hereford academy’s visions

The first — and still the only — publicly funded Steiner school in the UK is the Hereford Steiner Academy. This is from a document entitled Report of the governors for the year ended 31st August 2010. It seems to be a statement of their vision:

To enable children to have a full experience of childhood that can nourish and develop their innate gifts and potentials, so that they may become responsible, free individuals who think clearly, observe perceptively and act considerately and constructively for the good of the world.
The ethos and educational activity in the Academy is informed by a developing body of work initiated by the scientist, philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Essentially, the education is based on an understanding that each child develops through a sequence of physical, emotional and cognitive stages through an integrated approach to teaching and learning which emphasises the dual aspects of care and learning. Hence the curriculum content & materials and teaching methods relate to the age and developmental needs of the pupils. The teacher is guided by observing and understanding the nature of the growing child and accordingly responds to each child’s potential, emergent capacities and developing qualities with a belief that this education provides nourishment for the body, the soul and the spirit.

I can’t help but think they need to really explain a few words and concepts better, because this text paints an innocuous and deceptive picture. It’s filled with half-truths. Sure, if you know the Steiner texts and previous anthroposophical publications, you know a little about what they’re talking about. Lots of people don’t, however, and may make the wrong decision based upon reading this text and similar (they are by no means unusual). The Academy’s representatives need do be explicit about what they mean by ‘full experience of childhood’, child development and its stages (as envisioned by anthroposophy), ‘innate gifts and potentials’, ‘free individuals’, what’s ‘good’ for the world, what ‘relates to the age and developmental needs’, the teacher’s ‘observing and understanding’, what the ‘nature’ of the child is, ‘child’s potential, emergent capacities and developing qualities’, and, last but not least, ‘the body, the soul and the spirit’. The vision statement is totally inadequate — either you explain what you mean, or you can just as well leave it to everybody’s imagination. This wouldn’t be such a big thing, were it not for the fact that this text has to be interpreted in the light of anthroposophy, and everybody who supports the Steiner Academy ought to know exactly what this means. My hunch is that it isn’t unusual that they don’t. And the school, like most waldorf schools, is perfectly prepared not to be explicit about its foundation and its beliefs. Instead it serves us the usual fluff words that could be taken to mean just about anything — until you know the background of these words and concepts and can decipher them. Instead of talking broadly about child development and the nature of the child, they need to be explicit that their beliefs don’t coincide with mainstream beliefs about development and nature.

In this document, a new book is mentioned; it is about Steiner education and will be published in April by Routledge. See description here. Already in the title, we’re faced with a somewhat insidious assumption: that Steiner schools are ‘meeting the child’. It’s written by people involved in Steiner education, so I guess what is to be expected from it. Another assumption is that other school types can learn from waldorf; interestingly, waldorf educators rarely seem to think they may learn anything from others or from mainstream education. It’s usually more like this: they’re here to save the world and rescue childhood from these dreadful materialistic practices. Other schools should reform and become more like waldorf, while they never need to do anything differently at all. It makes me wonder: what about all those children for whom waldorf is a really bad fit? Why don’t waldorf ever talk about these children before failure is a fact? Then, and only then, does it suit waldorf to say: ‘Oh, but waldorf is not for everyone…’ What about the children waldorf schools can’t meet but who are still stuck in these schools?

Mary Jane Drummond and Sally Jenkinson are two of the authors who contribute. Here’s an earlier post on one of their projects. (Book cover image from Routledge.)

To return to the Hereford report:

The Academy works with the school doctor in order to gain advice and support for all the children who are moving from kindergarten into class 1.

An (anthroposophical, I assume) doctor is called upon to give advice about children who are to begin first grade. Why? Do medical doctors possess special pedagogical knowledge about school readiness?

Speaking of school doctors, parents who wish to enroll their children at the Hereford Academy have to sign an agreement. It’s called a ‘home-school agreement’ and can be downloaded from the school website. Assuming that the school doctor is an anthroposophical doctor, this should scare the hell out of any parent, because he or she would have to agree to:

Enabling my child to see the School Doctor at the Academy’s request and taking my child to any therapy sessions or special needs assessment required by the Academy. I understand this is necessary to support my child accessing the education and the teachers’ ability to meet his/her needs.

