UK Anthroposophy

July 20, 2011

Fullfledge Ecology School Suffolk – a teacher’s view

Filed under: Uncategorized — ukanthroposophy @ 7:27 pm

This post was written by Esther Fidler, a teacher in a mainstream state school. The views she expresses here are her own and should not be taken or implied to be taken to be representative of her employers. But you can take them to be representative of mine, Mike Collins.

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1.   WOW!  New School!  Ecology n’ Stuff!  Oh, hang on a minute…

A few weeks ago I read an article in my local paper, The East Anglian, about a proposed Free School. As a local state school teacher I was quite interested and decided to take a look at their website, which from my first impressions seemed nothing out of the ordinary. My attention was drawn to one sentence, however, ‘…our school will bring together the best practice from Steiner and state-school approaches…’   Hmmm, note to self, find out about Steiner approaches.  I read of ‘joy and wonder’, ‘passion for learning and life’, ‘…honours the diversity of all the individuals within it and responds to their changing needs accordingly…’

All fairly standard school-speak, lots of good words which to the uninitiated sound really great but when you think carefully (and have a teacher’s perspective) actually tell you nothing about what really goes on at a school.  Most schools create a ‘healthy, warm, safe, nurturing environment’ and all want to instil joy and wonder and a passion for learning and life.  They’d be pretty poor if they didn’t, and that was my problem with Fullfledge; what it is presenting as NEW already exists in other schools. They want to teach children about sustainability – so do we, they want to teach children about gardening, cooking and being creative – so do we, they will be working with Forest Schools – WE DO IT ALREADY!  Which led me to question: – what is so good and different about this school that it should remove children (and therefore funding) from the nearby state schools, and do I want my taxes spent on it?

As Rudolf Steiner features prominently on the Fullfledge Ecology School site I decided to follow my instincts and do some research, it took about five minutes on the web for me to become extremely concerned. Since you’re reading this on UK Anthroposophy you will have access to other articles which explain Steiner Waldorf Education more comprehensively than I can here. But most importantly for me, Fullfledge Ecology School states in its FAQs that ‘our curriculum arises out of Steiner’s picture of child development’ so it is vital to know exactly what that is. It seems most Steiner schools are not entirely upfront about anthroposophy, Steiner’s ‘philosophy’ (or more accurately belief system) which underpins every aspect of their pedagogy. This reticence is compounded by the fact that anthroposophy is esoteric and based on knowledge gained through Steiner’s clairvoyant abilities. Their ‘hidden knowledge’ is thus ‘need to know’. Well, I do.

The Steiner view of child development is that children are on a journey of reincarnation and we should teach them differently at different stages on that journey.  Rudolf Steiner taught that up to the age of around seven, children could be harmed (in karmic terms) by learning to read and write, that they are unable to think in a reasoned way until they reach their teens.  I learned that children in a Steiner school have no textbooks, no access to computers until they reach 14 (damaging to karma again) that they have the same teacher for eight years, that they have a two hour lesson daily from the age of seven, and that in the lower years the class teacher dictates work to be written by children in their books.

Now, coming from a state school I found this worrying.  I have been a teacher for fifteen years. I currently teach year two, have recently been rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, in a school with outstanding attainment, progress and behaviour.  I lead Science and ICT within the school and teach a creative, child-led curriculum. The children I teach are happy, lively and interested; they have a thirst for knowledge and know where to find it.  Every single one of the children in my class (aged from 6-7) writes independently, reads well and loves it.  They also love finding things out for themselves using the internet or a book, they can reason and question evidence, and they are most certainly not harmed by any of it – in fact I would go so far as to say that it enriches their lives.  I am in no way qualified to teach these children when they are 14 and would not want to, my specialism is Key Stage one. I cannot see how any teacher can have the subject knowledge to teach from ages 7-14.

I sent the proposed Free School an email expressing my concerns and the next day had a reply, one of the founders would like to meet with me.  The following weekend I met with Ewout Van-Manen with the aim of finding out how much the Steiner pedagogy was to influence his ‘Ecology’ school.  I wanted to reassure myself that the school was needed in the area, that all of the staff would hold qualified teacher status, that science was being taught properly and that the school would be accountable.

