hello leeds!

Leeds Steiner school has written a letter to the city of Leeds. One reason for the letter is that the school hopes to secure public funding in the future and hopes for Leeds to support it in its striving. The Steiner free school in Frome as well as (before that) the Hereford Steiner academy have met local opposition. Presumably, it’s wise of Leeds to tackle this head on. (I assume the school is reapplying to become a state-funded free school, perhaps the blog readers can enlighten us.) I’m not a Leeds local, not even a Brit, but I thought I’d reply to Leeds Steiner school’s letter anyway. Because I can. And because I noticed how they avoid using that dreadful and scary a-word.

A Steiner school in the heart of our city would offer us […] a new and special partner in pedagogical excellence.

Do we know that? Do the Steiner schools have a record of pedagogical excellence? I didn’t know. How come, then, they need their own inspectors? If there’s excellence, surely any inspector would see it — without carrying Steiner-coloured glasses.

… Steiner offers answers to most of the issues that mainstream education has been struggling with …

That seems highly unlikely somehow.

Steiner education is a fully formed philosophy education and long experience of delivering education.

What does this mean? It’s a ‘philosophy education’?

It is founded on the idea of community and of communication.

No, it’s founded on the idea of anthroposophy. That’s the idea. That’s the point. That’s the reason it exists.

… children have benefited from the deep understanding of child development that Steiner education brings.

Again, this ‘understanding’ is the anthroposophical understanding of child development. It’s deep. If you buy it. It’s deep enough to drown in. If you’re not a good swimmer.

There is a constant connection to the rhythms of the world outside of the kindergarten, the changing seasons, the festivals and holidays.

Surprisingly, the seasons change for everyone. People celebrate festivals, there are holidays. These are aspects of normal life in the real world. Quite banal and unexciting as this seems, it’s actually true: there’s nothing exotic or unusual about seasons, festivals and holidays. Sure, these things can be fun and rewarding, but enjoyment of them is not limited to the waldorf/steiner community.

The world within the walls of the kindergarten are similarly a place of routine, where children can feel secure in the patterns that are created by the day’s structure, whilst at the same time progressing at a pace that is consistent with their needs.

Consistent with their needs… according to what anthroposophy teaches about children’s needs. This is essential. Leaving it out is deceptive. Stop deceiving, or you don’t deserve the support of the people of Leeds.

Personalisation is implicit in Steiner. […] Based on 7 year cycles, Steiner recognises distinct stages that a child must navigate and that we all too often stifle in our education system.

Exactly. Steiner. Now we’re getting there, talking about Steiner is a step in the right direction. Just make sure you’re always explicit about this; and, also, make sure you don’t forget that very important a-word.

What does ‘personalisation’ mean? And how does it relate to what comes next: there are stages — neatly ordered in 7-year cycles — that a child must navigate. Is this personalisation? And has it occurred to you that, in the process of implementing anthroposophical teachings about stages the child must go through, you’re stifling something else instead? That, perhaps, you even suffocate some children’s personalities when you try to squeeze them into your preordained stages, your schedule, your methods, your understanding of how things ought to be (but aren’t, in reality, because children are individual human beings)?

In Steiner we do not start formal learning until the age of 6 but learning certainly takes place.

You start it as late as you can get away with. Thus, when you start it varies from country to country. Always seeking exemptions.

Children learn to use their hands and their bodies with confidence, their minds through sharing and observation and exchange their own ideas whilst listening respectfully to others.

This is something you dreamt?

Each time we ask our teachers to sit our children down to learn to read and write at 4 and 5 years old we are dismissing the children’s instincts to get up and find out for themselves and we lead them to the disengagement that I and so many others are powerless to reverse …

What do you think happens when you’re dismissing children’s instincts to want to learn to read and write at 4 or 5? Some children do want exactly that, whether you believe it or not. But, right, I forgot, books are not natural. So it’s ok to stifle that impulse. But I can tell you one thing: reading and writing does not lead to disengagement, and instead of trying to find ways not to present the opportunity to children — in some cases even actively discouraging children from engaging in these activities — you should do everything to ensure they have a choice, lest they be disengaged and, eventually, begin to find all education boring, because it doesn’t stimulate their intellectual needs (the ones you deny exist).

… Steiner’s holistic approach demands attention.

No. Not if it doesn’t meet the needs of the individual child. All it taught me was to day-dream. To imagine I was elsewhere. To avoid the perpetual boredom.

Where Synthetic Phonics insists on using Visual, Aural and Kinaesthetic prompts to aid learning (adopting the multiple intelligences principles) Steiner, uses rhyme and rhythm in song and dance and thereby nurtures memory of language and number, through pleasurable activities that are inherent human impulses.