Not only will an anthroposophical doctor assess the child’s readiness to begin school (using anthroposophical knowledge to do so), he will also prescribe anthroposophical therapies. This means, e g, curative eurythmy and similar therapies with no real-world effects at all. Luckily, if the therapies are pure fantasy, so are most of the diagnoses made. (The school doctor in my school thought I would die soon. Presumably because my reincarnating spirit was gangrenous.) Another document (entitled Homeopathy Policy) from Hereford makes clear that homeopathy is used to ‘treat’ children.

Also among the things parents are required to agree to is this:

Protecting my/our child from unsuitable and unwarranted access to some of the concerns and worries of the adult world and from unmonitored exposure and un-mediated access to media such as television and DVD, computer games, internet chat-rooms and so on. Medical research shows that screen-based activity such as TV, videos, films and computer games can have a negative effect on children (brain activity, concentration, heart-beat, emotional balance and well-being). The younger the child, the greater the effect. For the well-being of your child and their ability to access the education and programme of teaching and learning, please allow no regular screen-based activity/watching for under 8s, no more than 3 hours a week for 9 to 14s and moderate and selective use for young people aged 15 and over. Please try to make sure TVs and computers are not kept in your child’s room so that his/her bedroom is free to be a place of rest and comfort. (Further reading ‘Remote Controlled’ by Dr Aric Sigman & ‘Toxic Childhood’ by Sue Palmer, amongst others)

I wonder if it is ok for a publicly funded school to interfere in this manner with a student’s home life? And is it really morally acceptable for an educational institution to spread unfounded and misleading junk? Clearly, the intention is to scare parents who don’t know better. Equally obvious is that what science says isn’t what informs waldorf school policies. They only refer to science when they think it reinforces their beliefs. And they will never acknowledge science which contradicts their beliefs. Thus they back up their convictions with stuff like Toxic Childhood. Besides — why can’t a TV in the bedroom offer comfort? (I don’t think it would be a bad idea at all for children who, like I was, are insomniacs.)

47 thoughts on “hereford academy’s visions

  1. ‘The first — and still the only — publicly funded Steiner school in the UK is the Hereford Steiner Academy’.

    They are working on this, under ‘their ‘visions and aims’ they state:

    ‘To act as a sign-post and research model for other Steiner schools seeking to enter the publicly-funded family of Steiner schools’.

    http://www.herefordwaldorfschool.org/index.php/component/remository/

    The Woods report (which the funding of Hereford was based on) needs urgent review, the authors have connections to the movement, there is a clear conflict of interest.

  2. ‘mule: The Woods report (which the funding of Hereford was based on) needs urgent review, the authors have connections to the movement, there is a clear conflict of interest.’

    Indeed. (Not to mention the angelic reiki healing! They should publish a brochure on how to influence political decision through angelic reiki healing. That, after all, is the area of true expertise…)

    Thanks for the stuff about Sigman; I remembered seeing the name numerous times, but not the details.

  3. From the poster ‘My daughter was bullied. The school blamed us, then asked us to leave”, Hereford UK.

    @Rudolf Steiner Federation Messenger I presume this happened once Hereford became an Academy? One would think they would be more careful given that they are the only state funded Steiner school in the UK, I think it would be worth showing the parent concerned the funding agreement between Hereford and the DfE:

    http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/d/dfes_foi_560.pdf

    Going back to the governors report, page 14:

    ‘HMI On the 19th and 20th November, a two-day monitoring visit was carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI). The Letter following the visit was received in January and it is published on Ofsted’s web-site. Overall, the Academy is judged to have made satisfactory progress during its first year of activity. The Academy made a formal complaint regarding the visit and the Letter from Ofsted. After a 7 month period of dialogue and delay a revised Letter was posted on the Ofsted web-site. The Academy has a continuing dialogue with the Department concerning the arrangements for inspecting a publicly-funded Steiner school’.

    I have a copy of the original letter which makes for interesting reading, I can only assume the inspectors were told they didn’t understand how very special this unique pedagogy is.

