Below is a selection of answers to questions that are often asked about Steiner Education. If you have a question that is not answered here then please do contact us.
Pupils start formal learning, i.e. writing, reading and numeracy in class one at the age of six, the norm in many European countries and an approach supported by a significant body of research. Cognitive skills can be introduced with relative ease if children have first had the opportunity to develop speech, co-ordination and their relationship to themselves, others and the world around them during the pre-school years and in Kindergarten.
The teacher stays with one group of pupils for up to eight years in the lower school and his or her knowledge of the child is therefore very extensive. An emphasis on formative and on-going assessment reduces the dependence on, and the anxiety related to, testing. Teachers and parents work closely together in order to build a picture of the child that helps everyone to understand and support that child’s development. Parents receive a detailed written report at the end of each school year.
A number of UK Steiner schools offer a limited range of GCSE’s and A levels or recognised equivalents. Results are well above the national average and pupils are able to advance to higher education and a huge variety of career paths. Their strong independent learning skills, motivation and enthusiasm for learning stand them in good stead for later life.
Each day opens with a Main Lesson which lasts approximately 2 hours and will focus for up to four weeks on one core subject drawn from the broad curriculum. The Class Teacher (or specialist teacher in the Upper School) endeavours to integrate a range of artistic activities, techniques, delivery methods, learning styles and resources to encourage the child’s enthusiastic immersion in the subject.
Festivals, both seasonal and those adapted from the culture that is local to the school, play an important part in the life of the child. These festivals serve to awaken the child’s natural reverence, recognition of the mood that is appropriate for such occasions and a respect for the spiritual essence that exists in us all. Festivals also provide an opportunity for participation and celebration by the whole school community.
Eurythmy is a form of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. It helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, spatial and aesthetic awareness and a sensitivity to others. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.
Games and sports are an integral part of social and cultural life in our schools. They promote physical agility, grace, social awareness, self-esteem and cooperation. Competition has its place as the children get older, and many schools may prepare and enter teams in a range of sports competitions, including basketball, hockey, tennis and cricket.
A familiarity with all the technologies that surround us and influence our lives is an essential part of a complete education. There is growing evidence, however, that too much ‘screen time’ is detrimental to children and Steiner schools do not shy away from engaging in critical debate about the appropriate use of computers, TV and DVD.
Computers are generally used by students at secondary age and not earlier. They very quickly master the necessary ICT skills and many go on to successful careers in the computer, film and TV industries.
Rudolf Steiner was born in what is now Croatia in 1861. He wrote and lectured on a wide range of contemporary issues including architecture, medicine, philosophy, science, economics and social reform as well as education. Steiner-Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture and a variety of therapeutic and curative initiatives are amongst the most well-known practical applications of his work.
Our approach to education is based on Steiner’s educational insights, specifically those that relate to child development. These form one aspect of what Steiner called ‘anthroposophy’, literally, ‘human wisdom’, or ‘knowledge of the human being’ . These ideas are contained in Steiner’s approximately 4,000 lectures and some 50 written works. Many of these can be accessed on line at the Rudolf Steiner archive at www.rsarchive.org.
Anthroposophy is a developing body of research and not a belief system, indeed Steiner was at pains to make sure that people scrutinized his ideas and put them to the test; he did not want them simply to be adopted or ‘believed’, but he did invite people to engage with them. In his lectures on education he gave many indications for suitable subject matter and approaches to teaching for different ages but always stressed that teachers must be free to interpret these indications in their own way.
Steiner schools do not teach anthroposophy, indeed some would argue that it cannot be taught in any conventional sense. Our schools endeavour to work ‘out of anthroposophy’. The implications of this can best be understood by reading the Principles and Aspirations of the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education, of which SWSF is a member: www.ecswe.org.
These principles are prefaced by the statement:
“Steiner Waldorf educators study and research aspects of anthroposphy in order to inform and develop their work within the schools and places of learning. The philosophical and methodological approaches that underlie anthroposophy are regarded as tools for personal and profession al development; they are not taught within the school, either as a subject or a belief.”
This guide to Steiner’s work, produced to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth, provides a useful introduction to his life, times and activities: www.vernissage-online.eu/epaper/steiner_2011_E/index.html#/10.
Although Steiner’s ideas are based on a profound respect for the equality, individuality and shared humanity of all people, regardless of race or ethnic origin, his works do contain a number of statements on race that are inappropriate in a modern context. They do not inform the education in any way: they influence neither content nor methodology.
Research conducted in Germany (download the pdf paper on the ECSWE website here) shows that Steiner education is successful in producing young people who are generally more tolerant and less xenophobic than their peers educated in other school systems.
Steiner Education is opposed to all forms of discrimination against any person or group of people on the grounds of race, gender, faith, disability, age and sexual orientation and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity and reflecting the diversity of the children, staff and parents served by Steiner schools. The education thrives on every continent, in every culture and within a wide range of ethnic contexts.
A child’s weaknesses in one area – whether cognitive, emotional or physical – is viewed as usually balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher’s job to try to bring the child’s whole being into balance and to offer a differentiated approach in the classroom in order to meet a wide range of abilities. Most schools employ SEN specialists to support the class and subject teachers.
The standards in Steiner schools are high and the breadth of subjects covered by the Steiner curriculum is extensive and it can take time to adjust to this, although most settle very quickly. It is not uncommon to observe new children waking up to the possibility of actually enjoying school and learning for the very first time.
All Steiner schools have Behaviour Management Policies which state clearly their approach to discipline which is neither rigid in the traditional sense nor free in the progressive sense. Each school day is clearly structured. There are clear expectations and clear boundaries.
Children learn best when they feel secure and when they know what to expect. A warm, well structured environment gives them essential support in finding out about the world and themselves in an age-appropriate fashion.
In addition all our schools have anti-bullying policies in place and take bullying very seriously. If parents feel that bullying is not being addressed or the school is failing in its statutory and moral requirements we would recommend that parents use the appropriate channels to complain and hold the school to account.
In most schools there is a regular religious education lesson in which the aim is to cultivate a moral mood towards the world and our fellow human beings. In the younger classes a sense of wonder, respect and reverence is central. In the older classes the focus is on the phenomena of idealism, striving and the over-coming of adversity. Story material from all sources, including a broad range of folk and religious traditions, together with the biographies of inspiring individuals is used.
The teacher’s professional responsibility is heightened when children are in their charge for a number of years. Problems cannot be ‘passed down the line’ but have to be addressed. The teacher and children come to know and understand each other in a deep way, respecting both strengths and weaknesses. The children feel themselves to be known, the teacher feels more accountable and the working together between teacher and parents becomes more meaningful.
Different Steiner schools structure their management and governance in different ways, but all have one thing in common: curriculum development and methodology are determined by the teachers. Their collaboration, on-going study of child development and immediate experience of the children ensure both the distinctive ethos and the contemporary relevance of the school.