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

27 Comments »

  1. Great post Esther – and many thanks for taking the time to investigate this proposed Free School – which btw submitted an application to the DfE on 1st June. I sincerely hope the DfE don’t allow Fullfledge Ecology School to progress to the next stage.

    Here’s Ewout Van-Manen writing about ‘Learning Difficulties in the Early Years’ (linked to by ‘Why Waldorf Works’)
    ‘Slowly, the child incarnates and meets the world through the twelve senses. Each child is an individual and will have strengths and weaknesses that may have arisen as a result of karmic and/or hereditary laws or as a result of environmental influences during pregnancy or early childhood. In many children, these individual strengths and weaknesses ̄and also varying speeds of incarnation and development ̄don’t seem to matter too much. With reasonably good parenting and teaching, they still pass the normal milestones at similar times to others…’
    http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW0549.pdf

    Karmic laws?

    Comment by Thetis — July 21, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

  2. Twelve senses? Speeds of incarnation?
    I particularly like the ‘with reasonably good parenting and teaching’, what about with outstanding teaching? Is reasonably good his benchmark?

    Comment by Anonymous — July 21, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

  3. Twelve senses? Incarnation?
    I particularly like ‘with reasonably good parenting and teaching’, what about with outstanding teaching? Is reasonably good his benchmark?

    Comment by Esther — July 21, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  4. Excellent article. This deserves to be and should be read very widely.

    Back when we were considering a Steiner school for little M, I remember the dubious looks we had from a childminder (with some 25 years experience) and a school teacher friend. I now realize what they were thinking: “you do know what you’re letting yourself in for, don’t you?”.

    Comment by MarkH — July 23, 2011 @ 11:23 am

  5. A post about Esther’s article is on the Local Schools Network –
    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/some-very-good-reasons-to-be-wary-of-ecological-free-schools/

    Comment by Thetis — July 24, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  6. There’s an interesting first comment on the LSN about Nord Anglia Education, by Janet Downs. On the Fullfledge site it states:
    ‘We are fortunate to have the support and investment of Nord Anglia Education, an educational company with International Schools overseas. Nord Anglia’s specialists are advising us on all areas of this project and working closely with our team who are outlined below.’ http://www.medical365.co.uk/about-us/our-team/

    I trust Janet Downs won’t mind if I re-post a part of her comment here:

    ‘A few days ago Nord Anglia announced it was closing its Burton office and relocating to Hong Kong and Shanghai with the loss of 50 jobs. The company said it would keep a small office open in East Anglia.
    http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/News/50-axed-in-Asia-move-19072011.htm
    It would appear, then, that a group wanting to open a free school using taxpayers’ money to promote Steiner principles based on anthroposophy, and giving the impression that Sir Ken Robinson supports their plan, is being backed financially by a profit-making company owned by an Asian private equity firm, and one of its subsidiaries is registered offshore in the Cayman Islands. And the company is planning to move its HQ out of the UK.’

    Comment by Thetis — July 24, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  7. In the newspaper article, it actually says the ‘small office’ will be in the East Midlands, not East Anglia – just thought I’d better mention it for accuracy! Wondering who stands to make the money for this school though – Nord Anglia? Presumably, Senior Management get to set their own pay, and as the ‘teachers’ won’t have to adhere to the red book Gov pay scheme for teachers they often get less pay in free schools. Just wondering if they’re going for the glory or the cash.

    Comment by Esther Fidler — July 24, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  8. Thanks for the post Esther, to my mind it’s as revealing in its own way about the behaviours and attitudes of Anthroposophists as the report of the special seminar https://ukanthroposophy.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/seminarnotes/

    This story http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/8649751/Steiner-school-faces-100000-payout-to-whistle-blowing-teacher.html has been doing the rounds recently but I notice a change in Steiner ed propaganda these days, Telegraph saying of Steiner schools:

    “Steiner schools do not follow the national curriculum and believe that tests like Sats are harmful for pupils. They give priority to educating the whole child through unconventional creative activities such as gardening.”

    Gardening? I’ve not seen that one in SWSF press releases before. Definitely another nod in the direction of ‘eco’ schooling the Anthropsophical educators are nowadays emphasising and some endorsement of Esther’s view of SWSF attempting to smuggle Anthropsophical schools into the mainstream in the guise of ‘ecology schools’. But if they adhere to the Steiner model of child development they have no chance, it’s pure Steiner and is enmeshed within Steiner’s racist evolutionary framework. At least, they shouldn’t stand a chance, not if Gove is committed to resisting racism. We’ll soon see.

