After my recent posts on the troubles affecting Steiner Waldorf schools in England, I’ve come in for a certain amount of criticism from some anthroposophists, who think that it’s not a good idea to wash dirty linen in public.
One friend and anthroposophical colleague, a former teacher, told me that I should be putting across a more hopeful message instead of reinforcing all the doom and gloom in the media. She also felt that my recent blog posts may have given the impression that I am a critic of Steiner Waldorf education rather than a supporter.
After this dressing-down from my friend, I got home to find the following in my inbox from the magazine Schools Week:
“Two Steiner schools criticised by Ofsted over safeguarding failures have been warned they face being moved to new sponsors.
Steiner Academy Bristol and Steiner Academy Frome have been issued with termination warning notices by Lisa Mannall, the regional schools commissioner for the south west of England.
The schools, which follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, were placed in special measures following unannounced Ofsted inspections last November. It means three of the four state-funded Steiner free schools in England are now rated inadequate.
Inspectors said the schools did not have high enough expectations of pupils and warned safeguarding was “not effective”.
Staff at the Steiner Academy Bristol also “unnecessarily” used physical intervention, they found. Steiner Academy Exeter, which was placed in special measures in October, has already received a “minded to terminate” notice from the government, which was published in December.
The damning reports, published last month, along with “deeply concerning” findings in other Steiner institutions raised by chief inspector of schools Amanda Spielman, prompted the education secretary Damian Hinds to grant Ofsted special powers to inspect all Steiner schools in England, including 21 private schools”.
This news item was yet another reminder that Steiner Waldorf schools in England are facing an existential crisis and why burying our heads in the sand is not a wise strategy. However uncomfortable it may be for supporters of Steiner Waldorf education (amongst whom I include myself, it should go without saying), we must nevertheless look this crisis clearly in the face and consider what needs to change now. To quote from Amanda Spielman’s letter of 31st January 2019 to the Secretary of State for Education, referring to the nine inspections so far carried out by Ofsted:
“All the inspection reports have now been published on Ofsted’s website. Six of the nine ‘overall effectiveness’ judgements from full inspections were inadequate and three were requires improvement.
None of the schools was judged good or outstanding for overall effectiveness. A significant number were inadequate in all areas, and a number of the independent schools inspected failed to meet the department’s independent school standards”.
Here is the passage that worries me most in Spielman’s letter:
“Given the prevalence and seriousness of these issues across both state-funded and independent Steiner schools, they raise questions about whether these common failures are a result of the underlying principles of Steiner education. Across the state and independent sectors, there is a wide variety of educational philosophies, and successful schools can be run in a variety of ways. Ofsted does not have a preferred model. However, there are fundamentals that need to be in place: good governance, clear lines of responsibility and effective safeguarding procedures. While we did find some examples of this during these inspections, they were very much in the minority. I therefore urge you to consider and further investigate why so many of the Steiner schools inspected are neither protecting children adequately nor giving them a good standard of education”.
Damian Hinds has not so far responded to this request to approve an investigation into whether the “underlying principles” of Steiner education result in failures of leadership, governance and safeguarding but the prospect of such an intervention must be deeply concerning for the whole movement.
I’m told that a current trustee of the now-closed Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, when asked for her reflections on what had happened, said simply that the school had been unprofessional. If that is the case, and if that also applies to some of the other schools which have been recently inspected, then the challenge for other Steiner schools is: how can they become more professional in terms that will be recognised by Ofsted – but without losing the essence of Steiner Waldorf education? This must be possible to achieve, because the Steiner Academy Hereford was rated Good in all areas by Ofsted in its latest inspection – which means that there is no inherent reason why other Steiner schools can’t do the same.
I was therefore pleased to hear that the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain is now funding someone with experience of Hereford’s methods to provide consultancy to other schools in England. The Society is also providing sponsorship for schools to send teachers to this year’s Easter Conference in April at Michael Hall, which will be on the themes of revival and renewal of Steiner Waldorf education. I was also heartened to see that the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship is inviting expressions of interest to undertake research at PhD or EdD level into the following questions:
- What are the outcomes of Steiner Education in the UK?
- What does a contemporary Steiner Curriculum look like in modern Britain?
- What does the leadership/governance structure look like for a contemporary Steiner School in modern Britain?
As a result of a meeting of 17 schools at Rudolf Steiner House in London on 8th December, four working groups have been formed to look at Steiner Waldorf approaches to:
- Assessment of children’s learning
- Appraisal of teachers
- Leadership and management training
- Curriculum development
This is all good news and it fits in with what was said to me recently by a kindergarten teacher, that “this crisis will be the making of Steiner Waldorf education in this country”.