  4. ‘I can only assume the inspectors were told they didn’t understand how very special this unique pedagogy is.’

    Most likely they didn’t have a clue just how unique it is…

  5. “An (anthroposophical, I assume) doctor is called upon to give advice about children who are to begin first grade. Why? Do medical doctors possess special pedagogical knowledge about school readiness?”

    I’m intrigued by this and have been trying to find out more.

    Kevin Avison’s handbook for Waldorf class teachers has a checklist for class one readiness. The criteria include a change in bodily proportions, some other aspects of physical development and physical skills.

    We all know about the odd dental criteria. Avison is quite specific: it is the appearance of the first adult molar tooth, although less emphasis would be given to this if both parents were late with their molars.

    The head:body ratio should also have developed from 1:4 at birth to 1:6 by age 6. There will be a loss of ‘baby fat’ associated with well formed knuckles and kneecaps (rather than dimples). The child should be able to touch the top of an ear by reaching behind the head with the opposite arm. He/she should also be able to hop on either foot and do bunny hops with both feet together.

    I have this ridiculous image of a white coated doctor, presumably being paid at the expense of the tax payer at Hereford, to ensure each child can perform bunny hops correctly.

    (There are some other sensible criteria such as the ability to tie shoes, deal with buttons & zips, feed, drink and go to the toilet independently and a reasonable list of cognitive skills.)

  6. But what has this nonsense got to do with a doctor?

    There’s no evidence anywhere to back up the ‘change of teeth’. And what if a child can’t do x and y, does that mean the doctor keeps him back a year? I do know of parents distraught about pronouncements re class readiness – I also have personal experience of what happens when you deliberately delay reading after five or six and why these anthrobabblers can’t be allowed to get on with their ‘pedagogy’ unsupervised (by which I mean that they want exemptions from early years guidelines – which are there to protect children, and they shouldn’t get them).

  7. Ok, I just measured my own HHR. (Yes, I’m bored today.) It’s a fairly healthy 0.325. :-)

    Thetis: “But what has this nonsense got to do with a doctor?”

    Well, exactly…

  8. MarkH –

    does strike one as the medicalisation of normal development. It is of course a pseudo-science, and yet another example of meddling with children in the wrong way as opposed to any useful way – making up stories about human beings and imposing them on others. It’s odd isn’t it that a group of people so opposed to real science (except when it serves their particular ends) are so keen to become faux-experts in the art of the impossible, just like the endlessly pill-shovelling homeopaths.

  9. My first reaction to Avison’s bizarre criteria was amusement, though clearly if they’re taken seriously in schools and used to hold children back from class one, that is seriously wrong.

    I was physically pretty un-coordinated and clumsy as a child (I still am!) and was 9 or 10, I think, before I could tie my shoe laces properly. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt and how things would have worked out if this had been used as a reason to hold me back from reading, writing and arithmetic.

  10. A few of the public schools here screen for first grade. This is done by teachers not doctors. Nothing in the world of waldorf makes sense to an ‘educated’ educator so I cannot even grasp the reasoning behind their positions on child development and what constitutes readiness. Waldorf loves to apply esoteric descriptions of child development, none of the statements are backed by hard research.

  11. regarding holding children back, parent Ray Pereira was told that his youngest son would be held back a year because the teacher ‘thought that his soul wasn’t fully incarnated yet’:

  12. These are the specific remedies the Steiner Academy Hereford asks its parents to sign for before administrating them to its pupils. This is an official school document obtained recently through FoI (Hereford, as an Academy, is since January this year subject to FoI requests):

    Arnica x 6 – for shock

    Arnica cream – for bruising

    Combudoron Lotion – an anthroposophic medicine for the relief of insect bites

    Bach Rescue Remedy – shock/distress/accident – I understand* that its effect is to calm and reassure

    Natural Health Spray – no harmful chemicals, steroids, alcohol, lanolin. I understand* that it is soothing and antiseptic

    Burnfree (a sterile dressing including trace amounts of Tea Tree oil) for burns.

    *this is fairly standard, but does demonstrate the Academy’s beliefs and priorities around treatment.