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — July 24, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

  9. Yes, we will see. The results on this first phase of the application process are decided by the end of this month. The DfE needs to do a little of it’s own research to see through the website propaganda into what this school really is, a Steiner in all but name, and as such one which follows the doctrines of Rudolph Steiner which are overtly racist.

    Comment by Esther Fidler — July 24, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

  10. Oh, btw, the children in my class also do gardening. It doesn’t seem to make us an ‘eco’ school though.

    Comment by Esther Fidler — July 24, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

  11. Actual ecologists who want to start actual ecological schools should be irate over Steiner schools trying to piggyback on them and giving them a bad name.

    Comment by Diana — July 25, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  12. There are many state school teachers out there that have no life experience (school to university to teaching) and are lacking in passion. After many years working in the state system, I wouldn’t trust many teachers to be able to develop my child into a rounded and confident human being. However, I would trust a Steiner-inspired teacher (even if they didn’t have a BEd or a PGCE, gasp in horror).

    Comment by Anonymous — July 27, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  13. Anonymous, I really think you should watch the two youtube clips mentioned in this article, never before have I seen a teacher so lacking in passion.

    Comment by Esther Fidler — August 5, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  14. I agree with Esther, the teacher spends an awful lot of time drawing pretty pictures on the blackboard, how self indulgent!

    How do the children benefit or learn from this, Anthroposophy is nothing more than a self development program for the teachers and parents.

    Comment by mule — August 5, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

  15. When ms Fidler says she ‘researched’ Steiner education, she means that she looked at what other critics had put on the web. She is just repeating misinformation that has been blogged a thousand times and which, as Mike Collins says, critics ‘enjoy’ repeating, like bits of tabloid gossip. She also repeats her own comments over and over – e.g. That Mr Van Manen has no experience of teaching in state
    schools. He didn’t deny it! Steiner schools don’t require it! British law doesn’t require it. Is she really naive enough to believe that only the state can provide good teacher training? Or good schools for that matter? The fact that the state doesn’t train Steiner school teachers is not evidence that they are badly trained. A video on YouTube of some bad teaching does not prove that teaching in Steiner schools is bad. She
    neglects to say that
    Mr Van Manen has been teaching for more than 20 years and so has an enormous amount of experience.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 11, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  16. Esther’s assertion that state schools are doing a great job – the general thrust of her argument I think – just doesn’t hold water. She has not made any effort to understand how Steiner educators see child development, but has just used the usual wacky gossip to back up her prejudice. I can only conclude that she isn’t really interested in education. If she were, she would be aware of the dire state of mainstream education in this country – that it really isn’t doing a good job – and would be open to (at least) a deeper investigation of an education
    system that works for a huge proportion of it’s children much more of the time for much less money than state education does. Ask the prime minister of Norway whether his Steiner school education left him indoctrinated and uneducated.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 11, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

  17. How can you call yourself a website specialising in anthroposophy, devoting so much time to criticism if Steiner schools and not know that gardening has been on the curriculum in Steiner schools since 1919!

    Comment by Anonymous — September 11, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

  18. it was the Telegraph, Anonymous, which called gardening ‘unconventional’ (oddly, since many British primary schools have gardening clubs and so on) and Mike commented that it was unusual to see this aspect of the curriculum featured in a press release – most journalists rely for information on PR given by the schools unless they’ve conducted their own research, which is unusual.

    I understand the PM of Norway was not only educated at a Steiner school but latterly at Oslo Katedralskole, one of Norway’s most prestigious (Roman Catholic) schools. I’m confident that this, as well as the advantages of having a high-achieving family, resulted in an excellent education.

    I have three children in state schools in England, the primary school particularly is wonderful – creative, warm, outstanding (in both the Ofsted and the general sense). My eldest child just gained great results and is looking at university. Our experience is not unusual. There is certainly significant variation in the quality of state education, there’s always room for improvement but your idea that education in England is ‘dire’ is simply not true.

    It matters that teachers are properly trained, it’s a profession. Private providers would be quite capable of training teachers (at whatever cost to the taxpayer) it isn’t really about ‘The State’. It’s more that we should be concerned at the content and quality of teacher training courses and in-school training.
    ‘Mr Van Manen has been teaching for more than 20 years and so has an enormous amount of experience.’ – But of what exactly? He isn’t even a class teacher at a Steiner school. He’s certainly been involved in anthroposophical activities all his life, he’s currently a lay inspector for the SIS and an advisor to Greenwich Steiner School. Steiner Waldorf is a small world.