It’s not just in schools or in England that these challenges are being faced; anyone working in anthroposophical social care, for example, will be aware of what happened in the Camphill movement and how the model of care established by Karl König has had to evolve beyond the original in the face of increased regulatory requirements. The problem with governmental and societal demands for increased safeguarding and accountability is that they are always accompanied by a narrowing of the cultural and spiritual life, because of insurance-based risk aversion and ever-more prescriptive laws and regulations. But if Steiner Waldorf schools can show that, despite the increasing restrictions, they are improving and can mobilise their parents in defence of the education, then as has been seen in the USA with charter schools facing similar challenges, it becomes very difficult for a politician to close them down.
Even if the schools do manage to get overwhelming parental support, there will always be necessary improvement work for them to do and they cannot afford to rest on their historical laurels. For people working in those schools, the question of the division between leadership and the individual responsibility of each member of staff has to be addressed. What are the qualities needed by leaders in Steiner schools and are they different from the qualities needed by leaders in mainstream schools? What forms of school organisation and governance will deliver a really well-managed and well-led Steiner Waldorf school nowadays?
Finally, how can we improve the training of teachers in Steiner Waldorf schools? It is clear that further developments are needed, but who is to do it and how is it to be resourced and accredited? There is also a need for conversion courses, for teachers in the mainstream schools who would love to work as Steiner teachers in a creative and fulfilling professional environment. In this connection, I was delighted to see that the Steiner Academy Hereford has received a small grant to set up a pilot scheme for qualified mainstream teachers who wish to convert to becoming class or subject teachers within Steiner Waldorf schools. They received 30 applications for this scheme, which shows there is a real appetite for working in a school environment which encourages imagination and creativity.
The Steiner Waldorf schools in England are currently facing huge challenges and some of them may be forced to close. This is the present reality. But those which can rise to meet and overcome these challenges will become stronger, more effective and yes, more professional. If these schools are to continue to offer an education in the name of Rudolf Steiner, then nothing less will do.
40 responses to “What next for Steiner Waldorf schools in England?”
Thank you. This is a necessary and timely heads up.
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My children attended Steiner schools in England and in a German-speaking country. The difference was pronounced. Whilst it is a truism that “In Europe one organises, but in Britain one improvises”, it is much easier in the former to act (or appear to act) professionally. Steiner schools are no exception. English Steiner schools also suffer from the additional drawback that afflicts Anthroposophy in general in Britain – that it is too heavily devoted to the arts and over-represented by that sphere of society, not one renowned for its organisational skills. Consider that the first Steiner school was founded (and initially paid for) by a tobacco magnate in Stuttgart – heaven forfend such a connection here!
I too am very anxious about the future of Steiner education (or any education for that matter) in Britain. But if exhortations are being made to pull heads out of the sand, it might also be worthwhile extending the gaze and looking further than these isles for successful instances of Waldorf schools.
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It seems Waldorf schools are not too different to other schools in that the figure of authority continues to be central to the teaching instead of empowering students to participate not as passive but as active learners.
If you go to Waldorf colleges, you find the same old pattern in which the teacher takes the active role and the students are meant to play passive, accepting roles and that is the basic structure of any instinctively dominated relationship.
One of the fundamental aspects of education is the relationship between authority and students and the capacity of the author to empower students instead of make them passive recipients but that doesn’t seem to have been accomplished by anthroposophy at Dornach or anywhere else even if the practice of anthroposophy continues to be an inspiring endeavor.
Thank you for your balanced article Jeremy, as an ex Waldorf teacher & Lay Inspector I agree with what you say. Is it possible to find out more about the working groups – who has organised these?
Thank you, Julie – I’ll find out what I can about these groups and reply to you privately in due course.
Thank you for the positive opportunity you create for dialogue on the way forward with Waldorf Steiner education in England. What strikes me is that it seems you present the challenges as purely British. In the whole world Waldorf Steiner schools, children, teachers, parents celebrate with much joy but aware of challenges everywhere “waldorf 100”! I understood from an earlier statement that you don’t want to discuss Brexit “until we know what is going to happen”. Whatever solutions or non-solutions, the fall out will continue for years. Does the political breakdown imply that there cannot be interaction and exchanges with colleagues and anthroposophists outside England any more, Europe and worldwide? Should’nt we build human bridges where political structures fail us? What lessons can we learn from the remarkable growth of Waldorf Steiner education in China initiated from teachers trainings at Emerson College? Of course you may have to address tough specifics in England. You suggest admirable collaborative efforts are underway. Is the situation such that Waldorf Steiner schools in England isolate themselves from the big global party which is going on? You don’t see, Jeremy, international, inter-cultural, exchanges, critical reflections and future vision as sources of inspiration for tackling the national problems you so strongly face?
Thanks again for anthropopper blog.
Thank you for your comment and of course I fully agree with you about the need for continuing international co-operation and dialogue on all the issues you mention. I am as embarrassed as any other person in Britain about the extraordinary spectacle that is the Brexit process, in which both our main political parties seek to outdo each other in sheer incompetence and lack of vision. When politics breaks down, then the kind of human bridges you mention need to assume even more importance.