We met on a farm near Woodbridge, a beautiful part of Suffolk full of lofty barn conversions and four-wheel drives, where a woodcraft day was being held to promote the Ecology School. I took my best friend for company (I don’t usually go meeting strangers in the woods), a note book and a week’s worth of reading, talking and fact finding.

2.   Location and Teacher training (or not) at Fullfledge Ecology School…

My first question was whether there is a need for Fullfledge – there’s no exact location mentioned on the website so I was unable to check roll numbers at local schools.  According to Ewout Van-Manen it will be in an area where local schools are pretty full and would be built in the grounds of an independent school.  He was unwilling to tell me which one as the proposal had not yet been discussed with that schools’ staff or parents, which I found extremely worrying, especially as Van Manen also said resources would be shared.  I can’t see how Fullfledge will ‘fit in’ with the local community if it allies itself so strongly with an independent school – rather than with local state schools. In my view, this school will take children, and funding, away from an already financially tight state sector and cause divisions in the community.  I suggested that perhaps the Fullfledge Trust could work with the existing state schools, providing ecology lessons and financially supporting their green efforts but was told that this was a political matter and not up for discussion.

My next question was about staff and their qualifications.  Currently, so far as I am aware, there is no tertiary educational establishment in the UK offering Steiner teacher training and QTS (qualified teacher status, a legal requirement of all state teachers), so I asked what training the teachers at Fullfledge would have.  Van-Manen replied that all teachers would be Steiner trained (where? – certainly not in public institutions in the UK), and that he would be working to gain them QTS, possibly with a University in Canterbury.  There is currently no way of gaining QTS in the UK without doing either a PGCE or three year teacher training.  The thought of my child, any child, being taught for eight years by an adult (I can’t call them a teacher as they have no professional teaching qualification) who has not been trained to teach in a recognised tertiary establishment is alarming to say the least. Van-Manen appears to put Steiner training above accepted teacher training, which I feel demonstrates a disregard for qualifications, a disregard which became more evident later in the discussion.

I asked about the people who were involved in the setting up of the school and in particular who the Principal would be.  It appeared that I was talking to him. However, Principal Designate Ewout Van- Manen holds no professional qualifications and has no experience of the state education provision he is arguing against.  He is a Minister at the Universal Life Church though, so that’s a relief. Should you wish to be a Minister too, just submit your name and email address and they will ordain you, my friend had his cat ordained last week.

3.   Steiner’s influence on Fullfledge Ecology School

On the Fullfledge site a few educational influences are listed – Sir Ken Robinson, Satish Kumar (of the ‘treeness of the tree’) as well as Rudolf Steiner – although Steiner was more an occultist than an educator. I contacted Sir Ken Robinson via twitter and asked him several times to confirm that he endorsed the use of his name in connection with this initiative, he did not reply. A cynic might suggest that citing Robinson is a ‘hook’ to attract parents who might think he was somehow involved – and who might therefore not ask difficult questions.

I asked about the Steiner element of Fullfledge and how much of an influence Steiner pedagogy would have on the school. Ewout Van-Manen replied that the Steiner view of child development was “best practise” and non-negotiable and that the school would follow the Steiner curriculum. I wondered how this was not a Steiner school and why the fact of this did not feature more prominently on the website.  In my opinion, the only thing setting Fullfledge apart from a regular Steiner school is that the initiative is not a member of the UK Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), a prerequisite for including Steiner in a school’s name.  Van-Manen said that many parents felt secure with the Steiner curriculum but that SWSF schools have become ‘associated with dogma’ with which Fullfledge did not wish to be associated, as (he said) “Most of the things you read on the internet about Steiner schools are true. “

If Van-Manen is right – and he was candid about having been Waldorf educated (he also appears never to have worked outside a Steiner environment) – we really should be concerned if a Steiner school in all but name gains public money on a technicality. How would Van-Manen ensure that all his Steiner trained teachers (trained in private institutions or abroad) renounce the unfortunate ‘dogma’? And what would be Fullfledge’s relationship with the Steiner movement in England, especially with the state funded Steiner Academy Hereford, which gained its funding on the back of a 2005 government report and presumably, as a member of the SWSF, endorses this dogma – dogma the Woods Report did not baulk at? Plus Hereford’s Vice Principal, Clarence Harvey, is listed by Fullfledge  as ‘advising on curriculum’ and Professor Philip Woods, one of the authors of the Woods Report, is advising on ‘Leadership and Management’. I would question his judgement thus far.

