UK Anthroposophy

June 6, 2011

Free Schools(1)

Prior to moving home in February I had part written a lengthy post about the many Steiner schools applying (at that time) to become ‘Free Schools’ but the draft of that post was lost when my computer died. Rather than a re-write I’ve decided to cover the topic in shorter, easier to digest chunks a la ‘Odds & Sods’ blog style. But there’ll be bigger portions. Chunkier portions. Oh read on, life’s too short…

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There are many reasons as to why the government should not approve Steiner Free School applications but will reason be enough to overcome cronyism?

Cronyism? Absolutely, yes. Here’s a photo of the boss of the Department for Education (DfE), the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP.

The picture appeared on the election blog (no longer online) of Annunziatta Rees-Mogg when she was a Conservative candidate for Somerton and Frome constituency. Gove had at the time been visiting the Meadow School for Steiner Education. Annunziatta is standing in the middle, Gove to her left and one Emma Craigie stands to her right. Emma Craigie, a former trustee of Meadow Steiner and of a now defunct Steiner school project in Bath, is actually Annunziatta’s sister, they’re the children of Lord William Rees-Mogg.  Annunziatta (a journalist for the Telegraph and contributor to the BBC) didn’t win her seat (results here), family honours went to her brother, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who won his seat (results here) when standing as a Conservative in the neighbouring constituency of North East Somerset. Emma Craigie is now (according to Linkedin) an adviser to or for Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF).

A cross-bencher in the Lords and well-known journalist, Lord Rees-Mogg reported on Gove’s Meadow Steiner school visit for a piece published in the Daily Mail from which we learn that Gove used to be a features editor at the The Times, a paper Lord Rees-Mogg  used to be editor of and still occasionally writes for. Sarah Vine is married to Gove and she too writes for The Times.

Whilst still an opposition MP, Gove – one of the MP’s exposed by the Telegraph during the expenses scandal – had one Rachel Wolf working for him as a special adviser. Rachel Wolf heads up the New Schools Network, a charity lobbying for Free Schools prior to the last election.  Once in office Gove granted the New Schools Network half a million quid to do the admin work (advising and assisting wannabe Free Schools) his own department’s civil servants would routinely have been expected to do.

In January 2011 the ever-refreshing zooey blog reported some 17 Steiner schools expressing an interest in becoming  Free Schools. My own tally of active applications was around the 14 mark. Either way this means approximately 50% of SWSF member schools considered or applied to become Free Schools. A stampede, you might say, but so far not a single one of them has put in a successful application. This is very surprising given that the SWSF and its schools have some hugely influential backers and supporters. However, there’s no knowing as to how the same or new Steiner applicants will fare during the next or future rounds of application processing – according to a Department for Education FAQ unsuccessful applications can resubmit.

The publication here on the blog (a scoop, by the way) of a transcript of discussions at a ‘special  seminar’ ruptured the then standard lines of defence taken by Steiner educators and Anthroposophists generally when dealing with accusations of Steiner racism. The content of that blog post, widely circulated, might have something to do with the apparent lack of Steiner Free school successes but let’s be pragmatic, practical and sensible. Let’s presume the worst of our political classes.

Here’s a quote from Sam Freedman (another Gove advisor) speaking to Steiner school trustees and administrators (including Emma Craigie). The quote comes from the ‘special seminar’ and is a response to a questioner asking if Freedman saw any particular problems with Steiner schools becoming state funded. Freedman replied (verbatim):

“Not in terms of the way we want to legislate, but, I mean I’m sure this is something that you all know about anyway, there’s a big PR issue, and if a lot of Steiner schools open quite quickly in the state sector, I mean I’ve been, erm, I’ve had all sorts of people writing to me just because they found out that I was coming to this meeting. Attacking. Attacking the Steiner Schools… Anonymously. Through social networking. People find out who you are, find out your account number and bombard you with articles, negative articles… This was pointing out all the things they think are wrong with Steiner movement, link after link after link. And that’s just from me coming to this meeting, so you have to be aware, well I know you’ll all be aware anyway, but this will be on a much, much bigger scale.”

Ahh, if a lot of Steiner schools open quickly in the sector there’ll be a fuss. If they open at a slower rate there won’t be?

That’s it for now. Follow on, chunky sized, posts will explore the reasons as to why government should and cannot accept Steiner Free School applications.

