steiner education and her willingness to cite state-funded Steiner schools as an argument against free schools. Her description is based entirely on a piece written by Chris Cook in 2014, who conceded he had not looked at state-funded Steiner academies. He concentrated on the esoteric spiritual science of anthroposophy. But this has no place in the Steiner Academy Bristol. We teach all major world religions (certainly not anthroposophy!).

As for Steiner’s ugly racism, we completely dissociate ourselves from such attitudes. Ours is a multi-ethnic, multi-religion school with a sharply focused curriculum that seeks to develop the head, the heart and the soul in a rounded way. Where we do think Steiner was right was in recognising the need for age-appropriate learning that develops the whole child”.

One conclusion I drew in my Death of a Steiner school post appears to have been wrong. When I said that “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”, I was reckoning without the zeal of Ofsted’s witchfinders. I said that “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”.

Well, that last sentence is certainly correct. But I had not expected that three out of the four publicly-funded Steiner academy schools would have received such bad Ofsted reports. The Steiner Academy Exeter was forced to close for a week and has now been taken over by a multi-academy trust (MAT) and the principal, the highly respected Alan Swindell, has left the school and twelve trustees have resigned. This is very likely to mean that Steiner Waldorf education in Exeter will now be in name only. The Steiner Academy Frome, after previous ‘Good’ verdicts from Ofsted, has now been rated ‘Inadequate’ in every single area of inspection and the principal, the excellent Trevor Mepham, has left the school. The Steiner Academy Bristol has also received a damning Ofsted report, which has provoked the school into planning to take Ofsted to court after it was, like Frome, rated as ‘Inadequate’ under each area of inspection and consequently was put into ‘special measures’.

A similar reign of terror is being visited on the independent Steiner schools, with several which had previously been rated as ‘Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’, hurriedly being inspected and told that they are ‘Inadequate’.

What is going on?  I suspect that something like the following has happened: a celebrity parent at Kings Langley wrote to the DfE, along with about 30 other parents, to complain about the school’s inadequate handling of their complaints about safeguarding. The celebrity parent’s letter will have been put onto the desk of the Education Minister, Damian Hinds, together with a dossier of hostile press cuttings about Steiner Waldorf education. Hinds will have said to his permanent secretary: “Get Spielman on the line (Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector) and tell her to put some stick about with these weird Steiner bastards. Make sure she closes down a few of their schools pour encourager les autres. And make sure I don’t get any more letters like this on my desk.”

Now some people may say: What is the problem here? All the schools need to do is to adhere to Ofsted guidelines, particularly on safeguarding, and they will be passed as ‘Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’. Schools need to be more professional in their approach and they need to get this right.

What this ignores, however, is the probability that the schools are now being faced with a highly politicised war of attrition in which the government is determined to close down some Steiner schools so as to avoid embarrassing headlines in the future. In the past, when schools were under the control of local education authorities, Secretaries of State for Education could blame the town halls and civic centres for any lapses in school standards. As Zoe Williams has noticed, the free schools programme means that the responsibility for school failures now ends up on the desk of the Minister.

And now there’s a truly chilling development from Ofsted: Steiner Waldorf education is now to be accused of thought crimes. Amanda Spielman was reported in Schools Week as having written to Damian Hinds, the education secretary, on Thursday after snap inspections of nine Steiner schools – state and private – found six were “inadequate” and three “requires improvement”. Spielman wrote that senior leaders at one school “blamed pupils with SEND for all the problems”, while others witnessed “inappropriate physical handling” of pupils. Some parents who complained were “intimidated”. Spielman has now demanded an investigation into whether the Steiner philosophy is contributing to the failures.

Apart from the aftermath of the Kings Langley closure, why are Steiner schools in such a pickle at the moment? These days I’m pretty much removed from the whole business, since I left Kings Langley in 2014, but my feeling is that the Steiner schools’ movement in the UK, because of its historical allegiance to schools self-administering through a College of Teachers, has not been able to develop a cadre of school leaders able to cope with the latter-day demands of Ofsted and particularly the Safeguarding aspect of school regulation. How many of them will come through this period unscathed I can’t say – but I’m glad my own daughter was able to have a Steiner education, at a time when History of Art was still available as an A-level (Gove removed this as a subject). It has stood her very well in her subsequent university and career path and I hope that, despite the current Ofsted reign of terror, other children will also be able to benefit from Steiner Waldorf education for many years to come.

Critics who laud Ofsted for moving against Steiner schools should be careful of what they wish for. The main beneficiaries of this confected angst about Steiner schools and safeguarding are the manufacturers and sellers of 6’ high perimeter fencing materials, in which schools are forced by Ofsted to turn their schools into fortresses against the world. What children learn from this is that the world is a dangerous place and adults are scary people, not to be trusted. It also leads to the absurd and offensive situation in which kindergarten parents wanting to collect their child from school have to sign in at the school office, wear a lanyard, be escorted across the grounds by a member of staff to the kindergarten and then be escorted back to the school office where they have to sign out and return their lanyard. If that’s the kind of school that Humanists UK are agitating for, then all I can say is that it’s not my idea of a humane or humanist education.

As I’m an unashamed and unabashed anthroposophist, and despite any embarrassment this might cause to school governors wishing to repudiate everything about Steiner except his educational teachings, I will finish with a quotation from Rudolf Steiner which I commend to all Steiner school teachers who are seeing their best efforts crumbling to dust at the moment:

“However good the right may be that you want to bring to realisation – it will turn into a wrong in the course of time. Benevolence will after a time become prejudicial behaviour. And however good the right may be that you want to bring to realisation — it will turn into a wrong in the course of time. The reality is that there are no absolutes in this world. You work towards something that is good, and the way of the world will turn it into something bad. We therefore must seek ever new ways, look for new forms over and over again. This is what really matters.

The swing of the pendulum governs all such human efforts. Nothing is more harmful than belief in absolute ideals, for they are at odds with the true course of world evolution.  (…)

It is (Ahriman) who will and must be the bearer of our future civilisation. This is a harsh truth, but it is important. It is intimately bound up with the fact that destructive powers will have to enter into the future progress of civilisation. Above all — (…) — destructive powers will have to enter into the whole field of education, and especially the education of children, unless the matter is taken in hand with wisdom. Because of the general trend of civilisation, and the customary practices and emotions of people, destructive powers will also enter more and more into the whole social sphere. They will above all bring more and more destruction into the actual relationships between people”.


Filed under Ahriman, Free Schools, Humanism, Kings Langley, Ofsted, Steiner Waldorf schools, Waldorf critics

85 responses to “Difficult days for Steiner Waldorf schools in England

  1. Ewout Van-Manen

    Hi Jeremy, very helpful and broad picture of this dreadful situation. I don’t wish to underestimate the Ofsted witch hunt but a weakness of Steiner schools which has also partly led to this is the arrogance of the teachers who regard any administrator, manager or leader as not important and just sitting on an office taking up a salary. As you know many administrators have seen all this coming but have been powerless as they are continuously undermined by the teachers and College.


    • Let us not forget that Steiner schools were intended to be about the growth and development of the child in the seven-year developmental cycles of life. Thus, no anthroposophy has to be introduced at all, or was intended by Steiner’s dictum against it. Yet, these officials seem to think it is being taught. How do they know that, or are they just assuming that it is because of Steiner’s larger “racist doctrine” which is so popular today in denouncing the results of spiritual scientific investigation?

      The general issue and complaint of “safeguarding” still remains largely undefined. What is it about? Is it about students leaving campus during school hours, and thus becoming truant? I have mentioned before that I live right across the street from a public high school in which students regularly leave the campus during school hours and loiter around the community. When I complain to school officials, they tell me to call the police.

      Yet, the idea and fact of constructing six foot walls around the perimeter seems appalling. Why would that be?


    • Dan Skinner

      Thanks Ewout, what a helpful generalisation


    • Amanda Bell

      Hi Ewout, the resentment and lack of respect you have described between teachers and administrators goes both ways and inevitably produces a climate in the schools that is not conducive to education of any kind. Your characterisation of administrators as ‘powerless’ and teachers as ‘arrogant’ just demonstrates how one-sided the issue has become in people’s minds. A situation where managers who know nothing about Waldorf Education tell Waldorf teachers what to do and expect them to relinquish responsibility for their work was guaranteed to create resentment and conflict. I should have thought administrators would have seen that coming.


  2. lecanardnoir

    Interesting to hear the inside view of what is going on, but it is startling to see no discussion of the actual issues being uncovered: a total lack of awareness and implementation of appropriate safeguarding. You must know what the concerns are, and yet you are silent.

    See, for example, today’s news…


    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome to the blog, Andy. You are of course a steadfast and long-time critic of Steiner and Waldorf education so I don’t blame you for trying to bring in individual safeguarding issues. But just for the avoidance of doubt, I am not going to allow any comments which seek to discuss specific cases.

      It is clear that some Steiner schools still have some way to go in dealing properly with safeguarding and it is also clear to me that, using this undeniable fact as a basis, Ofsted is (probably on ministerial instruction) reversing some long-time inspection assessments of Steiner schools which were previously Good or Outstanding. What the real agenda is and whether this will lead to the closure of more Steiner schools, or the hollowing-out of Waldorf methods within some of these schools is yet to be seen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lecanardnoir

        I do not, of course, want you to discuss any particular individuals whilst due process is underway. What, I think is fair is to expect you to acknowledge and respond to the actual concerns being raised and not instead pretend there is some conspiracy underfoot.

        My criticisms of Steiner Education have been based around its closed nature and unwillingness to accept external criticism and to externalise all problems.

        What you are doing sums this up. Real issues have been raised and you attempt to externalise these as some sort of witch hunt against you. If you fail to properly address the internal structures and ethos that has led to these safeguarding failures, it will be done for you and your schools will close.

        I see no harm in having a diversity of educational approaches in the UK. It is possible that people within Steiner Schools can contribute to that, But while you act like a cult, your history will be written for you.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Can we distinguish, please, between your use of the word “you” (ie me) in the first paragraph of your comment and your use of the word “you” in the the third paragraph, which seems to refer to the wider Steiner Waldorf movement?