In spite of his reservations about members of the SWSF, Ewout Van-Manen has only recently resigned from his long-standing job at Michael Hall Steiner School where he was Education Administrator. He is still listed as such on another Steiner school’s whistle-blowing policy document and as Vice-Chair of Trustees at Greenwich Steiner School (he is listed on the Fullfledge site as Director of Development at Greenwich). Both these schools are members of the SWSF. Van Manen is also a lay inspector for the School Inspection Service, which conducts inspections on behalf of Ofsted of SWSF member schools. His last inspection for the SIS was at Alder Bridge Steiner School in May this year.

Van-Manen and I discussed the Steiner curriculum, which stipulates a two hour main lesson from the age of seven.  Although this lesson will include different elements (such as movement and art) I still feel that this is too long for a young child to maintain attention on one subject. Child ‘development’ based on Steiner’s teachings requires that certain elements are taught at certain times based on physical changes in a child’s body.  The example I was given by Ewout Van-Manen was that at around the age of 11 children lose their pot bellies, becoming taller and leaner.  At this time they should be taught about the Greeks because developmentally ‘they are Greeks’. Instead, I believe that children should be taught about the Ancient Greeks as part of a larger topic which could be linked through mathematics, science, art, writing and sport to the developments of that era; building on the children’s prior learning and their ability to understand complex ideas – NOT when they lose their pot bellies! Steiner believed that the time at which a child was ready to learn to write was when they gained adult teeth.  My training and experience shows me that this stage is reached when children progress from mark making to wanting to learn to write, which most children at state school choose to do in reception class (4-5), this is not connected in any way with their teeth!  Steiner schools withhold ICT teaching until the age of 14, at which age most children will be using a computer at home.  I suggested to Van-Manen that he had a responsibility to teach pupils how to use a computer in a discerning way and how to stay safe; apparently this was not something that had been considered either by himself or the Fullfledge Vice Principal Designate, Steiner parent Marisa Formicola, who also put in an appearance.  Van-Manen did suggest that he would discourage parents from allowing their children to watch TV or use a computer; he went so far as to state that computers are alien to childhood, as they ‘contain someone else’s interpretation’.  This seems naive to say the least.

I began to get the impression that knowledge, unless gained specifically from a (possibly unqualified) class teacher was not encouraged; the idea of a mystical, esoteric belief system based upon reincarnation and karma being the foundation of a school which does not encourage finding out information through books, TV or the internet was beginning to make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.  I decided to ask about science.

4.   Science (and evidence) at Fullfledge Ecology School….

I had a particular interest in how science would be taught at Fullfledge, as this is my own specialism.  I often link the three disciplines of science, art and writing in my classroom, using an image as a starting point to promote language and discussion and then creating art, doing writing and learning the accompanying scientific knowledge or concept which stems from the image.  This is a method which has been successfully trialled in Norfolk.  At my school, I have lead training on science through play and the use of discovery boxes and will be working with the Science Learning Centre to deliver courses to a wider area.  So it was worrying to hear what little regard Ewout Van-Manen holds for the concept of evidence.  Here’s a representative sample of quotes from our conversation:

‘Experience is true, if you read something you don’t know it.’

‘I treated my own children homeopathically and know it works.’ (This in response to my comments on the Cochrane and other reviews of homeopathy (see here for resources) which show no proof for its efficacy beyond the placebo effect. Fullfledge Vice Principal designate Marisa Formicola is also a homeopath.)

‘I would hope to see someone trained in movement therapy, eurythmy or braingym, in my school.’ (Braingym has been proved bunkum, as for eurythmy…)

‘You can find evidence for anything if you look for it.’

A lack of regard for evidence, evaluated according to proper criteria, demonstrates a lack of any kind of scientific thought.  The impression I got from Van-Manen was that learning about scientific theories would stem from learning about a scientist (all good so far) and ‘what they believed’ (becoming a bit flaky), with no emphasis on what is now currently held to be true or which theories have  been accepted as such by society as a whole (very worrying). Of course you encourage children to find things out for themselves and give them the tools to do so, but how are they to know how to evaluate their own findings if the person at the head of the school is unable (and frankly unwilling) to do so? Not only is the prospective Principal of Fullfledge Ecology School not a trained teacher, he was in my estimation poorly educated himself. An ‘Ecology’ school steeped in pseudoscience (and Steiner’s Spiritual Science) is a negative step. The need for scientific literacy has never been greater.