I wrote about the English Steiner schools because it’s only in England (not in any of the other UK home nations) where some of the schools are facing the possibility of being closed down by Ofsted. I don’t think the problems of the English schools are unique to England – I’m pretty sure that some of the Waldorf schools in the USA, for example, would be facing similar challenges if there was an Ofsted equivalent in the States – and I wouldn’t mind betting that the Chinese schools will also face problems if ever the Chinese government allows Waldorf critics through the Great Firewall of China.
What would Rudolf Steiner say to us if he was around to give an address to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Waldorf? I suspect he would find much to applaud and much also to deprecate. I don’t think the English schools are separating themselves from the big global party – see here for example: https://www.steinerwaldorf.org/steiner-resources/archives-busy-bee-newsletter/ – but it’s just that they have sheer survival on their minds right now.
Jeremy, you wrote:
“I wrote about the English Steiner schools because it’s only in England (not in any of the other UK home nations) where some of the schools are facing the possibility of being closed down by Ofsted. I don’t think the problems of the English schools are unique to England – I’m pretty sure that some of the Waldorf schools in the USA, for example, would be facing similar challenges if there was an Ofsted equivalent in the States.”
Well, let’s get realistic for a moment, Jeremy. There are, indeed, no Ofsted kind of inspections in America, relative to Waldorf schools, and the reason is clear. It is because of the free and essential being of humanity, which America expresses best in the world, And, that is why some 173 Waldorf schools exist in North America free from outside inspection.
Now, maybe that is symptomatic of the history of the British Empire, which after seeking to conquer other nations, finally realized that it could only conquer and control its own people. But, to say that the schools in the USA would be facing similar challenges *if* there was an Oftsted faction, is purely a straw-man argument, and you know it. The reason is that no such outside inspection exists here.
So, Jeremy, you are left with your own, and realizing that the rest of the world is experiencing Steiner Education with real value, e.g., China and America. Maybe that is the true link between east and west. Thus, the British equation in this seemingly easy integration is one of typical western control. And yet, we have the experience in which students of Waldorf schools are getting what they need in life. That is what is important.
Steve, I’m glad that you are confident that all is well with Waldorf schools in the USA and I hope that that is indeed so. Though that’s not quite what I hear from some USA-based correspondents – problems remarkably similar to those in the English schools have been reported. This is all anecdotal, of course, since as you say there is no equivalent of Ofsted in the States.
Writing from the USA and 40 years as a teacher, parent and administrator in independent Waldorf Education. True our independent Waldorf schools are fortunate in not having the type of government power over education described. One of the results of a conservative social-political culture. But the root of the problem described is nonetheless the same. The silly idea of ‘faculty-run’ schools inherited from England in the 1960s and 70s. This system gives rise to institutional unprofessional and the three types of problems identified by the inspectors: poor health and safety management, weak support for special needs students, and, to a lesser extent, unhealthy social life on a school-wise level, resulting in bullying in some but not all classes. The most egregious manifestation is mismanagement by Colleges of Teachers, which sad to say are not spiritual leadership groups but nests of petty politics. The harsh truth is that when one hears colleges say “we deliberate deeply” it is largely sel-assuring code for the inability to make professional decisions and implement them. Organizational reform is essential for Waldorf Education to evolve.
Arthur M Pittis
Two of my godchildren and several children of friends attended a Waldorf school in a medium-sized city (350,000) in the U.S. (Ohio). The school was started by committed Anthroposophists who also ran a cooperative market offering organic foods. Because of how central Steiner has been in my life, I participated in as many functions as I could and offered help with grant writing.
There are three things that struck me as problematic. 1) The school was afraid to be labeled a religious school – or worse, as a cult – so the spiritual aspect of Anthroposophy was minimized. At the risk of sounding too dramatic, I worried about how much could be minimized without driving out the spirit. 2) Teachers with a background in Anthroposophy were hard to find. As the school grew and some began to retire, teachers new to Anthroposophy were sent for training but some never developed what I would regard as the spirit of Anthroposophy – I remember some parents began to complain that their children were not being respected as the unique beings they were. 3) Policy about teacher rotation into administration changed – partly because some simply didn’t want the responsibility, and others didn’t think it made sense to rotate a teacher into administration who had a tenuous grasp of Waldorf to begin with.
I wonder if any of these issues have shaped what Ofsted characterizes as substandard?
There are two Waldorf Schools in Ohio:
Cincinnati Waldorf School
Grade Range: PreK-8
Spring Garden Waldorf School
Grade Range: PreK-8
Both schools seem to be still very successful, with the Cincinnati school having originated in 1973, and the Copley school in 1981. So, why do you feel the need to suck up to Jeremy with questions like: “I wonder if any of these issues have shaped what Ofsted characterizes as substandard?”