          In your first comment, you said it was “interesting to hear the inside view of what is going on”. But I am not an insider – I’ve not worked in a Steiner school since 2014 – and I have no inside knowledge to convey. What I am is someone who is an advocate for anthroposophy and Steiner Waldorf education at its best and who is trying to discern what might be going on at present behind the scenes at the DfE and Ofsted in relation to Steiner schools in England.

          I wish there were some kind of public acknowledgement and discussion of these issues coming from Dornach, the ASinGB or SWSF. No doubt they take the same view as that advocated by ahasver below, who thinks that “least said, soonest mended” is the best way to deal with criticism. But as I hope I’ve made clear, I have no official role whatsoever and therefore am in no position to pronounce on “internal structures and ethos”, other than what I have shared on this blog from my own experiences.

          You use this silence from the official bodies to say “while you act like a cult, your history will be written for you”. It may be tempting to use that word, but it’s really not justified – have a look at my post from February 12th 2016: https://anthropopper.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/no-mr-dugan-steiner-waldorf-schools-are-not-cult-schools/

          and the one immediately before it:

          to see why I think you’re wrong.

          Liked by 1 person

      • lecanardnoir

        By *you* I mean all those with an interest in Steiner education. And yes, you do appear to have specific knowledge of what went on when you refer to ‘celebrity’ parents. If I am not mistaken, that is not public knowledge who has complained and why. You also appear to be knowledgable about what Dornach are saying.

        As for ahasver’s comment. I would have though that ‘staying quiet’ is not possible now as moves are underfoot to close several schools down. The schools have choices to either fully acknowledge shortcomings and deal with them, or try to bluster it out as Kings Langley appeared to do.


    • Dav

      I do not respect Andy’s “skepticism” at all. I find it suspiciously motivated. If he was honest, he would state openly that the real reason he dislikes S/W education is because the theory behind it appears to oppose Humanism Inc’s party line. I spent years in the atheist / humanist camp and left after I was fed up with the close minded bigotry that donned the cloak of righteousness.
      Sadly for Andy, if all believers in “Woo Wah” (or whatever weird epithet is being used for heretics by these guys) were expelled from education the truth is that Educational Utopia would not have been established overnight. Secondly it is also true that these problems are by no means unique to Steiner schools. Every school that exists in the UK, and further afield, is rife with institutional and organizational problems, bullying, shortcomings in provision etc. The true scale of which will perhaps never be realized. Having worked in both environments I can confirm for Andy that the preponderance of “flim flam” is not what is holding the feet of Steiner Schools to the fire. Rather good old fashioned human failings. I think, from his recent (incredibly revealing) lawsuit [which I add, he won] Andy should be aware that not all criticism is justified.
      Not that I am inclined to let Steiner schools off the hook having myself suffered due to these organizational shortcomings. It turns out that running a school for your extended family, essentially, leads to practices that will lead to your undoing. I also wish dearly the Waldorf movement would quit relying on pretty pictures of artwork and pull their socks up. To be frank the pressures of cost have been the drivers, meaning that a lot of Waldorf schools have skimped on areas that are critical: safeguarding and SEN should be top priorities. Not that I fully agree the encroachment of statutory guidelines and legislation have been beneficial overall, except of course for lawyers leading vexatious litigation] I know also there are some Waldorf authors who injected frankly stupid ideas – such as keeping a class together at all costs for social reasons rather than giving those who need extra support other, more appropriate, lessons. It turns out a flat hierarchy is incredibly vulnerable to exploitation by those who want power, not to mention the reliance in bought in, daft, organizational structures that have re-resoundingly failed.
      What Steiner schools need desperately now is a measure of independence counterbalanced with integration: independence from ASWS and from the big selling “handbook” authors AND the coffers of the Camphill movement (schools should be open for all members of society, not run like a closed club) and integration with their “mainstream” fellows, co-operating and adding value where they can. Sharing. I remember hearing a Steiner school used to teach the phonics component of literacy to trainee teachers somewhere [never mind that phonics should only be ONE branch of a varied approach to learning to read]. Also, stop cherry picking points of dogma: no black crayons or prohibiting soccer are piffling and trite matters, routine marijuana consumption is not [by teaching staff I mean].
      It is also the case that in most schools Anthroposophists are outnumbered heavily by hippy types, wanting less structure and more time with mother earth whose eyes will bug at the idea there is a soul. Black duckers but with less starch in their shirts who may start reading all failings as ideologically inspired, whether they are or not.
      After 100 years Waldorf schools must mature or become a thing of the past paving the way for crap resource driven teaching in schools that look, sound and smell like Jails / Hospitals / Old folks homes / train stations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lecanardnoir

        Thank you for paying so much attention to me and giving us the pleasure of your theories about me. But I should remind you that the subject being discussed is indeed Steiner Schools and possible systematic failures in child protection.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Dav

      You’re welcome Andy. I also see you’ve gone off to accuse Steiner parents of tolerating pedophilia on twitter. Now that is not quite the same thing as safeguarding issues, whilst we are on the topic of straw men arguments. And not true. I see you’re also equating eurythmy (“tosh”) leading to unchecked emotions hence bullying… Anything other than anecdotal evidence corroborating this? I can’t find any. The old one you guys used to hash out was that bullying was not dealt with due to “karma” – but post lawsuit you guys seem to have dropped that line. (It was also a straw man, by the way). Other schools are just as bad at dealing with bullying and I must say that anyone who wheels out the karma reason as an excuse for indolence should be laughed out of education. And they clearly do not understand Karma. It doesn’t mean you don’t intervene. However I do agree safeguarding needs to be taken more seriously – generally. The difference is that in Waldorf schools this failing will be attributed to the education style or curriculum content whereas the national curriculum never seems to get criticized, totally “wah wooh” free, it appears. You’ll no doubt be aware that poor mental health is at epidemic levels in mainstream schools. This is not a straw man as you are attacking Waldorf from its foundations and are finding examples as ammunition against it. Therefore your skepticism is motivated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lecanardnoir

        I am not sure what significance you appear to think the libel claim against me has. As I am sure you are aware, I comprehensively won against people who made a whole series of misconceived claims agains me. (The last appeal judge ruled they were ‘totally without merit’ – as damning as you can get in the courts.

        What is strange is that we appear to be in agreement that Steiner Schools need to take safeguarding issues much more seriously. And I do wish we could keep to the topic of understanding why that may be so rather than your rather odd obsession with understanding my motives.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dav

        The process was interesting. Displayed the inner machinations of the skeptic (septic?) community, almost as good as the “Shirley Ghostman” lampoon. I used to frequent your website and badpsychics in between lectures at Uni.
        As to why I am mentioning your case, for me it was quite significant as it was the first time the wider skeptic movement got discussed in a public forum in a way that showed what really did go on. Verdict did go your way but it wasn’t by any means a straightforward victory.
        I also note you aren’t really refuting my points. You’re also not acknowledging there aren’t problems across the board that are by no means unique to Waldorf education. Academies in England are more or less dead in the water, for instance. The difference between us is that I’m coming at this issue from an insider’s point of view and looking at evidence rather than polemic.I have rounded experience in the Education world.
        I’m fairly sure you see yourself as being helpful on some level but none of what you are saying is constructive. It is all the very simple argument that nothing good can come from a supernaturalist worldview, and these schools are having problems because it cannot be any other way. Like Jeremy pointed out, a few Steiner schools were deemed “outstanding” – that simply does not follow from your critiques. I also now realize a good lot of this stems from English illiberal-ism. You seem to very much be making the case that the failings stem from ideology when they absolutely do not. They completely come from a much more secular place.

        Liked by 1 person

    • The celebrity angle was total news to me. I’m sure it hasn’t been mentioned in any of the news articles I’ve read (that is by no means all, though). I don’t buy Jeremy’s “conspiracy” thinking around that stuff one bit (it’s hard to when you don’t know what this is really about). But it strikes me as some possibly interesting karma here: celebrities are used heavily — and most of the time in a ridiculous and irrelevant manner that amounts to nothing more than brain-dead gossiping — to market Steiner education (Oh, shut up with the criticism, Jennifer Aniston went to a Steiner school!!), and it was really only to be expected that one day one of those high-profile parents would — like so many other former Steiner parents — get mad for one reason or another. Simply to be expected.

      I wish all the celebrity nonsense were abandoned and ignored, but I think that if the waldorf movement wants to lap up the sugary praise from celebrities, it would to better to be ready for a backlash. Come to think of it, that applies to all kinds of praise. You can’t just get praise all the time. Unless perhaps you are exceptionally good, which isn’t the case for Steiner ed.

      I do happen to think that the Steiner movement could have done a lot more to avoid ending up where it is now — and I think there was plenty of time to do it, but maybe no will or no ability? One thing I believe was done wrong in a crucial way was not to make it clear to people what Steiner education is, what ideas it is founded upon and how it is supposed to work. Leading proponents of it could stand in the media and — without shame! — proclaim that it had nothing to do with anthroposophy. People would just say anything to ensure funding. That was fundamentally wrong to do, and I believe it paved the ground for problems later on — some of the things that have been criticized lately are actually not surprising at all for a Steiner school, but presumably there were misunderstandings as to what that is. (I’m thinking about for example some of the safeguarding issues. A close relationship between the teacher and the students is very much desired, even thought essential, as a part of Steiner pedagogy, but apparently — a bit to my surprise, too — considered abnormal in other contexts.)

      (Sorry for rambling on.)

      All the best,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dav

        Don’t think celebs are used heavily. Are occasionally mentioned. First thing a lot of people look for are successful graduates of anything as a folky proof that it works. Have spoken to a Dr who gets asked all the time if Steiner Education messed them up. Clearly didn’t.
        I also think you’re wrong that it didn’t let people know “what it is really” – whatever that means. You’ve liked Andy’s posts so I am assuming you are one of his fellow travelers. I am assuming you really mean :”Wouldn’t it be great if the flim flammer educationalists admitted they think magical elves exist? Then we could all have a good laugh at them and normal people would shun them.” A close relationship is valued in any institution. Not an inappropriate one, which there is 0 evidence Steiner schools promote. You skeptic people still have not found the magic bullet that links schools with conscious willful abuse stemming from theory. Andy’s lot thought he had living proof with the people who eventually filed a lawsuit against him but that didn’t turn out well.