    It goes without saying that if a child really is suffering from shock and no other action is taken, the above form of treatment could potentially have serious consequences.

  13. An additional consequence is that if children are led to believe by adults that there is a ‘remedy’ for every minor upset (as opposed to a cuddle or a kind word from a teacher) they may learn that they can’t deal with these incidents by themselves, without an intervention. That’s hardly going to help them grow up as ‘free-thinking’ individuals closely attuned to the natural world etc etc and so on.

  14. Mark: ‘There are some other sensible criteria such as the ability to tie shoes’

    Neither my dad nor my little brother can tie their shoes. They’re both very successful professionals. My mum had to buy my brother shoes with velcro straps, but he read fluently when he was 3 years old. They both still, as adults, tie shoes in a very unorthodox way — they would clearly fail any school-readiness test. Luckily they’ve managed to prove their capabilities in other ways in life…!

    Also, by the way, I was deemed unready to start school. This was in waldorf. My parents didn’t accept this, thus the school had to relent. I was the only one who could already read and write in 1st grade — and they had wanted to hold me back a year!

    Their criteria is utterly stupid, that’s all I have to say.

    Being able to tie sholaces is as shitty a criterium as any.

    That a child needs to be able to go to the toilet, well — you know, if a child of 6 or 7 isn’t able to go to the toilet, s/he needs a very professional check-up. There’s some retardation thing going on then. That child shouldn’t be in waldorf at all, but needs special training.

    ‘I have this ridiculous image of a white coated doctor, presumably being paid at the expense of the tax payer at Hereford, to ensure each child can perform bunny hops correctly.’

    Not bunny hops but eurythmy movements, presumably. Hopping is never good in waldorf.

    Thetis: ‘It’s odd isn’t it that a group of people so opposed to real science (except when it serves their particular ends) are so keen to become faux-experts in the art of the impossible, just like the endlessly pill-shovelling homeopaths.’

    Very odd.

    Mark: ‘My first reaction to Avison’s bizarre criteria was amusement, though clearly if they’re taken seriously in schools and used to hold children back from class one, that is seriously wrong.’

    As the SWSF sells the booklet, I would assume it’s not meant as a joke. I wish it were a joke though.

    Margaret: ‘… screen for first grade. This is done by teachers not doctors.’

    Oh oh, I just remembered reading a newssheet from my old waldorf school. In it they announced that a eurythmist had been assigned to this task — a EURYTHMIST was to desginate if a child was ready to start school or not.

    If possible that’s even more bizarre. They don’t publish their newsletters online anymore. Unfortunately.

    mule: I think my soul is still not fully incarnated.

    Thetis: Bach drops for shock, yes, nice. I think I saw some homeopath recommend it for Japanese earthquake victims recently, so who knows. But it is my hunch that waldorf schools usually send children who really need it to hospital. (They did that in my days at least. But for bruises and stuff you’d get arnica, which nobody wanted… consequently, children were reluctant to tell adults they’d been hurt.)

  15. (We had a severely retarded and extremely violent boy in my class during the first years. He was eventually removed to a special school. He shouldn’t have been with us at all — as said, he was extremely prone to violence and was two years older than me and at least a year older than the oldest kids in the class. Anyway, once he manage to throw a girl into an iron clothes hanger on the wall. To the credit of my waldorf school, they sent her immediately to a conventional hospital to have hear HEAD stitched up again. Apparently the arnica creme just couldn’t be expected to do the trick…)

  16. . . . parent Ray Pereira was told that his youngest son would be held back a year because the teacher ‘thought that his soul wasn’t fully incarnated yet’

    Well, hell! I’m 62 years old and even I’m still not fully incarnated yet! And now that I’m a lot closer to excarnation than incarnation, I wouldn’t mind being held back in this life.

