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.)

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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.)