      • It’s incomprehensible to me how comments are “threaded” here, but my comment was in reply to someone else’s comment and didn’t end up there… Anyway.

        Yes, celebrities were (perhaps are — I don’t know anymore) used extensively. There’s even a whole website solely dedicated to promoting celebrities who went to or who support waldorf. Individual waldorf schools happily use celebrities on their websites to promote themselves. Proponents of waldorf education really did throw Jennifer Aniston in the face of anyone showing doubt or expressing criticism in a debate, as if that were a reasonable thing to do. And so on. In my view, this is all nonsense, and should stop. It’s particularly silly for a spiritual movement to be so shallow.

        I flatly reject your assumption in regard to what I “really” mean. I wrote about this topic a lot at the time (when the academies and free schools were debated and so on), and what you imagine is not at all what I mean. Very much not. What I saw, however, were lots and lots of proponents of waldorf edcuation denying it had anything much at all to do with anthroposophy and Steiner — for the only purpose of helping with popularity, acceptance and of making quick (but in the end unsure) gains. That was wrong. It’s not about “magical elves” although they are funny — and my own waldorf teachers sure believed in them — it’s about key beliefs that informs the pedagogy and every-day life at the school. You can’t take a shortcut and avoid topics like the incarnation process, the different bodies which constitute a human being, the evolutionary path of individuals as well as of humanity, and, of course, karma and reincarnation. Just to mention a few things that matter deeply, and that should have been out in the open. It would have been better, and more interesting, and certainly not something to laugh at (although, I will admit, some of the elemental beings are funny — they simply are!).

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hello Alicia,

          I’ve just been digging deep into the entrails of WordPress settings and found a way to allow 6, rather than 3 nested comments. I’ve changed it so let’s see if that works better in the future.

          best wishes,


          Liked by 1 person

        • Dav

          Don’t really follow your logic here Alicia. I don’t see how mentioning a famous graduate is somehow a huge criticism. I mean if they’re just waving pictures of Jen Anniston about instead of responding, that is dumb. Friends is considered non-pc now and she isn’t dating Brad Pitt anymore so I doubt they still do that, if they did in the first place. I mean if Jen Anniston had FGM done that wouldn’t magically justify the practice…. Anyhow.
          I actually found a lot of Waldorf teachers either didn’t know the full depth of the theory, or didn’t subscribe to it wholesale. This is the problem. It seems not to have crossed your minds that good results can follow from practices that stem from theories you are not a proponent of. I mean you probably have done yoga and are very unlikely to use that as evidence that someone is a de facto supporter of the caste system, or are a devout Hindu, unless you are very much wedded to the loony left.
          Children believe in fairies so I guess our best bet is to bring in a govt funded pressure groups training materials to de-educate them? Sounds good. Also don’t get me started on Santa… even a rudimentary understanding of Physics undoes that…. I think you’ll find the fairy STORIES are wheeled out for the small children and the science is kept for the older ones. Any studies showing that Waldorf graduates are on the back foot or are clinging to ridiculous beliefs, or even that more than average subscribe to anthroposophical ideals? Through the idea that the school communicates directly Steiner “ideals” you are promoting the idea that there is a correct, secular, dominant, paridigm that all must subscribe to. And it is not the case that belief informs action.
          This is about all I have to say on the subject. It is rather clear to me that the Steiner-critics (TM), being largely ignored by the outside world, don’t have any positive input into improving education, or Steiner schools, other than trying to erase them or de-fund them. This is done due to (1) disgruntlement [which is fair enough] or [2] ideological rivalry. Reason [2] is the most common one I find. It is based from Big Atheism (TM)’s party line that if only all religion was banned then we would have our pro-choice, pro-euthanasia, big state Utopia. Which really is the laughable belief.


          • Children believe in fairies

            So, apparently, do the teachers: “[stories] allow the children to…be aware of the other beings – gnomes, fairies – that guard secrets or protect life. Such imaginative elements are not fanciful… ” (ISBN 190016907)

            and the science is kept for the older ones. Any studies showing that Waldorf graduates are on the back foot or are clinging to ridiculous beliefs, or even that more than average subscribe to anthroposophical ideals?

            If they’re not, it’s not from lack of trying on the parts of some teachers, etc., e.g.:
            Touting (for) pseudomedicine:
            By way of contrast, homeopathic effects could be considered. Homeopathy offers a good example of an effect that cannot be explained through the dominant (sic) model. (…) There is also much recent research to show that water and chemicals (sic) are involved with intimate electromagnetic (sic) relationships with living tissues. ” (ISBN 190016907 again) Clue: There is no such thing as an independently replicated, robustly conducted (i.e. randomised and double-blinded) trial that demonstrates that homeopathy is distinguishable from placebo.

            Teaching magical thinking as science #1:
            The Plant Kingdom

            Fungi are like our baby sisters or brothers, who can do nothing but drink and sleep…” (Class 5 botany book) Clue: Fungi are not plants. (The rest is pure anthropopopropaganda.)

            Teaching magical thinking as science #2:
            A flowering plant can be compared with a human being upside down. ” (Class 5 botany book) More anthropopopropaganda, direct from Rudi.

            And this stuff from a school system that pretends to parents: “We teach out of anthroposophy, but we don’t teach anthroposophy.”

            In other words, pupils in some UK Steiner schools are are being/have been indoctrinated with anti-scientific drivel, masquerading as science.


            • Steve, again we have to look at Steiner’s original formulation for a renewal of education, as previously indicated, and today’s setting. One of the very last lecture-courses that Steiner gave was in England in August 1924, and wherein he speaks closely of the child’s emerging experience from a kind of naive clairvoyance, which traces directly to the life in higher worlds before birth.

              Thus, we have a kind of direct continuation here with the lectures from 1920, on the “Renewal of Education”. It can certainly be proven that some people remember their early childhood experiences interacting with the nature spirits. And so, when they possibly come in contact with these lectures, they see it as verification and corroboration of previous experiences locked away in a kind of time-warp of the memory.

              “Lest ye become as little children ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven” really gains a great deal from these lectures, and I suspect *that* is the real issue in today’s rather narrow and superficial thought streams.

              What if it can be shown from experience that people remember interacting with fairies, elves, gnomes, and undines when they were very little children? Then, maybe years later, they hear of Steiner’s rather unique educational pedagogy, and they raise their hand in enthusiastic response! I suspect that has to do with some of the positive appeal for an alternative approach, like here in America.


              • Steve, again we have to look at Steiner’s original formulation for a renewal of education, as previously indicated, and today’s setting.

                No, I do not need to do that. I need to look at the replicated evidence, then apply basic common sense and rigorous logic.

                {Steiner] speaks closely of the child’s emerging experience from a kind of naive clairvoyance, which traces directly to the life in higher worlds before birth. … It can certainly be proven that some people remember their early childhood experiences interacting with the nature spirits.

                I have no doubt that people “remember” many things. The following are also true:
                * Unless we have specific corroboration, we have no way of knowing whether a memory is true or false. The evidence is that memory of an event starts to distort within minutes of that event.
                * What we remember is how we perceive something, not the thing itself. If, in naive childhood, we interpret our perception of some prosaic natural event as being supernatural, then of course our memory will be of the supernatural. It is, however, inaccurate.
                * There is no robust evidence for the existence of clairvoyance, fairies, gnomes, nature spirits, etc.


                • Steve, you wrote:
                  “There is no robust evidence for the existence of clairvoyance, fairies, gnomes, nature spirits, etc.”

                  And why would there need to be? Yet, Steiner Waldorf Schools exist in the world based on that original model built in Stuttgart, c. 1919. Steiner never asked that his system be placated by the official authorities. Rather, he knew it would be a new road in childhood education, with many possible obstacles in its acceptance.

                  Now, I am going to respond to Tom Hart Shea’s post with something that will see/show that the real issue is the freedom of alternative schools to teach their subject matters without outside interference. Please notice how he brings up all of the various religious schools, which get to practice their beliefs/faith without undue inspection. Yet, Steiner schools are still looked at as if they have ulterior motives in their curriculum/lesson plans.

                  Well, what if they do? Has Ofsted set a parameter for what Steiner schools can teach, and might even allude/acquaint/ align with the Science of the Spirit? How would they know unless they try to see what is behind these lesson plans? Yet, I don’t think they care about it because Steiner schools have always been alternative/independent/ private.

                  In other words, Ofsted inspections have never warned against Steiner’s teachings in these various school-settings, as far as I know. As private, independent, and alternative schools, they should be able to introduce and teach their own parameters. Is this not true, or what am I missing here?

                  Steve Hale


            • Dav

              Again, you are missing the key point. You’re lifting these from things that teach ANTHROPOSOPHICAL THEORY, if you want to put it like that, rather than WALDORF LESSON PLANS. Subtle but important difference. Again your ideology is coming out here – one that perhaps you’re not aware of. You THINK you are saying “Homeopathy is bunk/wee woop”, but you are actually saying “NO ONE MAY HAVE RECOURSE TO HOMEOPATHY, BAN IT”. I am assuming Sir you are English, and sadly English illiberalism is on the rise. The old lady taking arnica pills for her knees will face jail time if you guys get control of the legislature, and if you don’t see that (harming no one) as a real tragedy you are willfully blind. Funny how a lot of you guys think homeopathy is dangerous but euthanasia is an unquestionable human good!! However Andy will no doubt be swooping in soon to remind us we are miles off topic and we are actually all in agreement we are here to discuss failings in safeguarding at Steiner Schools.
              Also would be interesting to see what the political / religious beliefs of mainstream teachers are. Is it fair, for example, that there may be a left leaning bias? Should that be ground out by criticism? What ideology informs the national curriculum? Do “we” agree with every point? Are schools promoting ideology in their pupils? LGBT acceptance, multiculturalism, etc? Not saying these are bad, however am drawing your attention to the fact indoctrination (under the guise of being pro-social) is alive and well. Are we also to not teach discoveries made by people, like Watson, who have gauche statements attributable to them?