Pleasurable? Why is any of that more pleasurable than learning to read a book or do maths on a piece of paper? I just don’t get it. Maybe the singing and clapping and dancing just don’t make any sense to some children? How do you plan to handle the needs of these children so that they too find their time in school stimulating?

When we arrive at formal learning, Steiner has laid foundations of communication in its insistence on the speaking and listening imperative that we are ‘grafting on’ in mainstream education.

Blah blah blah? What is this supposed to mean? The ‘insistence on the speaking and listening imperative’, eh? Is this supposed to be good?

There is an emphasis on oral repetitions of stories and when we arrive at the curriculum we move through literature with genre following the child’s developmental arc; fairytale>fable>bible>myths, thereby also accessing a ‘classical’ arc.

Developmental, according to anthroposophical ideas about development.

Children learn to write using their own words …

No, they learn it copying the words and texts the teacher writes on the blackboard. To pretend anything else is plain silly.

The process is wholly organic.

Is this… what? Holistic, organic, well… what are these words supposed to mean? And why does mainstream education not seem to need them? Strangely, the same words are used to sell vegetables.

Steiner has no need to revise its attitude to technology, as current government advice suggests.

No, why on earth revise a silly attitude to something?

The Steiner philosophy teaches that the most important tool a child has is their own mind …

and then tries to persuade the child not to use it too much or at all. Because it’s much better to delay intellectual development and do eurythmy instead.

We move seamlessly into History, which is taught in a linear way …

Yes, but it’s old myths taught as history. Old myths are good and interesting. But they aren’t actual historical records; they belong to the history of beliefs, the history of religion, of literature. Fine. But don’t get things mixed up. Be clear on what you’re teaching. (Perhaps one or several of this blog’s readers would like to remind Leeds of what is sometimes taught as history in waldorf schools…?)

Steiner has a determination of global responsibility that encompasses languages other than English …

A global responsibility that stretches all the way to the German language. Because, oddly, since Steiner was German, all waldorf school students — apart from those who already live in German-speaking nations — learn German as their first foreign language. Steiner’s global responsibility was, in fact, German-centered and, well, not all that global, come to think of it. Though he kind of would have liked things German to gain global importance, I’m sure. (German is good. I like German a lot. I didn’t learn much German in waldorf though — despite having, for several years, a German teacher who was German!)

The abstractions that our children are asked to encounter at too early an age in mainstream education is something that many of our children fail to negotiate.

Eurythmy is another thing many children ‘fail to negotiate’. However, that does not seem to stop Steiner schools from using it in education.

Leeds is one of 5 major cities in this country. It should be at the heart of educational excellence.

And Steiner education is taking it there? That certainly remains to be seen and until I’ve seen it I remain skeptical. Has Steiner education ever taken a city, a village or even a small community to educational excellence? Show me.

24 thoughts on “hello leeds!

  1. ‘No, it’s founded on the idea of anthroposophy. That’s the idea. That’s the point. That’s the reason it exists.’

    The Leeds Initiative is affiliated to the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.

    https://zooey.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/no-anthroposophy-no-steiner-values/

    ‘Steiner Waldorf education centres are independent, self-administering bodies that have chosen to associate in order to promote, advance & develop the method of education, founded upon Spiritual Scientific activity & study as indicated by Rudolf Steiner.

    Further down SWSF lists some provisions, among them

    a) There has been adequate preparation, including anthroposophical study,
    b) An Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum
    c) A registered company with charitable status has been established which includes a wording to the effect that the purpose of the activity is to provide education based upon the principles of Rudolf Steiner (or similar)’

  2. asked by a politician who supports the Hereford Steiner Academy.

    http://www.ross-today.co.uk/news.cfm?id=42938&headline=Education%20history%20made%20as%20first%20%20publicly-funded%20Steiner%20School%20opens

    “Following an afternoon tour of the school Estelle Morris shared tea and scones with some students from Class 10 (year 11), before addressing the invited guests in Birch Hall. She spoke about the importance of creativity in the lives of all of us, commenting that Steiner education has a strong commitment to creativity through the entire curriculum, while the ethos encourages parental engagement with school, regarded as a hub of community life. “Don’t change,” she told the audience. “this is educational history in the making – the first publicly-funded Steiner school in the country.”