Did you ever consider the possibility that these schools resolved their issues and problems internally without the need of an outside inspection agency? My experience in talking with the people at AWSNA is that they are very proactive in resolving school issues much in the same way that Rudolf Steiner often went to the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in order to have rather informal faculty meetings for which notes were taken down. And we know how they were used against him. Yet, it also shows how much he cared.
Steve, when you accuse someone of “sucking up” then offer your “kind regards” we call this “schizophrenogenic” behavior. That means, it’s crazy-making. There is no kindness in such a criticism. Also, I can’t grasp any connection between describing my experiences in Spring Garden School and Jeremy. Why would you say such a thing?
Well, Kathy, it is because you are sucking up to the parameters of Ofsted inspections for America, as if they should apply. Well, why should they? These schools are independent and free, regardless if they come from a major metropolis, or a little town in Ohio. Does that make sense?
Your response to Kathy suggests that you don’t have a firm grasp of what the expression “to suck up” means, in which case, it would be a very good idea to look it up. You really don’t want to tell someone that they are “using flattery or doing favors in order to win approval especially from a superior,” unless that is what you mean.
Be that as it may, no Waldorf school in America has been independent and free since AWSNA took out a copyright on the term in the early 1980 (I remember wondering at the time if copyrighting “Waldorf” was really in the spirit of Waldorf, but I didn’t hear of any controversy about it). Now a school can’t call itself a Waldorf school unless it is willing to put itself under AWSNA’s wing and pursue accreditation with them, which means periodic on-site reviews.
Some Waldorf schools also join regional associations of private schools, which means another accreditation hoop to jump through and more periodic on-site reviews. Our local Waldorf school recently had an accreditation renewal visit from a joint team of inspectors from AWSNA and the regional private school association. It was labor-intensive and generated a lot of paperwork, but I doubt that it bore too much resemblance to an Ofsted visit, as they are described.
Nice try, but no it doesn’t. No one has ever accused me of sucking up to a parameter before. But whatever you mean by that – the accusation of “sucking up” is still an insult. Let me be clear: I don’t accept “kind regards” when I’m being insulted. I’m asking you to stop – not your penchant for insults (way too large a project to tackle here) – but your claim to “kindness” about it. But if you can’t stop, I understand – it’s O.K. – I’ll remind you.
”sucking up to Jeremy . . .”
I do get the impression that he really can’t help himself, Kathy
I think you’re right….But maybe he can be taught to stop linking “suck up” with “kind regards”. What do you think?
Okay, it sounds like Wooffles is saying something next. In other words, the american accreditation system for Waldorf schools is approved on their own independent system. And maybe so. And yet, it just might acquaint with a new-born principle of independence in which the female perspective opposes any idea of “sucking up”. Well, wasn’t that said from the beginning. These are hurtful remarks, and maybe I am deserving of them by my own way of commenting, I only want to encourage our own.
“…the female perspective opposes any idea of ‘sucking up’ ” ???
FYI: the male perspective on “sucking up” in the world of business has more of a sexual connotation and is frequently paired with “bending over”. For women, the word more often has a parasitic implication.
For what it’s worth, it’s not uncommon for American Waldorf schools to use an outside inspection agency. They belong to,and are reaccredited periodically following successful inspections by regional associations of private schools, along with being periodically reaccredited by AWSNA, for example, https://waldorfpeninsula.org/accreditation/
Jeremy, thanks for the interest you expressed via another channel in our work. I was also happy that you did not get angry that I brought up Brexit again. That enables me to push my argument a bit further.
“Given the prevalence and seriousness of these issues across both state-funded and independent Steiner schools, they raise questions about whether these common failures are a result of the underlying principles of Steiner education. ”
It seems that you feel that the inspection “crossed a red line” here. But I think the questions are legitimate. I don’t think the problems as you analyse so well are only management or governance challenges. And we should not avoid entering into dialogue on the “underlying principles”, neither in our own circle and engaging the outside world, inspections and all, but celebrate such existential dialogue. I guess in the teachers gatherings you announce they do. Which are these principles nowadays? And how are they implementable in present circumstances? This will be only beneficial, ultimately, I think. Obviously, this is needed for two reasons: teachers, students, parents live in different times from 100 years ago. That requires re-formulation, and maybe release of an evolution, of the fundamental principles; and, secondly, these principles also need to be tested in the context of the Steiner-Waldorf schools now being a truly worldwide movement (as it was intended to be). It has gained critical mass as a global cultural movement. Challenging the underlying principles may imply nothing less than a paradigm shift in Steiner-Waldorf education.
Also, nobody is to blame; but yes, responsible persons should be accountable. I read that teaching in England is the profession that requires most of unpaid overtime, and is the most stressful of all professions. Here in my (second) home-country, Thailand, children are extremely stressed by the awful education system we have. For solutions, we have to get rid of the stress. Teachers and the system resort to “obedience training” to “protect” themselves and the children for chaos and breakdown because they are overloaded.