              Also, to engage Alicia lastly here, just because you don’t enjoy schooling is not the hammer blow. It may actually mean it didn’t suit you and is therefore shaking ground to launch a critical platform. I mean, I HATED my mainstream schooling – bullied the whole way through, developed mental health issues that were refused to be addressed but I’m not claiming this was a conspiracy fuelled by the rampant ideological leanings of the establishment. I wish I had legions of internet trolls speaking up for me and writing in to the Grauniad.


              • Tempting though it may be, I’m not going to let through any further diversionary comments about homeopathy, vaccinations, elemental beings etc, as the topic of this post is about the current difficulties facing Steiner schools in England.


                • @Jeremy: Your blog, your rules, but I would argue that some of the “current difficulties facing Steiner schools in England” stem from the “culture” that is prevalent in UK Steiner schools. Amanda Spielman was specific about this:

                  carry out a thorough examination of the underlying principles of Steiner education and consider the extent to which they may have contributed to the common failures we found


                  As regards the quality of teaching (surely a fundamental for any school!), Ms Spielman wrote:

                  I therefore urge you to consider and further investigate why so many of the Steiner schools inspected [are not giving] a good standard of education.

                  I am convinced that a strong contribution to these educational failures is made by “the yellow book” (ISBN 190016907) that many schools use to inform the curriculum content; in some Steiner schools all teachers receive a copy. I am only competent to speak about mathematics and the physical sciences, and “the yellow book” clearly contains examples of pseudoscience and bad science in its science curriculum. While these exist, the quality of education must inevitably be compromised.

                  Clearly, individuals have a right to believe whatever they want (also, @Dav, contrary to what you asserted, I believe they have a right to choose pseudomedicine for themselves if they so wish); the problems for education arise when some of these anti-scientific/pseudoscientific beliefs/practices infest the curriculum.


              • I suggest that Day reads the Ethereal Kiosk archives in depth before he tries to diss Alicia’s approach to Steiner/Waldorf education. It looks as if he only seeks to diminish her by suggesting that her rationale is simply based on her own experience.
                He should address the arguments and facts she has put forwards over the last 11 years, if he wishes to be taken seriously.


            • Ashley Frank

              I do not understand the critics’ craving for uniformity and focus on irrelevance. My eldest son attended a Steiner School and now leads a university research laboratory as a Biochemist. Certainly Steiner science teaching did not have a detrimental impact on his development up to PhD level. . He is not a ‘one off’. The majority of his peer group are successful in their fields. Similarly his sister is now head of European marketing for a major US IT firm and his brother has just secured a £150m, five year contract. So please tell me how I made a mistake in making sacrifices to pay the Steiner school fees. For me it was worth every penny


          • Hello Dav,
            sorry to be so late to respond.

            It’s not a huge criticism, of course. It’s just that waving Jennifer Aniston around rather than saying anything meaningful about the pedagogy or its foundations is absolutely pointless. It’s not the sort of information anyone needs to make an intelligent decision. It’s nothing more than a rather useless statement about a celebrity.

            I am a bit confused as to what some of your reply has to do with the comment I wrote but, still: for what it’s worth, I’ve never done yoga. If I had done yoga, I would, in fact, be interested in the ideas that underpin the practice — in particular when and if these ideas actually inform how and why yoga is practiced. Anthroposophical ideas are essential for how waldorf education manifests. Anthroposophy is *not* a temporally remote origin that today has nothing to do with, e g, how waldorf education views child development. (In the future, it may actually become that “diluted”, because there are no or very few anthroposophists — but I wouldn’t say that’s any better. But that’s another topic.) I have no objection whatsoever to fairytales. My criticism of waldorf education doesn’t originate from the two sources you mention. I was a waldorf student for 9 years in total. That’s what made me interested in the ideas behind it. And although I have no objection to fairytales, the education was woefully inadequate when it comes to academics. There was no catching up after a few years of a slow start (with fairytales and form drawing, et c, instead of academics). In addition to that, meanness, cruelty, violence between students was not dealt with as it should have been. In retrospect, I think there were problems with methods, management and responsibility, and also with openness and transparency concerning the fundamental ideas.

            Interestingly enough, these are complaints I have seen, and continue seeing, from people who have experienced waldorf education all over the world. I think there’s something in all of that for the waldorf movement to take into consideration. It’s not that exactly every individual person who makes angry noises is worth listening to. But I think they have been ignoring well-founded criticism at their own peril.

            All the best,

            Liked by 1 person

            • Dav

              Well Alicia very sorry you had a bad experience. I would be skepical of some of the points youre making, It may have been the fact that, for instance, you are not an academic person and no amount of “proper” schooling would have got you where it looks like you think you ought to be.
              Also I hated my schooling and saw numerous horrific examples of abuse – bullying etc. I do not buy the fact that theres anything special about Waldorf schools responding badly. Its my experience no one deals with it well and no one is happy with the outcome.
              Thanks for replying Alicia and sorry for sounding hard nosed; its just I don’t think anything you are bringing is remotely like a definitive criticism of Waldorf schools.
              School sucks for thousands upon thousands of people and many are under the illusion that a fair judge would have ended their bullying misery in school, and you’d have more luck getting the wind to change direction.

              Its also a fact that too many people attack the ideology behind something rather than how it pans out. Steiner hasn’t written a book called “Safeguarding and SEN: Ignore them, please” – to my knowledge. Whereas Marx didnt think anything bad would come from violent revolution and is fondly remembered by his many acolytes. Democratic schools, now theres a story…


              • Hello Dav,
                those are some very weird suppositions. It may very well have been the opposite: that I was an “academic person”, and for that reason fit badly into the waldorf model, which didn’t put much emphasis on academics. For what it’s worth, I continued to another school which was highly focused on academics. That worked a lot better, but I don’t think that was only about academics; the entire school was organised in another, more efficient way. I don’t think that waldorf education did a great job with any category: academically gifted kids or those who were not. Some kids were OK there, some where not.

                It’s true that bad organisation, and all those things that lead to problems in schools, is not unique to Steiner schools. But that doesn’t mean that Steiner schools can ignore their own failures by pointing to those of others. Lots of the things that have been brought up in this thread and in recent news reports are things that Steiner schools themselves have to solve. It’s not much comfort to know there are other schools that may have bigger problems, is it, even if that would be true? And, for example, Steiner folks have the responsibility to find ways to minimize abuse and bullying in their schools; you have to do that, in every school, because it harms children, it really harms them. Saying it can never be done completely, or there’s no “fair judge” who can bring total justice, is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that while nobody can be perfect, there’s no bloody reason to ignore a problem or to say, well, it’s karma, let’s wait for it to play out (or other excuses for inaction that I’ve learnt are common in Steiner schools).

                You don’t have to write a book about ignoring safeguarding — it’s easy to do anyway. In particular in an environment where responsibility is everywhere and nowhere, and a culture has developed in which ignoring bad stuff is the easier way to go, for example because internal criticism is not welcome. (Another problem common in Steiner schools.) A book about it, or even any kind of explicit instructions, would be ludicrously superfluous.

                Best wishes,

                Liked by 1 person

        • Alicia says, “You can’t take a shortcut and avoid topics like the incarnation process, the different bodies which constitute a human being, the evolutionary path of individuals as well as of humanity, and, of course, karma and reincarnation. …”
          Unfortunately there are still spokespersons for Steiner education who behave like this, i.e., they remain silent about the essentials, they avoid naming of differences.

          Following the closure of the School at Kings Langley, and the subsequent meetings and discussions with people who hope to start a new school on the same site, I have never once heard Steiner/Waldorf education characterised by any words except, ‘the Steiner curriculum’.

          As a member of the Association which still owns the site I have asked for a discussion at an Association meeting of how people understand the essentials of Steiner/Waldorf education, but my request was ignored.

          This absence or silence, is still happening in relation to the attempt by Avanti Schools Trust to start a new school, to be called Avanti Priory.
          As far as I am aware, nowhere, in writing, or in discussions during Association meetings, is Steiner education characterised as anything other than ‘ a curriculum’.

          All the things that Alicia mentions above are ignored, yet they are ESSENTIAL for making sense of what happens in a Waldorf classroom.

          Sure there is a curriculum. Every educational institution has a curriculum , it is simply the list of things taught. However it is the pedagogy and the theories that inform the process of learning which make the delivery of the curriculum so distinctive in Steiner/Waldorf education.
          As a professional educationist myself (retired), I regard the curriculum as equivalent to the ingredients in a complex meal. However, given a certain selection of ingredients, it is the PROCESSES of preparation, cooking, serving and consumption which can make all the difference to whether the meal is delicious and nourishing or vile and sick-making.
          I am sure all adults have memories of the ‘good’ teachers who really stimulated their interest and love for learning and the ‘bad’ ones who pupils hated or feared and from whom they learned little – yet the curriculum may have been the same for both.

          With Steiner/Waldorf teaching the process of ‘creating the meal’ is what Steiner teachers learn in their training. For example, they learn how to use a three day rhythm in the presentation of the content, how to recognise the temperaments of the children, how to ‘speak to’ the different temperaments of the children, how to work with sleep, how to use the rhythm and pitch of the voice to hold pupils attention, how to meditate on the children before going to sleep at night, how to do a child study with colleagues, how to teach facts using imaginative images, etc, etc.
          All the things I have just mentioned, which make up a fraction of the skills/ techniques used by Waldorf teachers, give a very distinctive character to what happens in a Waldorf classroom.

          Furthermore these features are all unusual in the field of education. Not because other teachers may not use them, but in that they are based on a view of the human being as a being of body, soul and spirit, and are felt to be essential in enabling the individual to access the curriculum in the right way and to develop their full potential.

          Waldorf schools like to mention Steiner’s description of child-development. They imply that their teaching methodology is well-grounded in child-development but what they very often fail to say is that Steiner’s picture of child-development is very different to the picture of child-development used outside Waldorf schools. As Alicia indicates, the picture of child- development used by Waldorf practitioners is that of a process of incarnation. The incarnation of a spiritual being who has lived many times on the earth and has a kind of memory of different cultural epochs.

          I have found Alicia to be a worthy guide to the failings and difficulties of Steiner/Waldorf education. Having suffered from the dogmatism and insensitivity of her own teachers, as an adult she has striven to understand what made them behave in the way they did.
          She has studied Rudolf Steiner’s writings and tried to suss out what he was really after, what he really intended.