5.   Accountability, OfStEd, Qualifications

As a state funded school Fullfledge will be subject to regular inspections, apparently by Ofsted, not by the SIS. I have watched some Steiner lessons from a school in Ireland, posted on YouTube. I have never seen such terrible teaching, for the following reasons:

  1. No discussion
  2. Rote ‘learning’
  3. Copying work from the board
  4. No interaction
  5. Poorly motivated, uninspired children
  6. Dull , expressionless teacher
  7. Dull voices
  8. Dull lessons in an uninspiring classroom

Were Ofsted to observe the lessons featured here, as they observed mine, the teacher would fail. There is no actual learning taking place as the children are already aware of the answers to the questions asked, the teacher is just reminding them of what they already know.  I see no evidence of the wonderful individual nurturing which this education system purports to do better than a state school, I see no evidence of enjoyment of learning, and in fact I see no evidence of any actual learning taking place at all.  The work the children are producing is years behind that of a state school child and I would expect a five year old to be able to copy a drawing and copy a word.

The Principal Designate of Fullfledge Ecology school, Ewout Van-Manen, told me that his Free School would have an issue with year 2 SATs testing.  I would like to suggest that as this testing predates the ‘developmental stage’ at which Fullfledge would begin teaching children to read and write this is a master stroke in understatement.  He did say that they would ‘find a way round it’, and mentioned that at Hereford Steiner Academy most of the parents had ‘kept their children off on the day of the test’ – this was no revelation.  Van-Manen was very surprised to discover (I told him, btw) that as it is teacher assessment and not SAT scores which are submitted, this should have had no effect on their inclusion in the league tables.  Once again, his lack of knowledge of basic rules and of the state system generally was evident.  If the Principal of a school finds it acceptable to flout the rules on data submission how can this school be tracked in order to prove it provides value for money to the tax payer, or a quality education to children?

Children at Fullfledge will be taking the EBacc at 16, which will include 7 GCSEs.  As there will be no data tracking through regular assessment I am unsure as to how children’s progression will be monitored – will the results at 16 come as a surprise? Will children and teachers know what a child knows and what they need to learn next in order to achieve? How will teachers report to parents and what will this be based upon? Will parents be able to compare their child’s progression to other children of a similar age in a state school?  I don’t think this has been considered, but if the Principal is not qualified, has no experience of state education, and ‘only knows what he has experienced’, how can it have been considered?

6.   Conclusions

There are so many things wrong with the proposed Fullfledge Free School educationally, I’ve hardly started.  Lack of qualified staff (including the Principal Designate), lack of assessment, poor teaching methods based on the dubious doctrines of Rudolph Steiner and lack of clarity as to what the school is really all about. Flash words like ‘ecology’, references to (expensive) ‘Green Schools’ elsewhere – Van-Manen was initially keen to compare his project to the Green School Bali, for all its positive attributes a luxury private school – whose consultant director Ronald Stone OBE is cited as ‘advising on curriculum’ at Fullfledge. What may have seemed a business opportunity should by now, at least in my opinion, be looking less than positive. The real influence, I would suggest, lies with those already sympathetic to the Steiner movement.

In my view, the Fullfledge initiative publicly distances itself from Steiner schools but – as it intends to teach a Steiner curriculum, using Steiner trained staff, and to adhere to Steiner’s barmy stages of child development, it is clearly a Steiner school.  It appears that it will teach children to be open to pseudoscience and that it will use pseudoscientific methods (such as braingym), not differentiating between weight and quality of evidence. The future Principal appears not to believe in attending to other people’s evidence unless it fits in with what he already ‘knows’, there is no weighing up of validity – instead the cherry-picking of evidence, evidence which is largely anecdotal.  I am sure that Mr Van-Manen and his team truly think that what they are doing will be of great benefit but I believe that if it were allowed to go ahead, it would fail. Ewout Van-Manen to my mind demonstrated a shocking lack of awareness of the state system and how it works, he doesn’t appear to have any recognised teaching qualifications and no experience of any other system of education other than his own, which was in a Steiner school.