So, I understand Waldorf-Steiner education in England has to be pragmatic and goes for effective, immediate, problem solving. But maybe it would contribute to long term solutions if your problems can be understood and tackled as part of a global challenge. Waldorf schools in countries where they perform well at the moment, do not go free from this common effort. So, let’s find ways to confront the challenges in full depth and vigor and re-invent ourselves.
Thank you for your comment and of course I agree with you that Steiner Waldorf schools across the world need to continue to evolve and re-invent themselves to deal with changing circumstances.
But the term “underlying principles”, as used by the Ofsted chief inspector in her letter to the Education Secretary in England, is an ambiguous phrase. Does it mean “the typical practices and procedures in a Steiner Waldorf school”, such as the absence of a head teacher, the laissez-faire approach to paperwork and recording of data, the belief that the children should grow up with the sense that the world is a safe and beautiful place, etc? Or does it mean that anthroposophy itself is to be put in the dock?
Sven Saar, an adviser to the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, has written the following in the latest ASinGB Newsletter: “The question is: What have we done to attract this level of scrutiny and what is the present crisis situation able to teach us? Is it possible that our own idealism is tripping us up and that we hesitate to look at and engage with our shadow?” He also goes on to refer to his own experience of an Ofsted inspection: “My own experience has taught me not to expect (from Ofsted inspectors) the high professional standards the power of Ofsted suggests they should have. In my last visit in May the inspector looked through the (main lesson) books and asked me with puzzlement why the last two weeks were all about biology. It turned out that he had never heard about Main Lesson blocks and that we teach the same subject every morning for several weeks! In other words, he had not prepared himself with due diligence – but his powers to approve or disapprove of our practice remained absolute”.
The following is purely anecdotal but if true, is very revealing. A member of staff in one of the schools recently visited during the Ofsted intensive series of inspections said that the inspector had intended to be there only for the morning but had become so interested in what he was seeing that he stayed until 6.30pm – and revealed to this teacher that he had come to the school with a firm instruction from Ofsted that he was expected to recommend its closure.
So although there may be real causes for concern about some Steiner Waldorf schools, this does not mean that Ofsted inspections are free of its own political agenda and imperatives – and people like me are not entirely wrong to suspect a politically-inspired witch hunt.
The irony, of course, is that the practice in mainstream schools leads many teachers to leave the profession. To quote Sven Saar again: “How is it even possible that teachers up and down the country live in terror of being inspected and that this is deemed a necessary, even a good thing? In my profession I help mainstream teachers transition into Steiner Waldorf schools and I am horrified when they tell me – often literally through tears – what pressures they had to endure to deliver on the requisite data sets so that their schools could maintain a ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ grade. At certain ages pupils are again and again put through mock tests to ensure enough of them pass the SATS (Standard Assessment Tests), instead of being taught, never mind educated. When recent headlines revealed that one in eight young people had sought help for mental (better: emotional) problems, I looked in vain for articles that made the obvious connection to the pressures they are under at school to ‘perform’ and ‘excel’ – two words that should have no place in education!”
Well, Kathy, it is because you are sucking up to the parameters of Ofsted inspections for America, as if they should apply. Well, why should they? These schools are independent and free, regardless if they come from a major metropolis, or a little town in Ohio. Does that make sense?
I am sad to see Kathleen being insulted and then diminished by Steve’s prejudices and his offensive use of words.
I do wonder, Jeremy, if you should edit some of his posts as he really does not seem to understand when he is being offensive – or maybe he feels it is Ok to be offensive to Kathleen because she is female? There have been other instances of these kinds of behaviours from Steve on this blog.
I don’t agree with you that there is any kind of witch-hunt going on, nor that Waldorf schools are under attack, as Sven Saar says in his article. This is the language of cults.
There is a legal framework in England which is there to protect the vulnerable. In Kings Langley the college failed to recognise the deleterious effects of Dennis McCarthy’s behaviour over many years. (His case is now wholly in the public eye or I would not mention it). I was a trustee twice during the period that he was employed (over 30 years) and there was never any indication from college that his behaviour was anything but exemplary!
It would be a serious failing of OFSTED if they did not investigate all schools using a college system to see if they were prone to the same weaknesses – lack of monitoring of staff’s behaviours and weak internal discipline.
OFSTED only recognises teaching approaches which claim to be evidence based. There is no requirement to try and understand any approach which is based on the clairvoyant insight of a dead mystic. So Sven Saar should not be surprised when an inspector has not researched Steiner education before appearing in the school. Saar is again thinking in a cultish way when he implies, ‘They should try to understand us’. Outside of Steiner schools there is a general consensus of opinion on how children learn and what teaching approaches work best. There is also a lot of research going on into the effectiveness of various methods. One would expect an OFSTED inspector to be familiar with all this.
