hereford steiner academy and the software ag stiftung

Hereford Steiner Academy is the first — and still the only — state-funded Steiner school in the UK. It’s situated in the small village of Much Dewchurch in Herefordshire. The school is, in fact, bigger than the entire village. For the Steiner school movement, establishing and receiving funding for one Steiner school is a big step — it gives an indication that further funding, of more Steiner schools, is an open option. And it shows there’s a possibility to gain free school status for several more — or even all — Steiner schools. In short, the Hereford Steiner Academy signified hope. The Hereford Steiner Academy had to be a pioneer, and it had to be successful (how successful it really is has been discussed in previous comment threads on this blog — from the inspection reports, it turns out, maybe not so).

In an old article in TES, tweeted by @lovelyhorse_ this morning, it is told that the Steiner Waldorf School Fellowship has received money from two private donors:

The Steiner fellowship has raised nearly a million for the project from two sponsors – a parent and a German software firm. The rest will come from the Government.

(In fact, it has turned out, a lot of money; not just for the education, but the school also asked for £ 16 million for their buildings. Some more info and arguments here.)

One might ask why a German software firm wants to invest money in a Steiner school in the UK. One might ask why, were it not already apparent. The software firm is the Software AG in which the Software AG Stiftung (the foundation) holds shares. This foundation is well-known for donating money to various anthroposophical enterprises and causes. The company was founded by Peter Schnell, an anthroposophist, who is still active in the foundation’s board of directors. There’s nothing peculiar about anthroposophists wanting to establish a foundation to further anthroposophical projects, of course. There’s no reason for them not to. And this foundation sits on a lot of money; in 2008, almost £ 700 million. In that year (the Hereford Academy was established in 2008, which is why I chose 2008 as an example), the foundation donated £ 7 million to educational causes alone. (Here you can read the annual report.)

The more interesting question is why the foundation is not mentioned by name in the UK documents. In Hereford Steiner Academy’s Expression of Interest (a form submitted to the government’s Department for Education), there’s only a reference to a donation by ‘Stiftung AG’ (which is just pure nonsense: it would be like saying there’s a donation from ‘ltd foundation’, and leaving out the actual name that distinguishes this legal entity from others, it’s name is Software AG Stiftung). The document reads:

The Steiner School Fellowship is the sponsor and they have found sponsorship monies from Stiftung AG, and a private donor with connections to Steiner schools.

Why does the SWSF not want — or is it just a mistake? difficult to know — to reveal the actual name of its donor? Is that because it would become apparent that strong anthroposophical interests are involved in the establishment of the first state-funded Steiner school in the UK, because it’s supposed to pave the way for further funding? The Software AG Stiftung is quite clear about its intentions; they see state-funded alternative education as a right that should be promoted. And they’re speaking about waldorf education, of course. The projects the foundation gives funding to are anthroposophical. Nothing wrong with that. But why does the SWSF not want to say so? Maybe because the organistion has done a lot to tone down the allegiance to anthroposophy. These are ‘just’ schools with a great pedagogy… nothing to do with odd, esoteric beliefs. Of course, if the SWSF was really thinking of rebutting Steiner or discarding of anthroposophy, then there’s no believable reason why they would be getting money from this foundation. Anyway, it doesn’t stop here.

If you then try to access the Hereford Academy’s funding agreement — an agreement between the academy and the Department of Education — you’ll soon notice something odd. If you look at the table of contents, there’s a reference to ‘Other relevant funding’ (on p 3). However, when you try to view the paragraphs in question (64-67), they’re simply not there. In fact, the entire page has been redacted, and the document jumps from page 19 to page 21. There is no page 20, where paragraphs 64 to 67 ought to appear. Apparently, the public is not supposed to see where the ‘Other relevant funding’ comes from. Why is this information not public? It does not seem to be something to keep confidential. So what if a wealthy German foundation donated money for an anthroposophical cause? So what? If the private donor (said to be a parent, and a person with connections to the movement) had legitimate reason to demand privacy, the same cannot be said to apply to the Software AG Stiftung. Actually, I don’t see why the Software AG Stiftung would not be proud to have helped established the first state-funded Steiner Academy in the UK. But perhaps the SWSF is embarrassed. Perhaps it doesn’t want to be asked the question: why does this German foundation show such an interest in British education?