          Until Steiner schools learn to speak openly and without embarrassment about their fundamental beliefs, in the way that Catholic Schools, Jewish Schools, Muslim Schools , Brethren Schools, Quaker Schools, and other schools based on a spiritual view of the human being do, then Steiner Schools will always be prone to being perceived as being cultish and secretive.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Tom, as you know I appreciate your remarks, and thanks for weighing in on this subject again. I, too, was captivated by Alicia’s comments which seem to indicate that Steiner teachings want nothing less than to indoctrinate the student as early as possible into the parameters of anthroposophy. And, yet, I think he had a much higher design with it all.

            For example, when Steiner went to England on his last trip, he said these very perfunctory words in explaining how excited and encouraged he was that a school based on his indications was being planned.

            My dear Friends,
            It affords me the deepest satisfaction to find that here in England you are ready to consider founding a school on Anthroposophical lines. [“The New School,” Streatham Hill, London, S.W.16, was opened in January 1925. In 1935 the name was changed to “Michael Hall.” In 1945 the school was moved to Kidbrooke Park, Forest Row, Sussex.] This may truly signify a momentous and incisive event in the history of Education. In pronouncing such words as these one may well be accused of lack of humility, but there really is something very special underlying all that is to come about for the Art of Education as based on Anthroposophy. And I am overjoyed that an impulse has arisen to form the first beginnings of a College of Teachers, teachers who from the depths of their hearts do indeed recognise the very special quality of what we call Anthroposophical Education. It is no fanatical idea of reform that prompts us to speak of a renewal in educational life, but we are urged to do so out of our whole feeling and experience of how mankind is evolving in civilisation and cultural life. ref., GA311, 12 August 1924.

            So, this was his objective in going there for the last time. There can be no other indications here other than that he hoped for the school that would eventually become Michael Hall in Forrest Row, Sussex, to be based on the same model that had originally took place at Stuttgart.

            Interesting, indeed, that a College of Teachers was first proposed, which has now been scorned in favor of a Principal, and his/her administrative staff. I suspect that means something, but I don’t quite know what that is.

            I would like to invite further comments for the simple reason that this is a journey for me, and while having lacked a Waldorf education, there are many who do enjoy it here in America.


          • Tom,
            thank you for your kind words.

            Your comment touches upon so many of the things about waldorf education that are both interesting and essential. They deserve to be out in the open, and waldorf schools need to trust that people can know about them. If the schools are good and don’t fuck up (at least not too much…), I don’t think ideas in and of themselves are going to constitute a problem. They may lose some people, but possibly win others, and some people won’t agree with the ideas, but still accept the offer because they like other parts of it. That’s not so bad.

            Best wishes and woofs,

            Liked by 1 person

          • Ton Majoor

            Interestingly, Steiner formulated the intentions he had with the first Waldorf School in the Opening Address, August 20, 1919 (Study of Man, p.34):

            “Here in the Waldorf School we do not wish to create a parochial school [Weltanschauungsschule]. The Waldorf School will not propagate a particular point of view by filling the children with anthroposophical dogma. … We will use anthroposophy only in the method of instruction.”

            Click to access Foundations_of_Human_Experience-Rudolf_Steiner-293.pdf


            • Dav

              Sorry guys. This is in no way an elequent paen to the central problem with Steiner schools. Where’s the damned manual of secular schooling so that I can criticize the twat who came up with that? Having worked in many I can confirm that the approach is garbage and the results poor: Unlike with Waldorf schools, there is a HUGE body of academic research that proves this: Self Harm rates through roof, useless qualifications, mental health epidemics, bullying and abuse scandals every week… They are populated with captives who would rather be anywhere else. I mean I saw a boy get his jacket set ON FIRE because the bullies thought he was gay. And no I did not go to a steiner school. Can you guys please start addressing these massive issues rather than the quibbling problems of a handful of alternative schools whose founders body of text you don’t like?


              • Where’s the damned manual of secular schooling so that I can criticize the twat who came up with that? Having worked in many I can confirm that the approach is garbage and the results poor:

                Ah, I spy the good old tu quoque fallacy. Problems in secular education do not excuse Steiner-Waldorf schools from the urgent need to address their own failings.

                Can you guys please start addressing these massive issues rather than the quibbling problems of a handful of alternative schools.

                But, as Jeremy has already said when asking us to keep our comments on topic, “this post is about the current difficulties facing Steiner schools in England.”

                Liked by 1 person

            • Ton Majoor

              For a critical assessment of studies on Steiner/Waldorf schools, see Alternative Education for the 21st Century: Philosophies, Approaches, Visions (2009), Ch.11, google books cabFAAAAQBAJ

              Waldorf pedagogics seems to be firmly rooted in Greek thinking: seven year periods/hebdomads (Solon, Ptolemy), threefoldness/trichotomy of body and of soul (Plato, Aristotle), four temperaments/humores (Hippocrates, Galen), pre-existence of souls (Pythagoras, Plato) etc..


  3. ahasver

    There is absolutely no way that the Steiner school movement is going to win (or even score a draw in) a war of words. Despite, the fact that I’m contradicting here what I’m preaching, I would stay quiet and let the dust settle. The higher the profile in the media (including this blog), the worse the damage. Remember, mud sticks.


  4. Thanks for this overview.


  5. …Ofsted is (probably on ministerial instruction) reversing some long-time inspection assessments of Steiner schools…

    Do you have any evidence at all for bit in bold, or is this merely speculation? I’m sure you don’t want to be thought to be impugning the integrity of the Ofsted inspectors.

    Also, remember that many of the schools that are now failing Ofsted inspections were previously inspected by the SIS. I, and many other teachers and former teachers that I know, do not share your faith that “we can be quite certain that SIS really knew their business“. I suspect that, had the SIS inspections been more robust, the now-failing schools might have been better-prepared for Ofsted inspections.

    You have, justifiably, told Andy that you won’t discuss specific cases, and neither will I, but I lost count of the times I heard people in authority insist that “Ahrimanic” due process should be ditched in favour of what they tried to pass off as “the human way” – and I knew damned well that someone was about to get shafted so that someone else who had behaved unacceptably, but was a valued anthropop, would get a free pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome to the blog, Steve. What a sweet, naive soul you must be – it’s quite touching to find someone who doesn’t think that Ofsted is subject to political interference. And where is your evidence for saying that SIS inspections were not robust? I’ve seen both sides of them, not only from the point of view of a school being inspected but also as a lay inspector who took part in school inspections alongside the ex-HMIs of SIS. Believe me, they knew their stuff – and what was different from the standard Ofsted inspections, which I’ve also experienced, is that they took a good deal of trouble to find out about Steiner Waldorf education and to understand what the schools were seeking to achieve.

      In my Death of a Steiner school post, I referred to the “chumocracy” that ran the Kings Langley school and I do think that this is a tendency and a weakness to which some Steiner schools are prone in the absence of a principal or head teacher.


      • it’s quite touching to find someone who doesn’t think that Ofsted is subject to political interference.

        I neither asserted nor implied that; I asked if you had any evidence for a specific allegation. I understand that you may not wish to answer that specific question.

        And where is your evidence for saying that SIS inspections were not robust?

        I didn’t say that, did I? I suggested that they could have been more robust. But:
        1. I have experienced both Ofsted and SIS inspections.
        2. The RSSKL inspection reports. SIS reported that a previously unmet standard had been met; a subsequent Ofsted report found that it had not been met
        3. I don’t know where the quote at the top of https://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/the-law-and-your-rights/inspection/ comes from, but it sems that others had concerns about the SIS.

        and what was different from the standard Ofsted inspections, which I’ve also experienced, is that they took a good deal of trouble to find out about Steiner Waldorf education and to understand what the schools were seeking to achieve.

        In my experience, Ofsted/HMI did pretty much the same. They assessed our performance against our stated aims/ethos, as well as against common standards for things like safeguarding and governance. .

        An abiding memory of impending Ofsted inspections is of teachers scurrying round to retrospectively create SoWs and lesson plans.

        In my opinion, what the schools should have done is do what they need to do to tick the boxes, then get on with delivering what should be a superb education.They haven’t done this and have only themselves to blame.

        Liked by 1 person

      • What Steve T. needs to understand in these discussions is that we have traversed much territory over the years in assessing Steiner’s real aims with the Waldorf School movement. Recently, it was reminded that Steiner had indicated a kind of ‘new revelation’ in late December 1918, and this was to say that the Spirits of Form had passed the mantle, so to speak, to the Spirits of Personality, and this meant that what had previously been the work of spiritual formation was now to become the work of social formation. So, any cursory look at Steiner’s activity in 1919 clearly demonstrates that he spent the whole year speaking on this new social formation.

        One of the main drives in this year in which the spirits of formative forces passed into the spirits of time, was the establishing of the Waldorf School movement in September 1919. Thus, what had previously been a matter of spiritual formation, now realized as the Universal Human, was perforce to become a matter of realization in time.

        So, a Waldorf school was formed in Stuttgart in 1919. Yet, in 2019, we have a very clear-cut dilemma, as seen with these various Steiner schools in England. What is the basis of it?

        Rudolf Steiner was asked in November of 1919, based on his Waldorf school model established in Stuttgart, Germany, by the Department of Education in Basle, Switzerland, to please come and give a course of lectures on this model in order that they might assess it for their own educational possibilities. This he did in April of 1920, and these lectures represent the cornerstone of any reasonable idea of an alternative school system.

        Click to access Renewal_of_Education-Rudolf_Steiner-301.pdf

        So, what I think we are looking at today is more or less the swamp of a dedicated effort to keep education on a surface-level of materialistic thinking. Obviously, even the children have no clue of the real value of a Steiner education, and *that* makes them the chief obstacle.

        Don’t blame Steiner for having an idea which he knew would one day be abused and undermined, much like his previous effort that year to form the Threefolding Commonwealth. And what could have been more simple than that? Maybe Steiner’s principles of what the child needs to experience in the first three seven-year epochs; the educational epochs.


      • ‘(probably on ministerial instruction)’.