  17. (And when I say severely retarded I mean SEVERELY retarded. I know Sune Nordwall likes to bring this up as evidence that I’m not tolerant. He thinks 7 year olds should be tolerant towards having someone in their class who’s so retarded he CAN’T follow anything that goes on in the classroom and then, in addition, has violent outbursts which — as happened! — put other smaller children at huge risk. I submit that it isn’t intolerant of me to think that this child’s needs should have been taken care of elsewhere, and we should NOT have had to put up with it for as long as we did. And, no, he wasn’t removed from the school after that head-smash incident. It took a long time. This kid was placed in an anthroposophical family who took in lots of foster children. His real parents were, as far as I know, doing drugs — thus my hunch is that his retardation and his violence was caused by being exposed to drugs as a fetus. YES it is VER SAD for that kid. But, again, NOT something other small children should have to face the consequences of. (AND NO, again, SUNE! This kid wasn’t a LITTLE retarded — he posed a VERY REAL danger to other children. That’s inexcusable! It shouldn’t have been allowed.) And in this lunatic asylum of a waldorf school, I, who could read and write, was not thought to be ready for school. What a fucking disaster!)

  18. Tom — perhaps delayed incarnation means delayed excarnation? Or is one, as a failed incarnate, just held perpetually in a sort of inbetween state from which it’s easier to slip away (excarnate) than if one were firmly grounded?

  19. Ah, yes, I’ve always been a late bloomer, so why not my excarnation process, as well? Thank you, Alicia, you ought to open a hospice for terminal Anthroposophists.

    Maybe care for Sune in his twilight dementia years!

  20. (Ok, I’m not tolerant. I think it’s intolerable to expect small first graders to tolerate being battered by an older, bigger and virtually brain-dead gorilla in school. I’m not the least tolerant towards schools who let crap like that go on. Again, they proved that they weren’t the least interested in ‘protecting the paradise of childhood’ but in protecting their own ideology. At the expense of the children. Where the hell was the school doctor and the enrollment eurythmist when this kid was deemed fit to go to first grade with other, smaller children who could not protect themselves when he attacked? Paradise, really… And I just know this is going to PROVE to Sune that I’m intolerant of HANDICAPPED PEOPLE!! And it’s true, I am. I’m still afraid of retarded children, even more so than of so-called normal children. I can’t stand them. I can’t be around them. I hate them. I can’t stand it when someone doesn’t understand what others say and what goes on and who just randomly attacks when he feels like it. It wasn’t the only retarded kid — later more were added. I can say one thing: waldorf school made me forever intolerant towards handicapped children. I KNOW they deserve compassion. But I don’t want ANYTHING to do with it. I CAN’T!!! I’ve had more of that shit than any child should have to bear. What do you think happens to an intellectual child like me in a class where an increasing number of backwards kids are enrolled? Yes, to a certain extent, the teacher must adjust the teaching to these kids. They must also write off what’s on the blackboard — but they can’t! In fifth grade, the class suddenly recieved a kid who couldn’t do the alphabet and he could count 1 x 1. It’s true. He didn’t know that the answer is 1. And he COULD NOT understand the explanations. What happens to the teaching in a class that has to cater to this kid’s level of understanding? I don’t have the patience for shit like that. Such children should not EVER be in the same class as average children. It doesn’t benefit anyone. Moreover, it didn’t make me the least tolerant, it made me frustrated, and, apparently, nothing but resentful of such children. There you have it: quotes to last you a life-time, Sune!)

    >>> Maybe, just maybe, a school doctor actually should interfere with enrollments in specific cases, like the 2 I outlined within parantheses. Any pediatrician should have been able to tell that something about these kids was severely amiss, and advice against enrolling them in a supposedly ordinary school class. But that’s only because there was clearly a medical condition in the background, and a doctor, knowing more about the child specifically *and* the condition generally, could possibly make better predictions than your average eurythmist.

  21. ‘Thank you, Alicia, you ought to open a hospice for terminal Anthroposophists.’

    Don’t you have such institutions in California? We already have them here. (Vidarkliniken in Järna — not exclusively a hospice, but hospice is a significant part. That’s were Sune’s friends have to send him, I suppose. Thetis may be on to something though…)

  22. I know that what I’ve just said is beyond awful. I know that people will think: but you must be TOLERANT! But, I ask, how much tolerance can reasonably be expected from a small child? I hated school already, I had my own issues, I didn’t need a violent gorilla to top it off. Really. And these days, when I’m 33, I’m allowed to be as intolerant as I want. Nobody can force me to be in the same room as a violent gorilla — sorry, I’m offending the apes — ever again. Where were the damn school doctors? Why didn’t they stop these kids from being enrolled?