I believe that this school is a test for the Steiner Waldorf movement, to try and get through the Free Schools process under the blanket of an ‘Ecology School’ (what is that anyway?) setting a precedent which other Steiner schools could follow. Van-Manen told me that he once joined the Anthroposophical Association to further his career and that he has recently left, but this peculiar fact doesn’t detract from the influence of Rudolf Steiner, whose occult ideas clearly inform the ethos of the Fullfledge initiative.

I sincerely hope that this school never opens.  Aside from setting education back about 100 years and taking money away from perfectly good, evidence-based, accountable state schools, the website itself will draw in parents who want a freer education but haven’t done their homework.  The Fullfledge surface message is attractive; peel back the layers and the core is rotten.  This school seems set to fail children and that is my real concern – children don’t really get to make a choice about where they are educated, and once they are old enough to make that decision it will be too late.

Esther Fidler

July 2011

July 5, 2011

Free Schools(4) – Absurdly normal

Filed under: Uncategorized — ukanthroposophy @ 4:27 pm

News to me since this series of posts about Steiner Free School applications began is that Michael Gove’s Department for Education (DfE) is refusing to comply with a Freedom of Information request regarding the detail of an October 2010 meeting between DfE and Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) at which issues relating to Steiner and Free Schools were discussed. Nitpickers will scream if I don’t point out that the official release of DfE’s meetings describes a meeting with ‘Steiner Fellowship’ but it’s safe to presume DfE is referring there to SWSF.

Hopefully, one of the issues discussed will have been Steiner’s racism, a subject attracting more and more attention. Even if it wasn’t discussed, DfE can hardly claim to be unaware of the racism within Steiner belief and texts because Gove’s own advisors and promoters of his Free Schools policy attended a ‘special seminar’ where the subject of racism within Steiner was discussed. In fact racism was introduced as a topic for consideration by a key Gove advisor in the morning session of the seminar. Team Gove advice proffered at the seminar was to treat Steiner racism as a pr problem. The alternative, as had been suggested at the seminar once Team Gove had departed, was to publicly jettison Steiner racist teaching. From the record of the seminar:

It was acknowledged that the Steiner schools Fellowship should give a clear and categorical rebuttal of these aspects of Steiner’s work. Clear statements should be made stating “We do not believe that human beings evolve through the races. We do not believe that blond hair bestows intelligence, etc…”.
It was felt that there may be some difficulty in making a blanket rebuttal of all Anthroposophy because many people throughout the Steiner schools system, especially teachers, strongly support many aspects of that belief system. If teachers were asked to make a blanket rebuttal of Anthroposophy, many of them may not do this.

SWSF since then has not issued clear rebuttals of Steiner core belief and has instead taken Team Gove advice to heart and relied on pr and spin in its attempts to defuse the Steiner racism issue. SWSF now has a tortuously worded statement re Steiner racism on its website.  It’s a painful read, not so much artful spin as it is sophistry and splat. An excellent article here explains Steiner racism and in the process dismantles and rebuts the statement made by SWSF. (Update January 2013: SWSF’s formal statements on Steiner racism has morphed since publication of this post. It is still unsatisfactory, it’ll be covered in a forthcoming post)

Meanwhile, government has still to make a decision regarding Steiner Free School applications. It is perhaps because SWSF fails to satisfactorily tackle the substance of Steiner racism and doesn’t appear to even understand the difference between discrimination and racism no Steiner Free School application to date has been approved but there are still applications in the pipeline. With that in mind it is worth quoting from the aforementioned article the concerns of historian Peter Staudenmaier.

What is worrisome about the Waldorf movement’s continued failure to address anthroposophy’s racial legacy is not that Waldorf schools in the twenty-first century will start churning out little Hitler youths; what is worrisome is that Waldorf advocates and sympathizers may unknowingly help prepare the ideological groundwork for another unforeseen shift in the broader cultural terrain, in which notions of racial and ethnic superiority and inferiority could once again take on a spiritual significance that lends itself all too easily to practical implementation in a changed social and political context

Here in UK the state itself is preparing the ideological groundwork by normalising Anthroposophy and its controversial, racist, beliefs. Normalisation began with the publication of the Woods Report during Blair’s era of conviction politics. The Report has many typos, is methodologically flawed and contradicts its own findings but that’s another story –  reproduced below are a representative set of  the Report’s recommendations as to how government, state agencies and the public should learn about Steiner and Anthroposophical belief.