        The Minister for Education is responsible for the effective functioning of schools and the schools inspectorate.
        Why should ‘ministerial instruction’ be seen as anything other than appropriate use by the Minister of an instrument within his/her purview?
        Rather, would it not be irresponsible of the Minister not to forensically investigate something they have reason to be concerned about?
        The Civil Service strive to be impartial, the OFSTED inspectors strive to be objective, the Minister exercises his or her authority.

        I don’t see that as political interference.

        It is extremely important that Steiner/Waldorf people let go the feeling they are being picked on or interfered with in any way at all and learn what is required to run schools professionally in compliance with all applicable requirements and standards.

        MidnightRambler (See further down the thread) has given a powerful practical suggestion which Steiner/Waldorf schools should follow up immediately.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Tom, it is a matter of public record thst the DfE (ie the minister) ordered Ofsted to inspect Steiner schools (Ofsted cannot do so without DfE instruction.

          However, there is no evidence that the minister instructed Ofsted to “[reverse] some long-time inspection assessments of Steiner schools” as Jeremy claimed. In my opinion, such claims are paranoia and serve to deflect from very real failings (which I, and others, have witnessed from “the inside”.)

          The bottom line here is the wellbeing of children. The end.


      • At the risk of over-egging the cake, I note that Amanda Spielman wrote:
        The results of our monitoring work of SIS also gave me cause for concern: the inspections we monitored lacked rigour, particularly in relation to safeguarding


        • Thank you for this link to Amanda Spielman’s letter to Damian Hinds, because every Steiner teacher, governor and parent should read it. It spells out in stark terms the existential threat facing Steiner Waldorf education in England at the present time.


          • lecanardnoir

            “good governance, clear lines of responsibility and effective safeguarding procedures.”

            What aspects of Steiner ethos might create problems in these areas? That is the question.


    • Dav

      You’ll well know that school inspections are the best way… to arrive to see the results of a few week’s panic. Its much the same when the exercise instructor comes round to make sure you are doing pushups at the lightning fast pace you were instructed to do them at. Once his back is turned, normality resumes. Outcomes are the only meaningful way to assess anything other than the extended administration systems of the school.


      • You’ll well know that school inspections are the best way… to arrive to see the results of a few week’s panic.

        Which is why I have always been a supporter of unannounced inspections. Frankly, what we do (or, in my now-retired case, did) every day should be worthy of the most rigorous inspection.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. visitorX

    I took a walk the other day through some London suburbs and noticed a NATO base I was passing by.. then suddenly I realized, oh, that’s a school. The fence was quite impressive and gates reminded me of some movies about prisons.Building itself has imaginative and playful almost as a piece of brick.
    In any case, if Steiner schools cannot think of anything else but deny any connection with Steiner or Anthroposophy, then indeed they are worthy only of closing. Claims that Steiner was racist are in fact racist. How they dare impose their dominant PC culture on completely different anthropological system such as anthroposophy. To be instinctual or intellectual has completely different meaning within anthro cultural frame of reference than in current Western dominant culture. So, Anthroposophy should claim to be protected similar like aboriginal culture or such.
    Of course I am only half-joking.. 🙂


    • It’s not just the outward appearance of so many schools which has been changed by Ofsted paranoid safeguarding requirements into something resembling a prison or a high security compound. Far worse, it could be argued, is what Ofsted inspection guidelines have done to how teachers have to operate these days. Even Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, has recognised that things have gone too far; this is what she said at a recent conference:

      “For a long time, our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools. The cumulative impact of performance tables and inspections, and the consequences that are hung on them, has increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else.

      But we know that focusing too narrowly on test and exam results can often leave little time or energy for hard thinking about the curriculum, and in fact can sometimes end up making a casualty of it. The bottom line is that we must make sure that we, as an inspectorate, complement rather than intensify performance data.

      Because our curriculum research, and a vast amount of sector feedback, have told us that a focus on performance data is coming at the expense of what is taught in schools. Our new focus will change that, bringing the inspection conversation back to the substance of young people’s learning and treating teachers as experts in their field, not just data managers. I don’t know a single teacher who went into teaching to get the perfect progress eight score. They go into it because they love what they teach and want children to love it too. That is where the inspection conversation should start and with the new framework we have an opportunity to do just that.”

      Data, data and more performance data – everything has to be data-driven in today’s schools. Steiner schools have been blissfully free of these requirements until recently – one could argue that Steiner schools have been too free and easy in this respect – but it did enable them to provide a much more creative, humane and child-centred education. Now Steiner education is to be driven behind high perimeter security fences like the rest of the English schools and, despite Spielman’s comments above, it seems likely that Ofsted’s Gradgrind-like requirements will also drive the heart out of Steiner teaching.


      • lecanardnoir

        ByWhile you all continue to moan about how schools have too many fences and Oftsed is ‘paranoid’ about safeguarding, let’s remind ourselves of why Steiner Schools have been failing: issues like small children being able to wander out of schools without any adult knowing until the police turn up again with the kids. It’s about refusals to do basic required checks on staff to ensure only appropriate adults are in contact with children. And possibly worse: prioritising the interests of long standing anthroposophists of children’s wellbeing.

        This is not an over-reacing inspectorate drumming the life out of schools – it is them insisting in schools applying the fundamentals of child protection.

        And while you moan about inspectors and schools looking like ‘NATO bases’ decisions will be made for the schools by adults who do actually take these issues seriously.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re quite correct, of course – Steiner schools need to get these things right or they simply won’t be able to continue to operate. To use a tired phrase, this crisis is a wake-up call for all Steiner schools.

          But don’t you think it’s strange that schools which were “Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’ are now suddenly ‘Inadequate’ in all areas? Just a little bit of politically-inspired overkill, perhaps?

          My point about high perimeter fencing is not only that it’s quite unnecessary, since nearly all child abuse is carried out by people already known to the child, such as family members or friends – and any child molester keen to snatch a pupil from a school would not be deterred by a high fence but would simply find another opportunity – but it also sends a profoundly unsettling message about the world and about adults to all the children confined within that fencing.

          Liked by 2 people

          • lecanardnoir

            Of course, the vast majority of schools do not have razor wire and high fences. They have proportionate protections. Gates that automatically close behind themselves. Maybe buzzer entry/exists etc so that people coming in and out do so noticed.

            The problem for Steiner Schools is not so much that the basics have not been done, bit of their very practices make this hard. This is what is now being investigated. Very poor management has been a consistent theme of these reports. A lack of clear leadership and accountability. Without this, things will not get done, people will not be trained appropriately, staff background checks will not be done, safety assessments dropped, accounts not audited etc.

            The Collegiate approach to management must surely be a first focus to determine is this is fit for purpose. These are the sort of questions I would *expect* the Steiner movement to be asking, but instead we are still seeing the externalisation of these things – like wondering what the motives of Ofsted are.


            • Taken aback as we are both likely to be by this, I don’t think our positions are that far apart from one another. As I’ve said in other posts on this blog, the College of Teachers system is not adequate for school management today, and should be supplemented by the work of a principal and SMT if the school is to be well managed. The College of Teachers is, however, very good for areas such as child study, the sharing of research, focus on particular areas of work and the developing of a sense of esprit de corps, of shared responsibility for the children and the school. Steiner schools that survive the present crisis will I’m sure come out of it stronger and better-managed – because the times are requiring greater professionalism in areas such as safeguarding and school administration, areas which perhaps have in the past received less attention than teaching has had from Colleges made up largely of teachers.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I hope this ends up in the right sub-thread now…
                It would not be unreasonable for Steiner school people to raise the issue of over-protection of children (and, for example, lack of free, unsupervised play) and what this does to their minds and their development — actually, there has been some debate (totally non-waldorf) about that in recent years, particularly in the US, I believe. However, it’s one thing to be able to argue for being less protective of children for valid psychological or pedagogical reasons; it’s another if you simply fail to protect children because you’re incompetent, ignorant or careless. I’m not even saying the latter (extreme description) is the case, but if you’re *percieved* that way, arguing for the former will be much harder.


          • But don’t you think it’s strange that schools which were “Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’ are now suddenly ‘Inadequate’ in all areas? Just a little bit of politically-inspired overkill, perhaps?

            In my opinion, the explanation is much more likely a change from SIS to Ofsted inspections. (Yes, I know you think the SIS was sufficiently robust; I disagree.)

            My point about high perimeter fencing is not only that it’s quite unnecessary … all the children confined within that fencing.

            (my emphasis) – perhaps “protected within” would be a tad less emotionally pejorative?

            Also, high fencing serves more than one purpose and can give children more freedom within it. When you’ve seen a car whose driver instinctively swerved to avoid a ball that suddenly arrived, over a low school fence, in front of his eyes, only just miss a woman pushing a pram…


          • Dav

            This actually is a fair point from Andy and I agree. But I suspect that staffing and funding pressures were equal partners to this rather than willful negligence.

            …Does that mean Andy is attempting at subterfuge, like the sinister steinerites who get you to look at their nice gardens and don’t instantly confess a belief in oogie boogie and that you MUST believe it too if you want to have some of their veg??…
            Only joking. He’s quite correct here. And its a constructive point as well. However I suspect Andy has a follow up point that education shouldn’t be formulated by an Austrian Racialist from 100 years ago and that nature walks are actually guided to make children accept the objective reality that the moomins were a documentary, or some such. My point here is that constructive criticism is most welcome and something I am pleased to see, however playing ideology wars immediately after is understandably making some see reasonable advances as the opening salvo in an undoing attempt. If the skeptic movement could sort its house out they may actually have something to contribute.


  7. visitorX

    Walls and fences seem to be the thing these days, as we can see with the latest discussions from opposite side of Atlantic. I remember famous philosopher Slavoj Zizek once observed that indeed Berlin wall went down but in meantime we have more and more walls, visible and invisible dividing the society. That observation is perfectly in line with this phenomena of the school fencing. So, of course these latest walls around schoolyards mean something, of course they are a *symptom* and anyone with open eyes and heart knows perfectly well what they mean. Increased obsession with security means only one thing – society and communities became less and less secure. What those “adults” have to say about that? All that boasting about safeguarding is only a means of avoiding addressing real issues with society getting sick and communities getting deteriorated to the point where it is no more safe to walk down the street as a kid or otherwise.