12 Comments »

  1. Good to see social and political connections explained; this type of observation is vital if the electorate are to understand the right-wing nature of ‘alternative’ culture and the mystical nature of high-capitalism.

    Comment by Nick Nakorn — June 6, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  2. interesting that Sam Freedman was former head of education for Policy Exchange, set up by Nicholas Boles, Francis Maudewhich and… Michael Gove.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_Exchange

    Comment by Mule — June 6, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

  3. ‘In January 2011 the ever-refreshing zooey blog reported some 17 Steiner schools expressing an interest in becoming Free Schools.’

    Even worse — they were 25, and with one later addition, we’re up at 26. If I remember correctly. More than 17 anyway.

    ‘Ahh, if a lot of Steiner schools open quickly in the sector there’ll be a fuss. If they open at a slower rate there won’t be?’

    The Hereford Academy alone should be reason to cause a fuss!

    Comment by alicia h — June 6, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

  4. It’s good to see this blog come back to life. I’m looking forward to further posts on this particular subject.

    It was surprising that no Steiner schools were funded in the last round of Free School applications. Based on the number of applications alone I was expecting at least one to get through. If 26 Steiner schools put in an application, that represents a non-trivial 8% of the total applications. As it happens, that is exactly the number which have moved to the pre-opening approval stage for September 2012.

    In the one case I’m directly familiar with the school failed to show sufficient support from the local community, in an area that is already well served with good schools in both the state and private sectors. I’m willing to believe that the evaluation criteria were applied fairly elsewhere too and that even some anti-Steiner political lobbying may have had an effect. The criteria in the next funding round will be tighter.

    At the risk of being a hostage to fortune, I would not be betting on any of the established Steiner schools in the UK being successful next time either. A new ‘Steiner inspired’ institution in a deprived inner city area, with commercial support or substantial private financial backing seems to me a much more likely prospect.

    Comment by MarkH — June 7, 2011 @ 7:25 am

  5. Thanks for the comments, there’ll be more on Steiner Free Schools in the near future.

    Nick,some of the fascist hippies within the ‘alternative’ scene are the scariest people one can meet. From my pov a basic weakness for the ‘alternative’ culture groups/collectives/co-ops etc is in how they deal with psychologies (power needy, manipulators, zealots etc) that conflict or divert, wreck and neuter the aims of the group. So from my pov the alternative or counter-culture doesn’t need exposing, each group within the ‘alternative’ scene needs to learn about group dynamics and develop ways of dealing with psychologies that derail the aims and operations of the group. Btw Nick, sorry to learn of your poor health, wishing you well.

    Mule, connections alone don’t really demonstrate much, is why I chose the term cronyism in the post, but should I be following up on those names you mention?

    alicia, I’m well out of the loop here, thanks for the correction….from memory the ‘Woods Report’ was based entirely on SWSF member schools in England/Wales, same regions free School law applies to (I think). Anyway there were about 31 or 32 SWSF schools then, so if 29 were applying that’s near all of them!

    MarkH, yes the blog is back infrequent as ever:) It’s hard to predict Free School application outcomes when the DoE doesn’t divulge the names of applicants beforehand and I’m not sure if they even give the names of failed applications after a phase of processing either. So even if we know which schools/groups are applying there’s no way for the public to evaluate how fairly the DoE processes applications or how likely a chance of acceptance an applicant might have. It doesn’t help either that the Free Schools application process and the policy appears to be in a state of constant flux. So far as Steiner Free School applications goes, with several Lords and MPs sympathetic or supportive of Steiner ed plus HRH Charles and a fair few other highly placed backers and with the precedent of Hereford, how can they NOT have more schools enter the state fold? I’d go along with your take, a new school will have a better chance but my money will be on an ‘eco’ styled Steine being approved, more chances of finding or creating a suitable site thataway.