(Neither the website of the SWSF itself, nor the website of the Hereford Steiner Academy, mentions the Software AG Stiftung. It would seem as though they don’t want to credit the foundation.)


Edit: It hit me when I read the funding agreement that Annex 1 (of 6) was missing (5 and 6 are also missing). I was just sent an email about something called Annex A, which I presume might be the same as Annex 1. Quote p 1 in the funding agreement: ‘Whilst releasing the majority of the Funding Agreement will further the public understanding of Academies. The whole of the Funding Agreement cannot be revealed. If Annex A was to be revealed under the FOI act, DCSFs’ commercial interest would be prejudiced, which could result in the less effective use of public money.’ [Removed emphasis. /a] I wonder if any formal decision has been made to withold p 20, sections 62-67 in the agreement document itself as well? Where is it, if so? On what grounds was it made, is perhaps an even more interesting question. (Edit, again: sorry for previous misquote, the document does not allow copy-paste.)

23 thoughts on “hereford steiner academy and the software ag stiftung

  1. We might wonder why the ‘private donor with connections to Steiner schools’ chose to remain anonymous – it may be for perfectly ethical reasons. But if you support these schools (perhaps you or your children have benefited) why not say so?

    Crossing over to the Steiner Academy Frome – the Steiner Academy next in line for funding, under ‘Steiner Education’ they write:

    ‘The school’s ethos will draw on Dr Steiner’s work on child development; but it will neither promote or teach his wider philosophy which is known as “anthroposophy”.’

    But with Rudolf Steiner there is no ‘work on child development’. The ‘work’ IS anthroposophy. A Steiner school which fails to ‘promote’ anthroposophy can’t be a member of the SWSF, can’t employ teachers who have trained on courses saturated with anthroposophical texts, who teach according to an anthroposophical understanding of child development; it must repudiate the entire foundation of Steiner education. ‘Promote’ also means advance, assist, aid, help, contribute to, foster, nurture… Steiner’s ‘philosophy’: anthroposophy. A Steiner school is an organism which lives and breathes anthroposophy, however confusedly.

    Why are these Steiner Free schools, these Academies, so unwilling to present and discuss anthroposophy honestly? As far as ‘promotion’ goes, no one worries that the followers of Steiner’s (esoteric) new religion will take a banner and walk around the streets distributing leaflets – although frankly it would be better if they did – no one is afraid of the revealed power of anthroposophy.

    But if you are a government giving Steiner schools vast amounts of public money, or placing children in their care, you need to know what anthroposophy is. You can’t pretend it doesn’t matter. Parents need to know. Communities need to know. They have a right to be treated like adults.

  2. Great digging Alicia, I wonder what the Academy School Improvement Partner Peter Johnson will have to say. It may be time for troubleshooting firm Navigant Consulting to step in (again).

    Melanie, an interesting new disclaimer on the Frome site..

    It reminds me of former Steiner Waldor pupil Roger Rawlings statement ‘Imagine a school that says “All of our methods are based on voodoo. However, we do not teach voodoo to the children.” Would you be reassured?

    Here’s an excellent essay where Roger tackles the assertion that Anthrosophy is not taught to the children –

  3. @But if you are a government giving Steiner schools vast amounts of public money, or placing children in their care, you need to know what anthroposophy is.

    Unfortunately you can not judge this, because you yourself do not what it is.

  4. Hello Jan! This couple wrote the report on which the UK government based its decisions:

    They are the experts!

    I guess you would like to say that Arthur Zajonc is much saner. I would agree with you. But that doesn’t change the facts.

    Also I would say this much: if Melanie and Lovelyhorse can’t be said to understand what anthroposophy is about — or at least what it’s about in the context of waldorf — after all the reading and studying they have done, then none of those parents, who wander cluelessly into that pretty waldorf kindergarten, should choose waldorf for their children either, because if anthroposophy is that difficult, then they cannot know what they’re choosing. And will be fooled just for not knowing and not being able to know.