Recommendation 9: Government and LEAs to ensure that they,and agencies such as Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), are informed by a developed understanding and appreciation, in the full context of Steiner education, of how Steiner schools assess progress and facilitate pupils’ learning and of other distinctive aspects of Steiner schools (Recommendations 12 and 18); this to be developed internally, through opportunities for elected representatives and officials concerned with Steiner education to build up such understanding and appreciation, and/or facilitated though external advisors.

Recommendation 12: Government and LEAs to ensure that they, and other relevant agencies, are informed by a developed understanding and appreciation of Steiner schools’ unconventional pedagogical practices, this to be an integral part of Recommendation 9. 

Recommendation 16: Government and LEAs to undertake or otherwise facilitate a programme of action aimed at promoting an informed understanding of Steiner education and the educational philosophy in which it is grounded, and to include as a component of this, communication of appropriate information for parents/carers so that they are able to make an informed choice of school where a maintained Steiner school is an option.

Recommendation 17: Steiner schools to devise and carry though a strategy for enhancing understanding amongst the general public and particular stakeholders (such as parents/carers, LEA officers and mainstream teachers) of Steiner education, including its foundation in anthroposophy and why it is not right to see it as a faith or dogma.

Recommendation 18: Government and LEAs to ensure that they, and other agencies including the NCSL, are informed by a developed understanding and appreciation of Steiner schools’ collegial structure of leadership and management, this to be an integral part of Recommendation 9.

You’ll see that there is plenty of scope in those recommendations to allow for what could become an indoctrination process rather than an informational one because, so far as I can see, we would all of us be informed of what Anthroposophy is by information coming only from Anthroposophists or Anthroposophical supporters. You may feel SWSF might be fair in the way it delivers information. Far from it, as we’ve already seen from one example currently on the SWSF website. Some readers will also remember the outrageous behaviour of an official SWSF ‘Communications Officer’ in his attempts at countering SWSF perceived ‘attacks’ (aka as criticisms). Do you think SWSF could responsibly, accurately and fairly ‘inform’ agencies and the public as to what Anthroposophy is?

Somewhat alarmed, I submitted a FoI to the education department asking how the department had acted on the Woods Report generally (in its entirety) and on the above recommendations in particular. Bizarrely, the department claimed it had taken no action whatsoever (e.g. didn’t even bin it, file it or pass it on elsewhere for action) even though government duly went on to fast-track the establishment of the first state funded Steiner education school shortly after the Report was published. However, the wording of their response doesn’t rule out the possibility of other departments or bodies (within or external to government) acting on the Woods recommendations.

Just for the record, the online summary of their disclosure makes no reference to the Woods recommendations, is dated incorrectly (their formal reply to my FoI request is dated April 2008) and my quite detailed request is simplified as asking for ‘Details of the actions taken or planned following the publication of the report on Steiner Schools in England.’ If anybody reading this can shed light on what the DfE or other bodies has or is doing in this area please do get in touch or comment, anonymity and confidentiality is assured.

So, even before the coalition came to power the education department wasn’t very forthcoming when approached about matters Steiner related. DfE’s more recent blocking of a FoI request re its meeting with SWSF is only worsening the situation. Worse still is news of HRH Prince Charles (aka the Meddling Prince) meeting with Gove and meeting on another occasion MP Richard Benyon. MP Richard Benyon has been proactive in supporting Steiner education and Prince Charles is quite keen on Anthroposophy too.

If the above fails to convince as evidence of normalising Anthroposophy then having the Crossfields Institute recognised as an awarding body by Edexcel certainly will.