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — June 7, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  6. Btw, I didn’t find time to weave the Blair connection into the original post, Cherie Blair’s mum went to a Steiner school in Cardif
    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Education%3a+Learning+through+pllay%2c+the+Steiner+way.-a097325123

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — June 7, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  7. Great to see a new blog post; and to be reminded of that “special seminar”. The scandal of that meeting was that there was acknowledgement of Steiner education’s “difficult areas”, like racism, but rather than discuss and explore these, their only worry was to bury them with pr exercises. Shameful but worrying since, as you’ve pointed out so well on other blog posts, these are issues which crop up in the teacher training and could have real and dangerous impact in the classroom.
    There are so many “difficult areas” in Steiner pedagogy though, karma and children’s past and future lives playing a role in the teacher’s dealings with the children to name just one. They’ll have a hell of job working out pr strategies to bury all of it if there is the real scrutiny one would expect before letting loose funding for schooling by an esoteric spiritual belief system. Already, there are some schools who have decided to forego the offer of money in order to keep their “very special” curriculum:

    http://www.yorksteinerschool.org/News/newssheet.pdf

    The more cynical among us would guess this is fear of that detailed exploration of what anthroposophy’s role really is, and in one way, being state funded should mean there is complete clarity and accountability and should be welcomed; but what you’ve written re cronyism isn’t very encouraging.

    Comment by Cathy — June 8, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  8. ‘Cherie Blair’s mum went to a Steiner school in Cardif’ – explains a lot.

    Comment by mule — June 8, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

  9. Thanks for the York Steiner linky Cathy. I’ll be adding to that sort of info in the coming days and weeks. The ‘special seminar’ is hugely revelaing in many ways isn’t it – we can see how the Tories are only interested in pr, spin, appearances and votes and we learn that all the while Steiner defenders were denying any racism within Steiner the attendees (Steiner ed trustees & educators) were quite aware of the issue and recognised that the racism existed.

    I think we’re seeing the Steiner ed community becoming split.If there is really a split. The York Steiner you linked to might be taken as representaive of Steiner hardliners unwilling to compromise on Steiner pedagogy. There are a few such schools here in UK. Emma Craigie, to give her her due, might be taken to represent a wing of the UK Steiner ed community much more willing to look at the pedagogy/ideology underpinning Steiner with a view to modernising it. However, she is now speaking on behalf of SWSF and given that the SWSF Spring newsletter carries an astonishingly awful piece aimed at ‘Steiner critics’ it’s hard to see Craigie lasting long there if she is really a moderniser. Then again, didn’t she write a book about kids in a bunker or something? Perhaps she’s researching for another book. Anyway, new entrants to the alternative ed scene liking some of the woo of Steiner but wary of the racism have the beneifit of no association with SWSF or Anthroposophy and it’s schools such as this one
    http://www.eveningstar.co.uk/news/woodbridge_ambitious_plans_for_new_ecology_school_unveiled_by_fullfledge_trust_1_828126
    that’ll likely stand the best chances of any Steiner ‘inspired’ Free School applications. If there is a split within the Steiner ed community then the Woodbridge effort might be taken to represent the outcome of active modernisers. The Woodbridge Steiner schoolers appear to be on Facebook and should be willing to engage with people interested in wanting to know what their position is re Steiner racism etc, it’d be interesting to see what their take on the various Steiner issues is.

    Hmmm, I don’t think state funding brings with it complete clarity and accountability…since it became state funded Hereford has expunged the very term ‘anthroposophy’ from its latest annual report & accounts, they used to use the term a lot prior to state funding! And when I emailed them asking about the role of the Anthropsophical doctor within their school they didn’t reply. They did reply though to an email asking about the qualifications of their teachers, all of their teachers at the time I asked were fully mainstream qualified.

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — June 9, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  10. Mule,yonks ago now but there was once a flurry of interest/speculation about the New Age beliefs of the Blairs and some senior Labour politicians, don’t know what Cherie’s mum’s maiden name was else we might be able to see if she was ever involved in Steiner schooling as an adult.

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — June 9, 2011 @ 8:28 am

  11. Cathy, having looked at the Woodbridge Steiner I think it’s simply window-dressed Steiner but I’d be interested to hear from others about it,
    apols for spellink here and there, always hectic busy here.

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — June 9, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  12. The article from the York Steiner newsletter is certainly very interesting.

    As with all state funded Academies, the Hereford Steiner Academy is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I don’t believe in using FOI requests lightly, but it is one way in which Hereford, at least, is more accountable.

    The whole Free School process does seem more opaque than it should be, which I’m sure is frustrating for all concerned. This lack of transparency does introduce the possibility of cronyism. But, perhaps my naive faith in the honesty of those middle ranking civil servants at the Department for Education evaluating proposals was reinforced by the lack of Steiner Free School funding this time round. 🙂

    Comment by MarkH — June 9, 2011 @ 10:27 am


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