    And, if these school doctors and eurythmists were so insightful, why didn’t they recommend against me being in waldorf at all? It’s pretty clear I’m an intolerant shit without a properly incarnated soul. They should let kids like me go. Oh no, instead the damn lunatic of a doctor said I was going to die soon!

    Avison’s handbook doesn’t say a darn thing about children who should not be waldorf educated at all! Why doesn’t it? These are the children waldorf schools NEED to identify very early. Anything else is purely destructive.

    Yeah, I know it’s not ‘ok’ to call people retarded these days. But these kids WERE retarded. I’m sorry. That’s the truth. My firm conviction is that these kids should never have been anywhere near me. I can’t do love and compassion for these kids. I’m SORRY. I can’t. I don’t want anything to do with it.

    Was it right to subject me to that crap? I don’t think so. Really, no. There’s a limit to tolerance, and in my case the threshold is perhaps very low. I’m not tolerant. I didn’t not want to go to school with these children. I didn’t have a choice.

    And all the blah blah blah blah about how all people are lovely people and everyone has something to give (even it that’s just a broken head) and we have so much to learn from people who can’t talk, read or write and how good it is to learn to ‘love’ people who has an IQ of 35 — it’s just bullshit to me. It makes me sick. There was this hype around a tv program featuring people with ‘special needs’ and the entire society thinks it’s oh so lovely and how nice that they get famous and popular and do theater… and the TV audience in Sweden LOVES them. I can’t even watch the trailer.

    Never ever again. I don’t want it on TV, I don’t want it in real life.

    So yes, there should be school doctors. If they can get such things sorted (ie, make sure certain children are not enrolled), there should be school doctors.

    And, yes, I am ranting now. This makes me angry. And the more I feel that everybody will think my views are appalling, the more I feel I need to rant. I do know that my views are appalling, but that’s the way things are. I don’t have much tolerance for children, and no tolerance at all for retarded children. I don’t think any of it is cute, lovely or something to learn from. In fact, the human being is not a very nice creature at all.

  23. Zooey,

    Just a clarification here. What set off your latest tirade against Sune? Was it something he tweeted to you today? Or is the provocation sometime more remote in the past.? It helps to know whether or not he’s acting up now in a new venue or not.

  24. I don’t read what he writes on his webpages about me anymore. I will, though, because can’t write about it if I don’t and I think the waldorf federation needs to be reminded. Not that they give a damn about ethics.

    Anyway, this means it was quite a while ago. I had written about how irresponsible I think it was of the school to allow that child (in particular the extremely violent kid, but also the other one who came in 5th grade… wait, *he* was *also* 2 years older and had occasional violent outbursts, though he never managed to send anyone to the hospital as far as I can remember) into the school. I think Sune wrote something that would paint me as a nasty, intolerant person, because — of course — the school knew exactly what they did and it is SO important to integreate kids who are a little bit different with other normal children because it SO benefits everyone.

    What pissed me off was Sune’s lies. He KNEW I had written this child was older, stronger, bigger and severely violent — and that he HAD actually severely hurt another child. Without being removed from the school. Had the school known rudimentary decency, they would have removed him already when the first signs were there that it didn’t work. But it took a very long time.

    It’s not ok for Sune to lie about it an present it as a case of responsible integration of a mildly different child. It’s blatant lying.

    The school had a responsibility for what they did (and didn’t). It’s not ok to lie to the world and say the school was acting responsibly when it’s bloody obvious that a blind cockroach has a greater capacity for responsibility than they ever did.

  25. What makes me angry, too, is the implication that small children should be tolerant towards the violent behaviour of severely retarded older children. And that, not being able to deal with it, I — the 6 year old me — is the one to blame. I should have been tolerant and allowed the ‘integration’ even at the cost of my own health. Because it so benefits everyone to be around different people!