    In fact — you just gave us the perfect reason for parents who aren’t anthroposophists to not choose waldorf education. They can’t understand what they’re choosing even after intensive study. Then, quite plainly, they should not be in the waldorf kindergarten or first grade — no matter how pretty — because they don’t know to what they’re handing over their children!

    If Melanie and Lovelyhorse can’t judge — then these other parents can’t do it either.

    Neither can the government judge. But, of course, they’re basing their decision on the reports of expert Atlantean Reiki Crystal Healers! Would you say the government knows enough about anthroposophy to know what its deciding to fund?

    I’d say no. None of them know. Melanie, Lovelyhorse, I — we all know more, even though you think we don’t know enough. Or the right things. Or don’t accept the things you take to be anthroposophy to be the norm. (I know they’re prettier than Glenys Woods world of woo.)

  5. I’m pretty certain, Jan, that most civil servants in the Department for Education are blissfully unaware of anthroposophy. This situation is not helped by the coyness of the Steiner Waldorf movement. That coyness is far more important than the paucity of my occult knowledge or unwillingness to agree with your theory – which is your theory and no one else’s.

    Of course it may be that you know of anthroposophists in the DfE. They may have access to Higher Knowledge than me. If that’s the case, perhaps they’d like to share this knowledge with the taxpayer?

  6. Alicia, didn’t some swedish waldorf guy say something similar to Jan’s argument, perhaps in a Staudenmaier debate? I have a dim memory of a sort of triumphant battle-cry: “We are invulnerable against all criticism from outsiders! We are forever protected by an impenetrable labyrinth of writings of Rudolf Steiner which no sane person would dare to enter. And don’t you dare to utter a word until you have read it all in German!”

    Sorry, I got a bit carried away there, it was probably much more boring ;-)

    But it would be interesting if similar views does indeed exist within the waldorf school movement. Within a religious or spiritual group they would be perfectly valid, but if you run schools inspired by thinking which isn’t accessible to outsiders, you have a problem …

  7. I think your version is an accurate representation of their position (except you should replace ‘sane’ with ‘materialised’).

    Olav Hammer’s ‘Claiming Knowledge’ is a good guide to this kind of thinking. Alicia will edit the link:

    search ‘anthroposophy’ and you can at least read some extracts on-line.

  8. First: I have no problems with critique on Waldorf schools or other elements of the anthroposophical subculture. But I do object against identifying anthroposophy with the culture in anthroposophical organizations. The criticism on schools uttered here in this blog leads sometimes to criticism on anthroposophy itself. But these are two different things. A Dutch proverb is: “Don’t throw away the child with the bathwater”.
    Don’t throw away anthroposophy when you are condemning the practice of Waldorf school X.
    It is possible to have totally different schools and other organizations on the basis of the anthroposophical method.
    To see anthroposophy as a method is the key to understanding anthroposophy.
    All other interpretations, I am sorry, are wrong.
    To take the results of Steiners inquiry as dogma’s is maybe the biggest mistake.
    Both critics and anthros are making this mistake. Anthroposophy is not meant to be taken as a faith.
    Too few people do really understand anthroposophy, and that is the source of a lot of trouble and misery.

  9. ‘The criticism on schools uttered here in this blog leads sometimes to criticism on anthroposophy itself. But these are two different things.’

    Anthroposophy itself isn’t running the schools. But they are run by people who study anthroposophy (and, supposedly, understand it better than amateurs like us).

    ‘It is possible to have totally different schools and other organizations on the basis of the anthroposophical method.’

    Where are these insititutions then, Jan?

    ‘Anthroposophy is not meant to be taken as a faith.’

    What to do with all the waldorf teachers and other anthroposophists who do treat it as a faith? Who don’t take it as method but doctrine? What if these anthroposophists make up 99% of the staff in waldorf schools?

    ‘Too few people do really understand anthroposophy …’

    If neither (most) anthroposophists nor critics, parents, former students can understand it (properly, whatever that is — apparently it differs depending on whose interpretation we trust), then: what use is it in education? If it’s so damn complicated, then, as I already pointed out, the parents who choose waldorf education for their children can’t understand it either. Thus they are choosing something they don’t — can’t — know; their choice is blind. It’s not a genuine choice. That alone tells us — these parents should not be choosing waldorf. Only those parents who truly understand anthroposophy should teach in waldorf schools — and only those parents who truly understand anthroposophy should put their children in a waldorf school.