    Information about ‘how Steiner educators see child development,’ is available in the movement’s own words, nobody needs to make it up! ‘Tabloid gossip’ is more the preserve of one particular Steiner supporter, who feels he has to promote celebrity parents/former pupils to bolster his case. It’s all a bit sleazy.

    Comment by Thetis — September 12, 2011 @ 6:56 am

  19. Good morning anonymous.
    Firstly, I am not a ‘Steiner Critic’, I am a primary school teacher concerned for the education of children.
    Secondly, I have read extensively, both from ‘critics’, from the SWSF itself, and from the works of Rudolf Steiner.
    Thirdly, I am not prejudiced. I went into this with an open mind. Disagreeing with something with good reason is not prejudice.
    Finally, the State system has produced higher and higher results year on year, children are improving, more children enter university every year.

    I will respond more fully when I have more time, I am currently awaiting the arrival of my class.

    Comment by Esther Fidler — September 12, 2011 @ 7:46 am

  20. Anonymous, I have never said critics enjoy repeating misinformation.For what it’s worth, the very person you seek to defend in your comments – Ewout Van-Manen – was reported to have said “Most of the things you read on the internet about Steiner schools are true.” Van-Manen hasn’t denied anything of what Esther has posted.

    What I said about gardening doesn’t display any ignorance on my part about the content of the Steiner school curriculum, your comment highlights your own ignorance in that a) gardening isn’t an essential component of formally recognised Steiner schools and b) I was drawing attention to the fact that gardening as a component of Steiner schools is more and more being mentioned by Steiner propagandists and linking this to the latest repackaging of Steiner schools as ‘eco’ schools.

    Comment by ukanthroposophy — September 12, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  21. Anonymous said:
    “She has not made any effort to understand how Steiner educators see child development, but has just used the usual wacky gossip to back up her prejudice.”

    The description of Steiner’s theories of child development in Esther’s article is consistent with that in “The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum” by Richter and Rawson. This is the reference book on which most Steiner schools in the UK base their curriculum. The sections on science in that book, another of Esther’s concerns, are particularly interesting.

    As Thetis suggests, there’s much more relevant literature available from the SWSF and other primary sources. Prospective Steiner parents and others who might not be as familiar with it as they ought to be, really do need to check it out.

    Comment by MarkH — September 12, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  22. “In short, Rudolf Steiner’s concept of education has neither an ethical-philosophical foundation (as was
    the case with Kant and Herbart) nor a socio-cultural dimension (as in Durkheim and Dewey) and also no
    empirical psychological origin (as in Claparède and Montessori). It is deduced from anthroposophical neomythology
    and has a metaphoric character. In the light of his interpretation of the microcosm, education takes
    the form of growth and metamorphosis—the educator is a gardener and a person who moulds others. From a
    belief in reincarnation stems the image of education as an aid to incarnation and spiritual awakening—the
    educator becomes a priest and a leader of people’s souls. The theory of the four temperaments leads on to the
    educational task of harmonization—the educator then being understood as a master of the healing art. With
    these organological metaphors of leaving the child to grow and to heal, and with the religious metaphor of
    awakening with these vérités à faire, Steiner built the levers that are still being actuated by teachers and
    educators in his schools and kindergartens today.”
    originally published in:
    Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education
    (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol.XXIV, no. 3/4, 1994, p. 555-572.
    Written by: Heiner Ullrich (Germany). Studied German and French Language and Literature and Education at the Universities of
    Frankfurt, Freiburg, Tubingen, and Heidelberg. Became a secondary school teacher before joining the Institute of
    Education at the University of Mainz as an educational scientist, academic director since 1991. Interested in the theory of
    instruction, the history of education, and the Waldorf schools. Recent publications include: Kinder am ende Ihres
    Jahrunderts: Padagogische Perspektiven [Children at the End of Their Century: Educational Perspectives] (edited with F.
    Hamburger, 1991); and Die Reformpadagogik [Educational Reform] (1990)

    I have copied and pasted this as this to me sets out the entire theory behind SW education, not from a so called ‘critic’, but from an educational scientist and historian. I believe that an education system developed to educate the soul ready for the next life, rather than to prepare a child for successful adulthood in this life, is appalling and drags us back to the dark ages.
    I feel the need to also point out that because someone does not agree with you, it does not label them as a ‘critic’, or ‘hater’. If you offer something so fallible as Steiner, then as word spreads about the true nature of your education system you had better get used to people criticising you. To state untruths about me is not to address those points which I wrote.