When inspectors go into Catholic schools, and other faith schools, they are not expected to be au fait with those schools belief systems. The faith schools are expected to exercise the same care for children and ensure the professional behaviour of their staff as all the other state schools.
Why should it be different for Steiner Schools?
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Well, Tom, it’s not often I find myself disagreeing with you – but your comment above seems to me to be wrong-headed in ways that I would not have expected from you.
First, re Steve Hale: why do you think that I should step in to protect Steve Hale from himself? I’ve sometimes done this in the past, either by editing one of his posts or else refusing to post a comment which seemed to be outside the Comments & Moderation guidelines of this blog. On one or two occasions I have written to him to request that he re-phrase something to make it acceptable. But I’m too busy to do this on a regular basis and I don’t see anyway why I should – he’s a grown man who needs to take responsibility for what he writes – and so in this case it seemed to me better that he should experience the effect of his words on other people.
In what way is it cult-like for me or anyone else to allege that Steiner schools are being picked out for particularly harsh inspections, when it’s quite clear that that is what is going on, and that Ofsted has given instructions to its inspectors to close down some schools? I am not disputing for one second that some of the schools are not professional enough in their approach or their practice – and you know well my views on the weaknesses of the College of Teachers system – but it’s also obvious that there is a political agenda being played out here. Now this could all be to the good if it means that the remaining Steiner schools will raise their game to the level of professionalism seen in mainstream schools but only just as long as they don’t lose what makes the education truly child-centred (sorry to use a term Ofsted would hate).
You mention Denis (spelt with one ‘N’) McCarthy, the former RSSKL teacher who has just been cleared by the Teaching Regulation Agency of any sexual wrong-doing but prohibited from teaching for three years because of inappropriate physical contact (“behaving in a grandfatherly way”) with pupils. Mr McCarthy is an excellent teacher and a very stubborn man who behaved incredibly foolishly in not changing his ways after he was warned several times by the school. I remember introducing a Code of Conduct for members of staff at RSSKL to try to deal with this issue and spoke to him myself (as did others) but he wouldn’t be told and the school eventually had to fire him. The College of Teachers was certainly aware of the issues when I was there (up until 2014) and no doubt should have dismissed him earlier when he refused to change his ways – but delay and drift are what you get when a College of Teachers is faced with problems caused by a respected and much-loved colleague. Had a principal been in place, Mr McCarthy would undoubtedly have had to leave the school much earlier. It would be quite proper for Ofsted to conclude that a College-run school is in danger of maladministration.
I find your comment “there is no requirement to try and understand any approach which is based on the clairvoyant insight of a dead mystic” to be beside the point here, as is your final paragraph making comparisons with Catholic and other faith schools. Steiner schools employ a set of methods (see my post https://anthropopper.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/every-school-could-use-these-methods/) which could be used by any school and which are not dependent on the school being run by anthroposophists. Steiner schools are not faith schools and your comparison would be more fruitfully made with Froebel or Montessori schools, which also employ unique methods. It is surely absolutely right and proper to expect an Ofsted inspector to familiarise himself with what is distinctive about those methods before going to inspect such a school.
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Hello Jeremy and Tom!
Jeremy, you write:
“Steiner schools employ a set of methods [- – -] which could be used by any school and which are not dependent on the school being run by anthroposophists.”
To that I would say, first, that they aren’t, not even in theory but certainly not in practice; to my knowledge, no Steiner schools have ever been run entirely free of the anthroposophical influence or without at least a few anthroposophists. I mean, of course, they can be started, and run, by people of whom some are anthroposophists and some are not. But it’s not just a method that can be divorced from its spiritual and ideological foundation. If I’m not mistaken, still to this day, Steiner organisations like the SWSF even require a certain presence of practicing anthroposophists, for lack of a better word, among founders and staff of a Steiner school. In addition, if I’m not wrong, Steiner himself does not think waldorf education is merely a method that can be divorced from the teachers’ own spiritual path and development — rather, the latter is, in fact, absolutely essential for being a waldorf teacher. (He says something similar about practicing biodynamic agriculture. The method cannot be separated from the spiritual ambitions of those who use it.) So, no, it’s not just a method; it’s something a lot more than that. Which is why, I believe, it’s not used in schools that lack any connection to anthroposophy. It remains to be seen what happens in the future. I’d bet that if, by for example necessity (e g, there being too few anthroposophists left), Steiner schools are “deprived” of anthroposophy, that is, their staff is merely following what is then nothing but an empty formula that doesn’t mean anything personal to those involved, these schools will in the end be very much watered down versions of they were intented to be, i e, they won’t be Steiner schools in any meaningful way. I wonder if they will even be recognizable beyond perhaps a few superficial elements like the colour of the walls… if even that remains eventually.