    I think it’s important to remember that I may be 33 now, but when this went on I was 6. The violent kid was 8. (I was never severely hurt by this kid, but I believe I can’t have been the only one who was constantly afraid of his violence.) When Sune says that this whole thing was such a good thing and whatever, I don’t remember exactly but that was the impression, then he’s saying that it’s ok — it’s even commendable! — to ask a 6 year old to be tolerant of things a 6 year old should never have to experience in the first place.

    Enrollment policies should be implemented that keep children like these ones out — they can never adapt to any kind of normal school life anyway, and they put other children at risk, physically and emotionally. To try to reconstrue this whole farce as a successful integreation thing — that’s an irresponsible lie. Not that this is Sune’s only irresponsible lie.

  26. Actually — it’s a tirade against two things. First, less important, some people’s (in this case Sune’s) slimeball compassion gambit. It’s hypocrisy, and it disgusts me. Especially when people (again, Sune) try to apply this slimeball crap on 6 year old children.

    Second, it’s a tirade against enrollment policies of waldorf schools — which are clearly failures. My own experience forcefully reinforces the impression that the knowledge derived from Steiner and handbooks such as Avison’s is wholly inadequate. Not that it’s even necessary to point at actual, concrete failings — the theory itself is enough to know something is really off here. If you focus on the children’s teeth the whole procedure will fail. You’ll happily enroll older, violent gorillas who beat the crap out of children who’s just barely developed permanent teeth… (but who are nonetheless ready to learn to read, which the violent gorilla will never be ready to do, ever, in his whole life).

    The criteria Avison lists are not useful at all and they are a disgrace to any serious educational institution.

  27. “There are some other sensible criteria such as the ability to tie shoes”

    Ok, I take back the word ‘sensible’ here. I couldn’t tie my shoes until much later either. It’s possible that taking into account the ability to tie shoes, deal with buttons/zips etc. has some anthroposophical motivation: nimble fingers, nimble mind. (And all that nonsense.)

    Alicia, do you know what’s really shocking and obscene? The possibility that the 8 year old violent boy was enrolled into your school because the Anthroposophical doctor or the teachers thought that a bit of eurythmy and wet-on-wet painting would cure him.

  28. Alicia – I am on board with you. I too think that emotionally, mentally challenges children should not be mainstreamed into the school system. So many of these children are loud and violent and they should not subject other children to this very erratic, scary and DANGEROUS behavior.
    Putting mentally and emotionally challenged children into the mainstream classroom serves no one.

  29. Mark & Margaret, thanks to both of you for the understanding — you did get exactly what I was trying to say (in too many words).

    ‘I couldn’t tie my shoes until much later either. It’s possible that taking into account the ability to tie shoes, deal with buttons/zips etc. has some anthroposophical motivation: nimble fingers, nimble mind.’

    Possibly. And in a way, they aren’t completely off — a child who has trouble with the shoe-laces may not be very skilled at knitting which is a lot more important than intellectual abilities in waldorf. Of course, to mainstream teachers, it’s obvious that clumsiness is no good prediction for intellectual ability, and a child who can’t tie shoelaces may be totally ready to read.

    ‘Alicia, do you know what’s really shocking and obscene? The possibility that the 8 year old violent boy was enrolled into your school because the Anthroposophical doctor or the teachers thought that a bit of eurythmy and wet-on-wet painting would cure him.’

    I agree with you, naturally — this is what is really shocking. But they — unsurprisingly — continued to believe this, because I think this boy was sent to a curative education institution. When they finally realized he couldn’t be in an ordinary school class.

    ‘Putting mentally and emotionally challenged children into the mainstream classroom serves no one.’

    Precisely. It’s not about children who are a little bit slower than average or anything mildly different from ‘normal’. It’s exactly what you say — cases where integration benefits nobody, perhaps least of all the challenged child, who can’t follow the education and who is completely unable to interact meaningfully with other children. Such a child won’t learn anything — neither from the education, nor on the social level. And it is asking too much of other small kids to adapt themselves to someone who is violent and who doesn’t understand a thing of what goes on either in the classroom or outside it. (I also suspect that the violence was caused or at least exacerbated by the fact that this child was constantly frustrated. He couldn’t interact at all with normal children, not understanding their responses, not understanding a thing they were saying, even if they were younger, yet of course he had some kind of need to interact with someone. What he needed was simply not possible to achieve in a group of more or less normally developed children.)