    Don’t you agree?

  10. @Alicia
    Of course I agree with you, and I think, you with me….
    It is the anthroposophical catastrophe you are depicting.

  11. ‘He appears to me as just another dogmatic sceptic enlightenment fundamentalist.’

    This is the problem: you rather regret the enlightenment.

  12. Olav Hammer is a brilliant man, Jan! It’s a pity you don’t read swedish, or I’d recommend a book of his: Unsound Reason (Osunt förnuft).

    He’s very enlightened, and certainly working from enlightenment ideals, but he’s no dogmatic and he’s no fundamentalist.

    ‘It is the anthroposophical catastrophe you are depicting.’

    Depends on what we’re talking about. The ideas themselves, not even the books themselves, directly cause any catastrophe. You’ve got to add the humans. But that always seems to be the case (mr Dog nods his head and sighs loudly).

  13. I’m not sure where to put this, I know the results of the Hereford Academy were discussed in some thread. Melanie retweeted this link today:

    Somebody said that this

    ‘In one academy, 70% of pupils got five good GCSEs, but this reduced to zero when equivalents were discounted’

    is about the Hereford Academy. I actually don’t know; I had also thought that GCSEs were only real subjects (maths, science, history, language, et c), not, like, you could take a GCSE in manicure or something. Seems like there are options.

  14. Jan, you can´t be serious by referring to Massimo Introvigne as a critic of Olav Hammer! Introvigne is the man who coined the expression “anti-cult terrorism”, he is a fan of Silvio Berlusconi and he thinks the reaction against pedophilic priests in the catholic church is a “moral panic” masterminded by “lobby groups”, which “may or may not be Masonic”, with the sole purpose of hurting the Pope. The man is like a character from a Dan Brown novel. Do I need to add that his refutation of Hammer is pure trash? Please tell us that you in no way want to be associated with someone who is seriously committed to fight against sceptics and critics of cults! Or?

  15. Actually, Berlusconi sent his children to waldorf school, didn’t he? At least he’s pro-waldorf. Some waldorf proponents seem immensely flattered by it.

    But anyway — Introvigne appears to be a scholar prepared to defend any cult from criticism, no matter how evil and destructive. Most of all, someone prepared to make excuses — as if that was the role of the academic. That is not someone to align oneself with. In fact, Olav Hammer, if Jan cared to read what he actually writes (it’s unfortunate that Hammer’s non-academic books are not available in English), he might be surprised.

  16. If you google stiftung AG, your first hit is Software AG Stiftung, so how are they hiding who the donor is, it takes all of 0.5 seconds to figure out who the company is, this article seems rather pointless.

  17. As I wrote, Stiftung AG alone does not distinguish this foundation from other foundations — it’s not a name. It is, literally, like saying ‘foundation limited’. It doesn’t separate this foundation from other foundations, no matter what comes up on google (might I suggest that what you get on google has to do with 1) this being a very large German foundation, which might end up first anyway and 2) google figuring out your preferences based on previous interests and searches).

    The name of the company is Software AG, the foundation is Software AG Stiftung, and that’s what should have been in the document — if they had wanted to provide correct information, leading to certain identification of this particular foundation.

  18. From Das Goetheanum’s Facebook page:

    ‘‎20 Jahre Software-AG-Stiftung […] Gefördert wird europaweit und in Brasilien: Kinder-, Jugend-, Behinderten- und Altenhilfe, Biologisch-dynamische Forschung, Komplementärmedizin und Pä- dagogik (Schwerpunkt Lehrerbildung für reformpädagogische Schulen). Seit Bestehen wurden 3100 Projekte mit circa 265 000 000 Euro unterstützt. Längerfristige Großprojekte sind beispielsweise die Alanus-Hochschule in Alfter oder das Gut Juchowo in Polen.’

    A lot of money. This is where Sweden’s Waldorf teacher training college could apply for funding. If they didn’t think it was the swedish tax payers duty to fund them…

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