Secondly I would remark that, given that Steiner education is very different in its method (and in its madness… one might joke…) than the mainstream method(s) used in other schools, it does fall on representatives of Waldorf schools to explain what they’re doing and why to inspectors and others. Of course, they can ignore that, and continute to wail about being misunderstood, but that will be at their own peril. I mean, you can complain endlessly that other people “should” understand better and be better informed and want to do things better, but that’s not going to help; after all, waldorf folks can only really change their own approach, nobody else’s. It doesn’t really matter if it seems unfair, these schools will have to explain especially those things that differ from what is usually expected.
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Steiner’s discussion during the Christmas Conference, to which Jeremy links, does seems to reduce Waldorf to methods “that every school could use.” But that discussion came only after countless lectures and discussions in which he described those methods as being in the service of a specific and very detailed vision of a child’s incarnation and how best to foster it.
I have no idea how you would go about reconciling Steiner’s Waldorf = methods remarks with all the places where Waldorf = methods + the intentions behind those methods, aka anthroposophy. Maybe a clue lies in the specific context of his remarks: the difficulty of finding financing for creating a large number of Waldorf schools. Without that financing, Steiner says, the handful of existing schools are going to remain “isolated examples . . . for a long time.”
Alicia describes very well what the outcome of Waldorf methods without Waldorf intentions is likely to be over the long run.
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Waldorf education is essentially based upon and an extension of aristotelean philosophical concepts of threefolding (body, soul ad spirit), ontological development, four kingdoms of nature, five elements, pre-existence of the spirit, division of the soul, diversity of the senses, memory and phantasy, etc..
In Vienna, Steiner studied with the aristotelian philosophers Brentano and Knauer.
Jeremy and all,
I try to link to the way you quote Sven Saar in a more positive light. I didn’t see him talking about a ‘witch hunt’ and I don’t think his language is cult-like at all. The OFSTED inspector should have known about the Main Lesson as a vital part of the curriculum and this has nothing to do with clairvoyance or religion.
If I look at our side of the Earth, so here in Asia, the education system is more and more an instrument of political suppression by authoritarian regimes. I am afraid this is now also gradually happening in Europe (which still includes England) in line with the worrying growth of the right wing.
I wonder whether after 100 years, Steiner Waldorf education should be satisfied to remain in the the relative comfort zone (though under serious threat) of a small, kind, alternative stream, and protective (though sometimes big-mouthed) private education. Or that Steiner Waldorf education could come out and combat the increasingly oppressive trend to use education to folding children into the economic moulds of our time (where adults can be monitored increasingly by means of technology for the purpose of obedience to the state and corporate marketing).
I can understand that Rudolf Steiner at his time could / did not want to engage with Mahatma Gandhi (Annie Besant did when she was still an activist!). But we as modern anthropoppers, and the global Steiner Waldorf movement at 100 years, should now (or not?) blend the “underlying principle” of pure individualism and woolly group work with the kind of militant discipline which enabled the Indian people to fight the British Empire by means of conscious, disciplined, collective, non-violent disobedience. That may be the only way to safeguard the true principles of Steiner Waldorf education.
These days we see children strike, lead by a 16 year old Swedish girl, against us grown-ups who left them with a world threatened by climate change (to keep it simple, without refering to the apocalyptic Steiner scenarios Jeremy confronted us with). If we, grown-ups and children alike, will not be able to shape the fantastic achievements of Steiner Waldorf education towards a significant transformation movement with global impact, we will lose the battle.
Waldorf education was seen at that moment by Steiner as the best “strategy” to confront the threats of recurring war, where the Threefolding proposals had failed.
Doubtful, difficult to judge, micro behaviour like in Kings Langsley, and our inability to handle it properly (because not understanding it as a signal of a structural problem) and leading to far reaching impacts, should wake us up to the real challenges of our time.
I very much value what you are doing. Your blog is the ONLY place I find intelligent discussion around Steiner education. There are many worthwhile contributions, even from people like Steve, when he is not behaving like a knucklehead (dumb-ass, in American English, Steve).
I am very disappointed by the lack of any public response to what is happening in the Steiner Schools from SWSF or the leadership of any school or body representing Waldorf education. (I don’t include parents – all parents whose own child is happy in a school will say how good it is.)
So it is wonderful to find substantive points being made throughout your blog posts.
We disagree on some basics. I wont go into this at length, as it is an issue that has been gone over many times and in many places before, but I do believe Steiner Schools are faith schools. Their raison d’etre is derived from the clairvoyant insights of Rudolf Steiner. Unless one can see into the spiritual world oneself then one is acting on faith in Steiner.
By the way, if anyone is wondering about my own standpoint, I do have faith in Steiner. I do not think he was crazy or a charlatan, but I do think he made some serious and far-reaching mistakes. One being to try out a new form of administration, the College, in a school.
I am wondering what concrete evidence you have, Jeremy, for the statement, ” … Steiner schools are being picked out for particularly harsh inspections, when it’s quite clear that that is what is going on..”.
How many OFSTED inspections of state schools are you intimately familiar with, that you can confidently express a judgement about the harshness of the inspections?