  8. midnight rambler

    From what I have read in the papers, it seems that the Hereford school was assessed as being good in the recent round of inspections. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to see and record what systems and practices they had put in place and share these with the others who were inadequate so they could make appropriate changes ?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ocean Love

    I read as far as “the excellent Trevor Mepham” and couldn’t read further as that statement made me spit out my tea.
    I’m a parent at SAF. I was part of a group of parents who compiled a 14 page document of collective complaints that we sent to both Ofsted and Damian Hinds. Mr Hinds directed the Chief Inspector of Ofsted to inspect all Steiner Academies just 5 days after we sent our document.
    I can assure you that SAF’s Ofsted report is entirely accurate and very much represents my experience as a parent of a child at the school.

    I have a formal complain against Trevor Mepham outstanding. A complaint that can’t be investigated due to the (former?) Principal having removed himself from SAF on sick leave shortly after the Ofsted inspection. “Excellent” is very far from how i would describe him.

    This is not an Ofsted witch hunt. The sooner the Steiner movement removes it’s collective head from the sand and deals with the very real issues that are coming to light here, the better. If the denial and whitewashing continue, we will lose free Steiner education forever.

    Any other educational community would be hanging it’s head and calling for resignations. In contrast, the Steiner community are referring to those responsible as “excellent” and mounting futile legal challenges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My experience of Trevor Mepham, when he and I were colleagues at the SteinerWaldorf Schools’ Fellowship, is that he was an excellent teacher and someone who was always concerned to keep Steiner Waldorf education evolving to meet the challenges of the present times. He was a thoughtful and humane man for whom I had great respect. I’ve not been able to keep in touch with Trevor since he moved to Steiner Academy Frome and I’m indeed sorry to hear that your experience of him has not been as positive as mine. This has obviously been very unfortunate for all concerned.

      Looking at the the most recent Parent Reviews of SAF on the Ofsted website, 77% of parents say that their child is happy at the school and 75% say that their child feels safe at the school – so clearly not all parents have the same concerns that you have expressed, not that I am seeking to diminish your experience in any way.


      • Well, Jeremy, as you can see, people have different opinions when their precious viewpoints are taken to heart and then apparently thrust into the dustbin of public opinion. What can we say? Steiner education will always exist when people feel the need for it. Thus, we have it today.

        I don’t know anything about Trevor Mepham, but it is meaningless unless he was completely for the science of the spirit. That would make sense.
        Steiner already predicted it in the European theater, c. 1924.


      • Ocean Love

        (I have edited the message from Ocean Love below to remove some of the statements sent to Ofsted about two members of SAF staff – Jeremy):

        Are you really quoting figures that imply one quarter of children in a school feel unsafe there, in defence of that school and it’s leadership? If so, that is exactly the problem with the Steiner community. 25% of children feeling unsafe at their school is alarming, disgraceful and cause for immediate action. If not all parents feel concerned that 1 in 4 children feel unsafe, why not? What does that say of our ‘nurturing’ community?


        • @OceanLove: Jeremy’s report of the parent review (https://parentview.ofsted.gov.uk/parent-view-results/survey/result/125203/current) was not quite correct. The response to the statement “My child feels safe at this school” Was as follows (341 responses):
          Strongly Agree: 75%
          Agree: 15%
          Disagree: 4%
          Strongly disagree: 3%
          Don’t know: 2%

          7% – 23 children feeling unsafe – is still too high, but I think we must be scrupulously fair with respect to these data otherwise it is too easy to have our concerns dismissed as “distortion”.

          Also, the responses to some of the other questions are even less flattering.


        • lecanardnoir

          Thank you Ocean. An excellent example of how Steiner defenders are doing anything but understand what the issues are. If I was a head of a school, I would not be happy unless *every* child felt safe in school. What sort of ‘child-centricity’ is happy with just a majority?


          • 100% of parents feeling the same way? Where do you get figures like that, other than in Iraq under Saddam Hussein or in Syria under Assad? And who is saying that they are happy with the present situation? No-one has suggested that there are not serious problems at some of these schools and they need to be sorted out asap.


  10. Samara

    Thank you for this article which is by far the best analysis I have read so far on the matter.

    I have been following these developments for a while with interest, as a former parent of a child at Steiner Academy Frome. Also I have been working with home educated children around Frome for the past few years and what I have been struck by in both contexts is the very high turnover of children at Steiner Academy Frome. Indeed when my son attended the school it was a source of anxiety to him & his peers that so many children were leaving, particularly boys. It seems that those who have left are the silent ones in the existing parent surveys that you mention where 77% parents are happy with the school
    & 75% say their child feels safe at the school. Though I will also add that this figure implies that 25% of parents say their children do not feel safe at the school, which seems rather shocking. In the vast majority of cases that I have known of, parents removed their child from Steiner Academy Frome due to concerns related to the issues outlined in the report; safeguarding, inappropriate behaviour, inadequate provision for SEND and so on. The report appeared, to me, to shine a light on issues which had been going on for years.

    As a parent at the school I felt that the school was chaotic & confused in how it was run and that was it’s main failing. I thought it was trying to grow too fast and too soon and therefore it neglected to nurture what it already had. As a parent of the main school it felt like the funding was all going into the kindergarten, where the new children were entering the school. There were scant playground facilities, my son frequently coming home with pockets full of building detritus. There were some excellent teachers there, just genuinely good people who really cared about the children. But there were also staff who frankly should not have been working with children.

    I was an advocate of Steiner education because I believed that it promoted the wellbeing of children, was gentle in its approach, was child focused and promoted creativity and imagination within its teaching. I learned over the 4 years I was a parent at SAF however that these beliefs were not an accurate reflection of the school. The school’s philosophy and dogma was overly imposed on the children & in practice it was an overly structured and strict experience for the children. Children who didn’t fit the “Steiner way” were labelled as disruptive and treated as such, inevitably coming to fulfill that label. Although the curriculum supposedly promoted creativity, all the artwork was standardised, my own son completely losing his creativity and love of art from his experience at the school as he was unable to express his own innate creative expressions in order to produce standardised paintings. Walk into a Steiner school and look at all the children’s paintings on the walls and you will not see any individualism or creativity there. Lastly my son was bored there, he yearned to read and expand his knowledge and these things were denied to him. He became disruptive and instead of trying to work out what was actually going on for him (he was bored) & how to improve the teaching and support offered to him, he became the child who was always told off, always sent out of the room, always the scapegoat. Somehow it was always his fault or our fault. Yet he is now thriving at a mainstream school with a record of golden behaviour & his creativity has returned.

    When we left we didn’t blame the school for the failings our son experienced. Instead we put it down to the failings of Steiner schools more generally in not meeting the needs of children who are different to those who fit the Steiner way; children who don’t readily accept the dogma which is imposed on them and those who wish to question the world around them. My son is definitely one of those and I am proud of him. The school let him down but it wasn’t our experience that it was due to the failings of the teachers or staff there who were, in the main, largely helpful (I should add, not all). It was due to the inability of the Steiner philosophy and practice to fit the needs of every child. Accompanying this was the inevitable stresses and strains of creating a new school and trying to fit what was previously an independent school structure into the needs of a state funded school. It just felt that people were struggling on the ground to make the school work.

    Do I think Steiner education is dead or dying? Yes perhaps. Certainly it needs to evolve to meet a changing world and to accept diversity. It’s all very well writing about how the school respects and promotes diversity in its mission statement but it needs to be put into practice and my experience of Steiner Academy Frome, not just as a parent, is that it is not doing this anywhere near well enough. For Steiner education to survive and to thrive it needs to adapt and change, to listen to the criticisms and recognise that they are largely not unfounded. There are many positive benefits of a Steiner school and I would genuinely be sad to see them close, particularly at a time when education in this country needs a massive overhaul more generally. Alternative forms of education are essential to meet the needs of a changing world. But Steiner schools are actually rather stifling and old fashioned. Those that seek to promote and protect them now come across as cultish because of this inability to be flexible. Steiner schools need to actively understand the heart of why they are currently failing and make the necessary changes urgently. If they do this they will surely thrive and I’m sure I would be one of many who would actively promote them once again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Samara – it’s good to hear an extended account of your experience, even though for me it is really upsetting to hear of the difficulties that SAF is going through. I did visit SAF when it was at its former premises, an old Victorian village school, and thought it was a really lovely, nurturing environment. It sounds as though part of the problem has been associated with the move to new premises and the government requirement to grow the school rapidly (up to 625 pupils, if my memory serves).

      A Steiner kindergarten teacher said to me recently that she thinks the present crisis will be the making of Steiner schools for the future – because everyone concerned will have to raise their game to meet the huge challenges that all schools are facing today. I hope she’s right.