Founded in 2007, Crossfields is unabashedly Anthroposophical.  It wanted to become the UK’s first Anthroposophical university but might be happy remaining as it is now, the official UK office of Alanus University and an Edexcel recognised awarding body. (Edit January 2013: The unabashedly Anthroposophical info originally linked to on Crossfields website has changed but you might find it interesting to read what it has been replaced with, look for any mention of Steiner/Anthroposophy (none) and then compare the current website verbiage with Crossfield’s stated charitable aims which are:
To advance education and training based on spiritual values, particularly:
1 in promoting and developing education, training and research inspired and/or underpinned by Anthroposophy;
2 in promoting and developing education, training and research in Anthroposophy and activities or subject areas developed out of or inspired by Anthroposophy;
3 in promoting, developing and/or providing for qualifications relating to such education training and research.
You can find those aims in the 2011 accounts at Charity Commission website.endedit)

Any organisation affiliated to Crossfields can offer Alanus BA and MA courses – courses such as the BA in Eurythmy and other Steiner ‘inspired’ subjects. Crossfields has also linked up with Norway’s Rudolf Steiner University College and one of its own affiliates, the Hiram Academy, a part of Ruskin Mill Education Trust, to present an MA titled Ecology of Method & Practice in Environmental Social Education.

Edexcel recognition now allows Crossfields to design awards and qualifications from entry level and level 1 (Foundation courses and GCSE’s) all the way through to level 5 courses (roughly on a par with HND, Diplomas in Higher Education stuff)  – so, state funded or not, we might expect Steiner schools to be offering Crossfield’s Anthroposophically designed GCSE and A levels in Steiner schools before too long. Indeed, Ringwood Waldorf School, a Free School applicant, in the editorial of its 2011 magazine announced:

We wish to highlight most particularly that which is almost unique to our school: that we will offer an end-of-school validation based on examinations in the Steiner curriculum only, a validation which will, nonetheless, have the value of GCSE and ‘A’ level exams, enabling students to go on to higher education if they should wish.

Crossfields and its Anthroposophic supporters have yet to work out a way of having their own teacher training certification recognised but they have been actively working on that and on finding alternative venues for delivery of training since Plymouth axed its Steiner Education BA.

Other accreditation/recognition news is that the Biography & Social Development Trust has had its diploma in biographical counselling (or Anthroposophical counselling, as it might more accurately be termed) accredited by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. The Artemis school of Speech & Drama, long financially struggling, has had its diploma accredited by the British Accreditation Council since oh, July 2009, so quite old news. Also, an article here by the Crossfields director mentions something about their involvement in accrediting the Biodynamic Agricultural Association’s ‘Apprenticeship-Learning diploma’.

So, a lot of normalising of Anthroposophy is going on within and outside of the Steiner education sector but let’s bring this back to the DfE and Steiner Free School applications.

Hopefully Gove and his DfE team understand there is no pr escape route from Steiner racist doctrine for SWSF (or for government should it state fund more Steiner schools) for so long as Steiner education remains wedded to the Steiner model of child development. There’s ample enough Steiner literature online to demonstrate Steiner evolution is a racist narrative, his model of child development through stages restates and elaborates on that narrative and the model structures Steiner education’s pedagogy, curricula and teacher practice. Should DfE be too busy to collate the information, a collection of examples of Steiner racist material, all sourced, available online here might be a good starting point.

There’d be no real harm done to Steiner education were it to remain outside of state funding. Crossfields and SWSF have in effect set up an alternative education system within which, as independent schools, they can operate according to orthodox Steiner pedagogy and offer their own qualifications and be inspected by their own (or very nearly their own) schools inspectorate.

Whereas SWSF appears stuck with Steiner orthodoxy and can only fall back on pr and spin, DfE does have a political escape route should Gove choose to tell the Steiner ed lobbyists enough is enough. All he need do is point to the Woods Report’s flaws and bias, how Woods sidelined the Steiner racism controversy and accepted at face value Anthroposophists’ own stance on the issue.

Politically this would be a neat trick in that the coalition could kick Labour for beginning the state funding of Steiner ed and Gove could present the Tory party as fully modernised, rid of or intolerant of the racism it has long been associated with in the past. It would however incur the wrath of influential Steiner supporters such as Lord Rees-Mogg and HRH Prince Charles and so jeopardise Gove’s own political career.

Whatever Gove’s decision, the issue of Steiner’s racism and his other controversial beliefs should be dealt with appropriately, transparently. Blocking or giving meaningless, silly, replies in response to FoI requests and an over-reliance on misinformation and spin is no way to be dealing with the political, moral and ethical conflicts and problems the process of normalising the absurd brings with it.

The next post in this series will see a return to the shorter, chunkier, bite sized posts of yore. Exciting, enthralling and scintillating questions will be posed and mind bogglingly prosaic answers there will none be! Allegedly.

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