  30. Anyone knows if *all* children participated in the tests… or only those who were expected to be able to perform?

    http://news.steinerwaldorf.org/2012_06_01_archive.html#4107237473056956268

    ‘The Steiner Academy Hereford: `One of the best schools in the country`.

    ‘The Steiner Academy Hereford (SAH) has received national recognition for the proportion of top grades achieved by its pupils in the 2011 GCSE examinations.’

    I’m assuming there’s something more to know about this little piece of news.

  31. No, there is as usual nothing to support the claims that the Hereford Academy has a superior performance. At least not something easily verifiable on the net. The organization behind the SSAT test seems to be focused primarily on helping private schools with the admission process, not on evaluating schools or their performance. And in marketing private schools. I might be wrong, but this seems to follow the standards set by Australian Waldorf Statistics worst practices; 1) grab any figure from a report and say it proves how good Waldorf education is. 2) Then make sure it is impossible or difficult to validate this claim. 3) Finally, avoid or leave discussion about the figures. Sorry about the sarcasm, I do hope it might provoke someone to prove me wrong ;-)

  32. Alicia: “Anyone knows if *all* children participated in the tests… or only those who were expected to be able to perform?”

    No, not all of them participated in GCSEs.

    Hereford had 20 pupils in that year group. 17 were entered for the Maths exam, 18 for English and 16 for English Literature. None were entered for any other subject. Those getting grades A* or A were 6 in Maths, 9 in English and 8 in English Literature.

    These figures are from the latest GCSE performance data from the DfE at
    http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/download_data.html

    There’s no data on the BTEC qualification in Countryside and Natural Environment offered at Hereford which I believe is equivalent to 2 GCSEs.

    These results aren’t in themselves bad, although certainly, ‘one of the best schools in the country’ seems to be a little excitable!

    Oddly, I can’t find anything about this on the SSAT website.

  33. Of course, with such a small cohort it’s possible to spin the figures in an entirely different way:

    15% of pupils left Hereford without a qualification in maths last year. Appalling!

  34. Thanks for the info, Mark! All national education systems have their peculiarities, so it’s always difficult to understand what reports like these mean if you are not familiar with those. The Austrian PISA data also suggests that math isn’t very good in their Waldorf schools.

  35. Thank you both. Interesting.

    It doesn’t sound very impressive. I wonder how they — whether it was the SSAT (whose credibility seem less than obvious) or the academy itself — came to the conclusion it’s one of the best schools in the country? I suppose there must be many schools where children enter these tests in more/other subjects, and do so with much better results?

  36. “I suppose there must be many schools where children enter these tests in more/other subjects, and do so with much better results?”

    Of course. Last year at Hereford 70% of pupils left with at least 5 good GCSE (or equivalent) grades, “good” meaning A*-C. The national average for state funded schools was 58%. Looking through the DfE data at http://bit.ly/wpJgui you can see that scoring higher than 70% is by no means unusual though. You can filter out selective and independent schools for a fairer comparison.

    The trouble with putting out silly press releases like this is that the relevant data is in the public domain and someone, somewhere, will be interested enough to check!

  37. Thanks Mark!

    It fascinates me that they’re living so much in their own world that they don’t realize this, don’t realize that people will look things up. Or perhaps they’re hoping that the people they wish to convince, other Steiner supporters and potential supporters, won’t look it up, only people who are already critical will. The others will just nod happily and approvingly at having their positive prejudices reinforced.

  38. I have been in contact with Waldorf people in another context, who have seriously opposed the idea of using statistics to follow and develop community projects. I guess they and some other anthroposophists would find this discussion utterly ridiculous, and the figures totally meaningless anyway. If they happen to confirm what you already know, fine, that might be useful in convincing the less spiritually advanced. But other than that, statistics is probably bad for your health and karma. I’m speculatimg here of course. But I’m wondering if it could be attitudes like that which explains some of the amazingly cavalier treatment of evaluations of Waldorf schools.

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