  3. Academies in England were first established by the previous administration – originally:

    “Academies are intended to address the problem of entrenched failure within English schools with low academic achievement, or schools situated in communities with little or no academic aspirations. Often these schools have been placed in “special measures”, a term denoting a school that is “failing or likely to fail to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education”.” (Wiki)

    At the time, Christopher Clouder of the Steiner Waldorf schools Fellowship, said (opaquely):

    “We would not be able to take over failing schools. We do not have those kind of resources but we could provide courses for teachers,”

    http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Steiner-schools-still-wait-in-the-wings-334862/

    It seems clear that very few people, especially politicians, had any idea what a Steiner school actually is, nor was the SWSF going to tell them. Plus there was no need for Hereford – nor were local authorities across England competing for the chance to secure a state funded Steiner school. The Guardian wrote:

    “The government wants to pump £16m into a Steiner academy for just 330 pupils. The proceedings will be of interest to the residents of the Herefordshire village of Much Dewchurch (population: 250). It’s not exactly the sort of deprived inner-city area that we were told academies were going to regenerate. And, before construction starts, planning objections to building it on four and a half hectares of open countryside beside a Grade I listed church must be overcome. So are the school places needed that badly? Well, no – the Department for Children, Schools and Families says the county has too many places, and threatens it with budget cuts unless it reduces them. That is why nearby Fairfield high school (which “delivers an outstanding quality of education”, according to a 2006 Ofsted report) is threatened with closure. It is all rather odd.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/feb/05/schools.news

  4. More recently, Michael Gove (the Secretary of State for Education) has made it possible for any school rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted to become an Academy (my sons’ school became one last year, with very little consultation and in that case, no audible opposition). So they are no longer seen as failing schools. The point is that they cease to be under local education authority control and supposedly have more autonomy.

    Concerns about Academies are here expressed by the Anti-Academies Alliance:

    http://antiacademies.org.uk/Pre-2010/why-we-oppose-academies/

    It becomes a little confusing, because the Frome Steiner Free School is now the Steiner Academy Frome – at least it will be if it opens in September this year. The note struck here is ‘parent choice’ – Free Schools are free to follow their own curriculum – in fact as Morris says there will be so few schools left subject to the National Curriculum that there hardly seems any point having one.

    No one seems to have taken much notice of the Steiner movement, as it quietly ‘worms its way in’. Education policy here is ideologically driven, divisive and chaotic. There appears to be less celebration of real educational diversity and innovation and more desire to return to uniforms and selection. So there may be some choice for a few families, but it doesn’t look very positive for the majority.

    Children’s writer Michael Rosen sets the general scene very well: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/michael-gove-prince-of-chaos-its-worse.html

  5. Thanks, Melanie! I’ll end up knowing more about the british school system than about our own ;-). Now why do you think Estelle Morris was so pleased with the Hereford Steiner School? Do you think her questions are important?

  6. Ha! It will all change again in a few years, mark my words.

    I remember years ago being told that Morris had listened to a group of Steiner students singing, and has been inspired ever since. I can hardly blame her for falling for the same wool that we did. She’s a decent woman and someone whose opinion we respected – the BBC here suggests she’s too nice for politics:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2355939.stm

    So Hereford looks lovely and creative if you don’t read anything else, or ask the neighbours in Much Dewchurch what they think, or wonder what’s informing the pedagogy. It frees children from an oppressive exam culture. The children are articulate.

    Anything else would be a guess – I’m assuming she’s not an anthroposophist.

    She asks:

    ‘To my mind, two issues are fundamental. First, who should control the curriculum? Second, should it be national, and so compulsory for all children, or should it offer greater flexibility to accommodate the wishes and abilities of individual children and their parents?’

    What I do think is important is that she mentions the wishes of children! Of course these are important questions (and intensely political) but I don’t think you should let religious groups anywhere near schools, least of all let them decide what’s taught in them.

    I have my own ideas about education, now that we’re contemplating university entrance. I am no expert. But I’m convinced that much of it happens outside school ;)

  7. Very interesting reading, with lots of parallels to non-british school politics! Perhaps a bit off-topic, but I happened to read:

    “The new National Curriculum Review recognises this, putting “oral development” at the centre of the curriculum.”

    Now I’m making my living as an oral storyteller (after working as a psychologist for many years) and I am obsessed with learning & narratives. So I’d be more than happy if you could point me in the right direction to find out more about this.

  8. ‘But I’m convinced that much of it [education] happens outside school ;)’

    Luckily. Or some schools would be worse disasters than they are. Goes for bad schools in general.

    Great links, Melanie, thanks!

    I agree that stories are a great asset. Both for children… and for selling brands… But, anyway, this could certainly be a strength of waldorf education, though I’m not sure how well they’re pulling it off, in reality… if they’re doing it better than other schools, or at least so well it weighs up for them not teaching children to read their own stories…

    Ulf said: ‘I’ll end up knowing more about the british school system than about our own ;-).’