As regards the inspector who had been instructed to close the school, “… he stayed until 6.30pm – and revealed to this teacher that he had come to the school with a firm instruction from Ofsted that he was expected to recommend its closure.”, – this is hearsay.
If it were true it would demonstrate to me the lack of professionalism of the said inspector, who is effectively conspiring with the teacher against the inspector’s employers. An honourable inspector would go back to his bosses and say he could find no grounds on which to close the school, not spend time whispering sweet nothings to someone who might make use of the conversation to discredit the inspectorate.
It is none of my business how you run your blog, Jeremy.
For myself, I feel that I must not let misogyny go unchallenged.
The stupid expression, ‘sucking up’, used by Steve, is not so troubling to me.
But it is troubling to me when misogyny and sexism rear their ugly heads. “…the female perspective opposes any idea of ‘sucking up’ ” What is the point of this remark by Steve except to diminish Kathleen?
Misogyny and sexism shame us all.
Despite our disagreements I do send you my best wishes, for I know that you are someone who has suffered for the ideal of Waldorf education.
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I doubt that I am a misogynist and sexist, as you imply, but only an anthroposophist looking into the matter of how Steiner schools in America are making their way in freedom. In other words, the lack of outside inspections here in America are the given proof of success, and even with the Cincinnati school, it was resolved successfully. What more can be said?
In regard to the role of College of Teachers in Waldorf schools, one encounters yet another of those legacies in which Rudolf Steiner suggested something to one group of people at a certain time and place and situation, and somehow that suggestion has become cast in stone for the rest of eternity. It’s both rubbish and sad at the same time.
In my understanding, in Stuttgart 1919 in Emil Molt’s newly founded school, Steiner was faced with a collection of highly talented individuals he had personally selected as the first teachers. None of them was well suited to taking orders from anyone (RS excepted); so Steiner suggested a collegial system for running the school.
In 1922 just outside Hamburg, another school was founded under the guidance of Rudolf Steiner by a civil engineer and builder called Hans Pohlmann. Like Molt, he provided the premises, and paid the salaries and bills, but left the education to the teachers. But in this case, with Steiner’s approval, there was a head teacher, Dr. Max Kändler.
Murphy, Sophia Christine: “The Multifaceted Life of Emil Molt”; AWSNA Chatham NY; 2012
Click to access hartwig_schiller.pdf
Thank you for this very interesting information – I didn’t know about the school with a head teacher but am glad to do so now.
I resonate with what those above are saying. The spiritual cannot be separated from anthroposophical programs without some serious consequences. I remember reading a book by Prokofieff and Selg. They said that the strategy of removing Steiner’s name (and spiritual influence) from his “daughter” movements paves the way for an ahrimanic takeover of the movements. I certainly saw that starting to cook in the Waldorf school in Ohio I knew some 20+ years ago. I don’t know how they’ve weathered it in the years since, but I left with a heavy heart.
Thanks to those willing to call out misogyny and meanness. At the risk of seeming to “suck up” to Jeremy, I agree Steve should have the opportunity to experience the effects of his views. I never thought to find this on an Anthroposophical blog, but I guess any man can be just human!
I think it is not one or the other. Of course a strong core group should be central exercising anthroposophy in its pure forms (by renewing herself constantly balanced out with critically building on tradition). But in expanding circles there can and should be areas where a diversity of ideas, principles and practices can fructify each other and where anthroposophy is one among other spiritual movements (and not always superior). Interaction with ‘secular’ approaches can be fruitful as well. It is important that those who enter the “inclusive” realm can nurture themselves continuously by receiving critical support from the core group, without being seen as ‘traitors’ or those lost under the influence of Ahriman. If we try to avoid the battle with Ahriman by isolating ourselves, the influences pop up in the centre of the “safe” circle with even more force.
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Thank you, Hans, Very well said. I often find myself resenting that this life can feel like a double-bind. But then I remember Steiner saying we are to function as fulcrums – so I get back on the tightrope. Uh, Oh!: METAPHOR MIX ~!!!
On metaphors depicting balance: instead of feeling uncertain to be on a tightrope, and having to compromise which weakens our inner force, we can imagine the middle between two extremes as the arrow in a bow. By developing a strong sense of space, with careful precision and respect for the differences between the extremes, we can direct our forces to reach the goal and unite with it.
We can become human.
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I read this last post just after an afternoon of facing, once again, sorting through my deceased sister”s things. I had just been holding her bow and arrows and remembering some things she’d said. She wasn’t a student of Steiner – or anyone – but she spoke about using the bow as a way of finding her true center and directing her will. She was among the most “human” people I’ve ever known. And she always “knew” before she took a step – unlike me who couldn’t figure out what I knew until I took the step. We made a great pair. Thanks for your so-timely post…Kathy
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Kathy, I like what you said: we made a great pair. We need diversity more than anything else.