      Thank you also for this comment: “There are many positive benefits of a Steiner school and I would genuinely be sad to see them close, particularly at a time when education in this country needs a massive overhaul more generally. Alternative forms of education are essential to meet the needs of a changing world.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dav

      Interesting account. All sounds familiar. Just picking out a couple of things though must say don’t dispute any of your points. Just on yr child’s behaviour and the stifled creativity leading to disruption. Have heard this a lot from some parents. I’m guessing your child is a boy here. I would say that there are always 2 viewpoints. It is not the case that a bored child will cause trouble in lessons and you may not have seen what actually went down. Of course, neither did I, but I have some perspective having came across several nearly identical issues to this in several contexts (Steiner, mainstream, primary, post primary etc).
      Wearing your own clothes and having a generally more chill vibe in a school, plus some kids (usually as a mask to under performing) think of their work as useless things that “babies” do, and use this to refuse to participate in lessons. It also may be the case that your child is not used to a parenting style that makes demands on their behaviour – i.e. there may be an abrupt change in tone between school and home. Former very likely if moving from mainstream to Waldorf.
      It isn’t the case that there are not special protocols to help support a child with behavioral issues in a Waldorf school, even from Steiner Theory – Audrey McAllan’s work, for example – but it is getting the knowledge and time to do that. In the absence of having a SEND team, TA’s and the like (volunteers do not count) you are left with having to deal quite directly with a child who may be causing disruption to your class via time outs, tellings off etc – classroom measures. That and parents may make a beeline for Steiner education either because they are fleeing a justifiable diagnosis of a condition for their child that makes behaving in a standard manner less likely, or are essentially going for the Hippy vibe – arriving with a free n’ easy approach to discipline. These may be enough on their own to create sticky wickets of behaviour and soon other parents will be told by their children that entire lessons are being derailed due to a child refusing to co-operate, behaving violently etc. and then will, themselves complain, compounding the problem. Things can easily spiral out of control.
      Having worked in a behaviour unit I would love to tell you mainstream schools have uncovered the magic formula for dealing with it – but bar the “traffic light” system, no they most certainly have not. I suspect behavioral issues are a combination of societal trends – anti- masculinity, pro impulsivity, anti authority, consumerist propaganda etc. coupled with few positive male role models and an imbalanced emphasis on being “free” (i.e. governed by your fleeting impulses), questioning all authority (or anyone making a request) and overly early injection of “critical thinking skills” – making one not “see the point” in anything. That and a genuine hatred for authority in some personalities for several reasons. Increasingly absent fathers and playing “musical families” does not help.
      Just something I wanted to share a bit about as I find it fascinating. But I suspect I will be castigated soon for going off topic.
      Sorry your school seemed poor at dealing with it, I am suggesting a few reasons why. If the root cause isn’t carefully handled then you can end up thinking your child is being targeted. But they may be altering their behaviour in school from what you see at home.
      Otherwise most Steiner employees will recognize the chaotic behind the scenes atmosphere.
      Also dissapointed Andy has said that he wouldn’t be happy unless 100% of all his pupils were happy. I think a few weeks in control of even ONE class would put paid to that. The magazine style questionnaire given out – even by an inspector – is hardly a razor sharp, or even accurate, tool of measurement – putting it mildly.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think it is good to bring up the behavioural issues that could be affecting our students today. In 1919, Steiner proposed to bring the effects of the science of the spirit into one specific school setting, and it didn’t matter at all that it was for the children of the employees of a cigarette factory. Now, of course, today we say, “hello, lung cancer is caused by cigarettes. Didn’t Steiner know *that* at all, with his so-called “special clairvoyance”?

    Well, maybe he did, but saw *that* as a rather trivial matter when it came to actually introducing an education modality which he first envisioned in 1907. That is why we have been encouraging the reading of Steiner’s lectures to the Department of Education in Basle in April/May 1920, i.e., “The Renewal of Education”, as well as the lectures in Steiner’s final visit to England in August 1924, “The Kingdom of Childhood”. Thus, Steiner lived to see his educational model extended to the first school established in England in January 1925, which is a fitting testimony to his cause.

    Now, in today’s environment, which is 94 years since the death of Rudolf Steiner, anyone can see the situation. Schools anywhere on the planet literally percolate with the issues that Dav has the care and consideration to recite. I witness it everyday when students leave campus, and this is the primary safeguarding issue. Why Ofsted doesn’t name this is bewildering to me. They only invite other more sinister connotations by not acknowledging the simple fact that schools can’t keep their students on campus without truancy.

    So, why doesn’t Ofsted simply say that? Every school they have investigated is deficient, but aren’t they all? In other words, Steiner’s model of education was simple, and meant for much simpler times. To bring it into the modern mainstream only serves to make it the scapegoat for the morass of present-day technology.

    And that is why Amanda Spielman is asking the education minister, Damian Hinds, to find out what is behind Steiner’s principles of education. You see, she doesn’t know it, and thinks it is a government issue. He, as well, doesn’t know it, and only tell her that she has many more inspections to conduct since the cessation of SIS.

    Maybe that is why SWSF could assist in explaining the matter. Yet, I don’t know where Kevin Avison is today, and it really only needs the careful reading of these lectures to help explain the issues.


    • Stephen Hale

      “Now, in today’s environment, which is 94 years since the death of Rudolf Steiner, anyone can see the situation. Schools anywhere on the planet literally percolate with the issues that Dav has the care and consideration to recite.”


      Glad to see it recited again, Dav. Whether you are a school counselor, psychologist, or social worker, it is what it is, i.e., Blackboard Jungle.

      Now, what some people are trying to say is that in the beginning, c. 1919, it was much simpler than it is today. Steiner had just one school to bring the principles of spiritual science into, and even some five years later with the first S/W school in England, it was all about “The Kingdom of Childhood”, c. August 1924.

      So, obviously, something has intervened in order to make education much more difficult than we even suspected. What do you think that is?
      Even Steiner warned about it in his very last leading thoughts, i.e., Beware the Technocracy. This is the incumbent plague, and just go look if you are suspicious about it. I have a major High School right across the street, and students leave campus every day in order to loiter in the community. All they do is converse on their smart phone, and litter the neighborhood. If you call school administration, they tell you to call the local police.

      In other words, Steiner’s principles of education have met modern times, and modern times have won out. And, maybe Dav, that gets to be your experience in today’s day and age from a professional and experiential standpoint. How does that sound?



  12. Francis Turner

    I have belatedly read the above article by Jeremy Smith with interest which appears to give a balanced and open account of the problems which have beset Steiner Schools in recent times, together with the over-reaction by Ofsted, and the political bias of certain media columnists. This is not strictly a reply to the above comments, but a reflection of my own.

    My interest here is that I went to The New School, Kings Langley as it was then called, from Kindergarten in around 1958 right through to 1970, then to Rickmansworth Grammar School to complete further A levels. It was an education system which I appreciate the value of, but remain astonished at some of its failures during that time, without which I could have achieved far better academic standards without devaluing any other aspect of my education. Some of the teachers at that time were gifted and wonderful, others were completely inept in every respect. The school however had a comfortable atmosphere. It was broadly inclusive, never purported to be elitist, and I cannot recall any racist attitudes or behaviour. Religion taught was simply about Christianity, so I learnt nothing of other faiths. This was not from any racial superiority context, and may have been typical of all education at that time. I did witness one incident of inappropriate physical punishment, and a miss-handling of another incident by one senior male teacher, but I am sure that this was minor compared to that which took place in the state sector at that time (mid 1960’s), and this did not in any way relate to the philosophy of the school. Failures I refer to include the complete lack of preparation for exams: lack of mock exams, lack of even site of let alone practicing past exam papers; and lack of detailed knowledge of exam curriculum by teachers. To be put in to sit an ‘O’ Level with no exam experience or practice I regard as utterly thoughtless and having an unnecessary adverse effect on grades achieved.

    I was never the less very saddened to hear of the demise of the school, but from all the articles I have read, feel there was due opportunity to address the problems and put in place safeguarding policies and deal with other matters. The gagging letters is to my mind a shocking episode which did serious damage to both the school and the Steiner education system in this country. My belief is that had there been a head teacher these matters would have been addressed and the school would have been saved, and interestingly they planned to appoint one, but the ship was already sinking by that time; indeed it is highly likely that the situations which led to the closure would never have arrien. I am aware that there is more than one model for administering and leading a school, and there are instances of weak or inept head teachers and difficulties in removing them. But on this reflection how many of us would set sail on a cruise liner without a captain: reassurances that the crew are very experienced would just not wash. The press would have a field day and the Maritime Safety Organisation would put a stop to it. I am aware some steiner schools do have a head teacher, but have not been able to establish how many, and if these are the schools which are doing better and less at risk of closure. Some information on this would be of interest to me and I hope others who follow this site.

    Francis Turner, Shropshire


  13. DCroy

    I came across your website and this article stood out to me. We left our Waldorf school abruptly last year, having removed our child from what could only be described as an ongoing dangerous situation. We became involved in the Waldorf school in our town in 2004. I have served in numerous roles from paren tot staff member. We have on alumni child. It is fascinating that the schools in England are described by the critics in your article just as many are described, and indeed operate, in the US. Our school has had a revolving leadership (or lack of) for years, with 6 “headmasters”, each with a different title, in approximately 12 years. The majority of the teachers have a degree from a college, though very few in education, which has created immense classrooms issues due to lack of understanding of teaching things from writing to mathmatics. Many are sent to Waldorf teacher training, having never stepped foot in a classroom and though may gain an understanding of the pedagogy, have no real understanding or experience in teaching and certainly have no classroom management skills. Behavior issues are rampant. Leadership is slow to act. Though Waldorf/Steiner supporters want to say Waldorf schools are not a cult and in the definition that may not be true. However, the reason they are deemed as a cult by those who leave is that the idea of the school is frequently protected at the cost of the children and teachers are fired when they speak out. It takes only a moment to find headlines in the US of Waldorf schools closing and the parents criticism is the same universally. In our own school, the parents of children who could not read at the age of 12 were told they haven’t given it time. The reality is they were not instructed in how to read. Children bullied for years were told they weren’t trying hard enough. Safe spaces for disregulated children are used as interrogation rooms. Parents were made to feel inadequate when questioning education methods by teachers who were not trained to educate. Perhaps if the teachers in those positions were actually anthroposophists and had formal education training prior to Waldorf training, it would be better. Those drawn to teaching in US Waldorf schools may be able to quote Steiner when it suits them, but they are not versed in his teachings and certainly not in actual educational methodology. In our school, the media restrictions were toned down, dress codes were changed to allow children to wear clothing with video games and movies. The teachers felt the children needed freedom. They confused freedom to express with clothing and the use of phones and media with the freedom of creative thinking through learning. Even many of the festivals were eliminated or changed for convenience. Our alumni child was at the school in its early formation by a group of anthroposophists and the early classes of children did okay. They benefited from much of the Waldorf curriculum, however, due to the nature of allowing each teacher so much autonomy, many of the students have struggled when transitioning to high schools with time management, organization, writing their own thoughts as they were only taught dictation and so many other things. Waldorf/Steiner schools are a lovely idea and many of Steiner’s teachings had value, however, implementation is horrific and rightousness abounds. Until these schools are willing to hire trained teachers in educational instruction, create safe spaces for their children, parents and faculty and hold themselves accountable as institutions, they will continue to fall to the fate of English schools around the globe.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Survivor

    Ex-Waldorf student here, you could even call me a “survivor”.

    Good riddance. May this whole educational “system” rot.


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