    On that note, I sometimes feel that there ought to be much more like this stuff out there — e g, Swedish waldorf schools, too, writing silly letters to local communities. And so forth. But I guess they’re so content just existing on the free school money — their situation is safe, as long as they have students… well that’s the problem, they have difficulties with that of course — that they don’t need to promote themselves in the same ways, through the same channels… thus there’s little to comment on. But maybe I’m missing the opportunities.

  9. I’m not learning Swedish to get involved with that! You laughed enough at me when I tried to ask a bus-driver for a ticket to.. er…

  10. Slussen! It’s a difficult word. Odd sound. (I never said, but a sluss is a lock, at sea or in a canal or wherever. This one is where the lake Mälaren meets the Baltic sea. Important place. But I won’t hijack the thread, I promise. I bet the place is full of salamanders. The mythological variety.)

  11. I once asked Alicia in an email about the situation in UK. She responded very kindly, which was why I began to attend the kiosk more regularly. Now I’m a devout caninosophist. And I’ve got more than I bargained for about the british scene ;-) Seriously I find the defferences between Sweden, Britain and the US very interesting.

    My analysis of the situation in Sweden is that Waldorf can only wish for two more christmas presents, total freedom from the national curriculum in the history subject, and much more importantly, a state-financed teacher trainng at a university. Which is why the search for a way to view anthroposophy as scientific is so important. Which is why I think it would be lovely if Alicia could attend Jost Schieren’s lecture “Between Day and Night” at the conference on Kristofferskolan tonight. I’d be especially interested in Mr Dog’s impressions of the event.

    I’m happy to get an opportunity to say something positive about waldorf pedagogy, and the focus on orality and storytelling in education is my best chance. In the seventies, swedish teachers were taught not to tell fairy tales, because it would confuse the children’s “sense of reality”. The view on fantasy has changed totally since then, but generally schools are in my mind too narrowly focused on a limited view of literacy.

    In that area, waldorf is not yet seriously behind the development in mainstream pedagogy. A situation I and many storytellers are trying to change ;-). The new british curriculum review is very helpful in that respect so I’m grateful for finding that gem here! And of course oral storytelling doesn’t have to exclude books and reading, on the contrary.

    I’m not sure anthroposophists would like my own main ideas about storytelling in education however. To make a looong story painfully short, stories are a truly wonderful means to help people develop their thinking and questioning skills, starting in the family from a very early age.

  12. ‘Now I’m a devout caninosophist.’

    THIS is ALL that really matters!! /mr Dog.

    Well, ok. Go chew a bone, mr Dog. Yes, the differences (and similarities) are interesting.

    I remember I said I didn’t know that much — I still don’t know all that much, to be honest. I always forget the who-is-who of the british steiner scene… not the mention the politicians. I only remember Gove’s name because it’s so similar to Gnome.

    I agree — that’s the waldorf wish list. Although I think the wish for an exemption from the national curriculum applies to the entire curriculum, not just history. And they want a teacher training that can gain credibility from working together with a university, but don’t want to be subjected to the usual academic standards, i e, they want the university ‘label’ but with full freedom.

    ‘In the seventies, swedish teachers were taught not to tell fairy tales, because it would confuse the children’s “sense of reality”.’

    That is truly awful. Close-minded and stupid. It may be the other way around, of course (as you indicate in the last paragraph). That children train their sense of reality through contact with fairytales and myths.

    ‘In that area, waldorf is not yet seriously behind the development in mainstream pedagogy.’

    Or: the consequences of delayed reading/writing, would be much worse if they didn’t tell stories, if they didn’t tell myths.

    Edit: forgot to say:

    ‘I’d be especially interested in Mr Dog’s impressions of the event.’

    He’d complain about the lack of bunnies. All real science contains plentiful of bunnies. For some reason only canineosophists understand.

  13. Leeds steiner school has a vision. Does anybody find it believable? Is it reasonable at all to think they can achieve these things? Where are they going to find the highly competent and accomplished teachers? How is this Leeds school going to manage what other steiner schooms have not (thinking of, e g, the Hereford ‘flag-ship’.)

    http://www.leedssteinerschool.co.uk/vision.html

    Via Melanie on twitter.

  14. Everyone in the DfE flying squad (sent out to do this kind of interview) has suspended their disbelief for so long they actually believe in fairies.

  15. I’ve sent out our fairies so that we can lure the DfE into the kiosk and get them suitably, ethereally drunk. So that they see even more fairies, even such fairies that do not exist. Clever, hu?

  16. That way, I figure, we can prevent them from going to Leeds and convince them that if they want to fund fairies they might just as well fund us because we’ve got plenty. And more gnomes too. Found a new bunch in a cave the other day. I think they’re still around. All we need is for the fairies to intercept the DfE at the right point of their funding journey. I’ve carefully instructed the fairies. This will succeed.

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