I was contacted today by a journalist in Europe who wanted to speak with me about Steiner schools in England. This is what she wrote:
I am a journalist working for the Franco-German tv channel ARTE, at a weekly program about European issues and challenges called Vox Pop. I am currently preparing an investigative report about Steiner Schools in Europe, and will also do a focus in England given the current situation.
I believe it started with issues at Kings Langley School… Since this school has been part of your life for a long time, I’d like to talk with you, for a background , off the record conversation. Could I call you, for example tomorrow?
This is how I replied:
Since you are offering an ‘off the record’ conversation, I’m assuming that you are hoping for highly critical remarks about Steiner schools. This is not my position at all – Steiner education is among the very best kinds of education when it is done well. The remarks on my blog about the Kings Langley school were written more in sorrow than in anger, because my view is that the school lost its way quite badly and in its failings has done a huge disservice to Steiner schools everywhere.
Having said that, the Kings Langley school also gave a good education to my daughter and to many other pupils and this should also be recorded. The situation with many of the Steiner schools in England is currently giving concern and there is an article here by Sylvie Sklan which you may find helpful in this connection:
I’ve not worked in a Steiner school since 2014 and doubt if anything I could say would be up to date. I hope your report will be a rounded look at the education and not just a hatchet job.
The article linked to above by Sylvie Sklan (a former colleague of mine on the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship executive group) is a useful summation of the situation in the English Steiner schools at this point.
The Fellowship itself is moving on – Sylvie has retired, as have Kevin and Jane Avison, and the only one of my former colleagues still in post is the excellent Janni Nicol, who does a wonderful job of representing Steiner Waldorf early years education. A new team has come in, headed up by Fran Russell, who was instrumental in creating and nurturing the Greenwich Steiner School. Here is what the most recent Fellowship newsletter has to say about the current situation in the English schools:
“Steiner Education in England continues to go through turbulent waters, although we have certainly passed one cataract now with Ofsted having completed its round of the schools, as Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman’s letter signifies. While many people will have various reactions to this, it is important to appreciate that it concludes a period of uncertainty and whether good or bad, right or wrong, justified or not –to put it simplistically- we now know where we stand.
This can be seen as a new beginning with greater things to come. Certainly, in some countries that have gone through not dissimilar phases, something much stronger has emerged. It is probably important to remind ourselves that, while teachers, schools, school leaders and trustees, the SWSF and anybody who is interested in Steiner Education, navigate the emotional currents and turmoil of this wild water we are working towards a future where Steiner Education represents an established and well-respected stream within the educational landscape.
The Fellowship has engaged with Ofsted and the DFE in recent months through meetings and conversations and we have been able to establish a useful stream of communication, enabling us to maintain exemptions, advise on inspection styles going forward and inform the regulators regarding the content and context of Steiner Education. It is clear that in this context the Fellowship is invaluable as an associative body for Steiner Schools, as the DFE and Ofsted have stated that they will not engage with individuals or individual schools.
Furthermore, the Fellowship has also been actively engaged with Avanti and the Regional Schools Commissioners in order to ensure that, as far as possible, while the re-brokering of the academies is still underway, the commitment to the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum is maintained”.
To return to Sylvie Sklan’s article, in which she refers to the taking over of 3 out of the 4 publicly funded academies by a multi-academy trust, the Avanti Schools Trust: she says that “it remains to be seen as to how authentic a school ‘inspired by Waldorf principles’ can be”.
The omens are not promising; here, for example is a report in Schools Week that says Avanti has insisted that it never intended to keep the schools Steiner.
Sylvie also refers to the Avanti Foundation which has taken over the former Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, and which she says is separate from the Avanti Schools Trust. A report in the local newspaper Tring Today says that the new school is not being allowed to open by Ofsted as it has failed some pre-registration checks.
So it appears that the situation for Steiner schools in England continues dire. Can these schools in partnership with the new Fellowship gradually help themselves on to an upwards trajectory and away from disaster? Time will tell.