    Comment by Esther Fidler — September 12, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  23. With reference to the last few comments. As Esther’s husband I can certainly vouch for her thoroughness in researching any topic of intrerest to her, especially before putting comments on a public forum in her name. To suggest that she has just used ‘wacky gossip’ to back up her argument is frankly insulting to any professional engaging in discussion at this level. I am also a teacher and I am expected to use practice that has a track record of proven success, or at the very least I can show has some basis in reality with a reasonable change of being successful. If I want to try something new or different i’m free to do so, but i’m quite reasonably expected by parents, senior staff, tax payers and OFSTED to provide some sort of explanation as to why i’m doing it and why I think it might work (commonly known as evidence). I have shared Esther’s interest and shock about what Steiner education is really about. It seems it has little if anything to do with education, and lots to do with trying to sneak a religious doctrine in under the guise of education. I have an open mind about most things and am waiting to be wowed with evidence which would contradict the huge amount of negative information I have discovered about Steiner himself and his ‘teachings’. It is little more than another weird cult founded by a self indulgent and failed individual trying to justify his failure by blaming society. All this attention just goes to feed it’s tiny flickering flame, it would be better to ignore Steiner and his teachings, but unfortunately fundamentalism usually becomes more desperate and dangerous when ignored. I will finish by saying that is really sad that all the ‘pro Steiner’ contributions above seem to concentrate on accusing Esther of not doing her research rather than tackling the issues she is raising.

    Comment by Stuart Fidler — September 12, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

  24. Being Waldorf proffesional I also think that Esther has not done her research at all. Baiba B.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 2, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

  25. It is interesting to note the blindness that seems to prevail when people criticise the relative, or subjective framework that has always prevailed in contemporary culture, politics and the educational models existing within them. Anyone over thirty has probably seen the prevailing worldview and mental climate change radically several times in their lifetimes.
    Steiner’s teachings cannot easily be dismissed by an honest investigator who nonetheless does not adherre to them – they are comprised of a synthesis of philosophies and religious teachings from across the earth which he places in an evolutionary framework. Describing them as ‘metaphorical’ misses the point of not merely his own but of all religious thinking – the metaphor is a parallel line pointng to an original unity between the spiritual (or ‘meaningful’, or, dismissively, the ‘subjective’) and the material. Modern philosophical movements that popular scientific teaching is saturated with have a solely material as their basis, beginning and end. The ultimate application of this – and if it has an ultimate validity it has to be applied fully = denies meaning of any kind – all things are nil and utilitarian functions are alone valid. It doesn’t take long to see the psychological damage that results when this type of thinking is applied in the fields of human relations. There are several valid criticisms of Steiner education above, but I think there is an underlying error in the context of the antipathy to it which those critics don’t recognise in themselves.
    By the way, the criticisms of the footage given above brought a wry smile to my face; being Irish, they sound like any number of experinces in any and every type of school over here – I think it must be the weather’s living metaphor manifesting in our group-soul.

    Comment by Tim — February 14, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

  26. Re the comment above by the anonymous ‘Waldorf professional’ – I do not think you can call yourself a professional in this area if you do not have a formal teaching qualification.
    Many of the problems experienced at Waldorf schools have arisen due to the unprofessional behaviour of staff. The way children have been treated at these schools would simply not have happened if staff were professionals.
    The Fullfledge school publicity literature says teachers will be both Steiner and State qualified. Are they saying all staff will be qualified in both ways,(this is implied) or some of each. This needs to be clarified.

    Comment by Helen — April 26, 2012 @ 8:43 am

  27. I was looking into my local Steiner school for my son who has special needs. A friend told me to look up Steiner’s views on racism and disabilities. Thank goodness she did! I have found many many sites that are all saying the same thing. Apparently my son is disabled because of karma, and he would need to ‘work through his karma’. How archaic! I will certainly not be sending my son to the Steiner school, not just for those reasons, but plenty of others. People just don’t seem aware of this nonsense, until they do their research.

    Comment by Nicola — June 24, 2013 @ 11:21 am


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