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Our response to an article in the Times Educational Supplement about science teaching in Steiner schools:
Sirs, The misconceptions conveyed in the article about Steiner Free Schoolsneed correcting. The suggestion that Steiner schools `dismiss` Darwin is absurd. The best way to celebrate the genius of Darwin or any other scientific thinker is to engage with his ideas and to place them in context. This is what good school do and it is what Steiner schools do. Contrary to the views of David Colquhoun and Edzard Ernst, Steiner schools are strongly pro-science. They are also pro-enquiry and pro-academic rigour. Young people today face the threat of having science-as-orthodoxy, what Sheldrake would call `scientism`, thrust upon them as a creed that may not be questioned. Our young people must be encouraged and equipped to question everything, including orthodoxy, just as Darwin did.
In Steiner schools all science teaching begins with the close observation and direct experience of physical phenomena in order to gather evidence, rather than with a description of prevailing theories and models. It is an approach that resulted in the 2006 PISA study into Austrian Steiner schools concluding that state schools could learn from Steiner methods `especially concerning science teaching`; an approach which led to the same recommendation from a National Academies report in the USA; an approach that assists Steiner pupils in their generally excellent results in GCSE science subjects; an approach that has produced scientific alumni such as John Fitzallen Moore, Prof. Dr. Wolf-Christian Dullo and Kristen Nygaard, and an approach favoured by the parents who want their children to receive a scientific education that empowers them to question, enthuses them to explore, and equips them with a context in which to consider the ethical and moral issues that surround science.
A staggering 95% achieved 5 or more A* to C grade GCSEs, including English and Maths (the national average is 59%)
An incredible 56% of all GCSEs were A or A* (the national average is 17%)
95% of English Literature results were A or A*
The results prove that the education on offer at Elmfield delivers not only well-rounded and mature students, but also excellent results for those who apply themselves and work hard.
As with the outstanding results reported here from other UK Steiner school these have been achieved withouthothousing and demonstrate that a later start to formal education until a more age-appropriate time can go hand-in-hand with academic success.
Picture: Action Images
Congratulations to Bethany Woodward who represented Great Britain in the Paralympics and won bronze in the women’s 4x100m T35/T38 before taking silver in the T37 200m – a race for athletes with cerebral palsy.
Bethany’s lap of honour was in front of a crowd of 80,000 including her former PE teacher at the Kings Langley Rudolf Steiner school, Geert Alkema.
Bethany, who spent eight years at Kings Langley School competed at the 2007 and 2009 UK School Games, made the final of 200m after finishing second in her heat earlier on Wednesday morning.
`We are now enrolling students!`
Plans for the new Steiner Waldorf training course to start this autumn are going well. It is parallel to the London course with the same validation route, a similar three year structure, weight of assignments and cost. It will provide a full training course for work in Steiner Waldorf early childhood settings, complying with the IASWECE benchmarks and is a nationally valid English early years qualification at level 4 and level 5 through Crossfield Institute, accredited by Edexcel. A validation process for Scotland is also under way.
The course development team, which is all the core tutors of the former Plymouth University foundation degree course, are working now in preparation for the course opening. The team of Richard Bunzl, Sally Jenkinson, Janet Klaar, Francesca Meynell, Winny Mossman, Janni Nicol and Jill Taplin will all teach on the course alongside tutors for a range of artistic and craft subjects and special guest lecturers. There will be monthly residentials at the York Steiner School and two five-day residentials in 2012/13.
Generous funding for start-up costs has come from the trustees of Tintagel House in Sheffield and from the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, along with loan offers that will enable us to complete all our preparations in time for the Induction residentials beginning on 31st October 2012.
The application form and more details are on our web-site: www.neswec.org.uk. In line with all early years study programmes, applicants are required to have a good level of literacy and numeracy, either shown by GCSE qualifications in English and Maths at grade C or above, or equivalent qualifications. Applicants without these can also be admitted through our own skills-needs assessment process.
All students will be supported by study skills sessions and individual help from tutors. The assignment schedule, including written, oral and artistic elements, will be paced so that students can use tutor feedback to build on their skills throughout the course.
A taster day is planned at York Steiner School in September and all applications must be in by the end of September. Please do look at the web-site www.neswec.org.ukand contact Jill Taplin (email@example.com) if you have any questions or would like details of the taster day.
132 High Lane
Staffordshire ST6 8RU
The government has announced that the Exeter bid for a Steiner Academy (Free School) has been successful. The initiative now advances to the `pre-opening stage`.
The new Steiner Academy Exeter will open in September 2013, eventually offering double stream entry through to age 16 for up to 644 children.
The announcement is a tribute to the huge amount of effort and commitment devoted to the project by enthusiastic parents and supporters. It is good news for the many children who would otherwise have no access to Steiner education.
The Director of the Department for Education’s Free Schools Group Mela Watts wrote to the project: `I would like to thank you for the great commitment and energy which you and your group have shown in developing your application and at interview.` Support for the initiative `reflects the confidence we have in your vision.`
The new Academy will open with Reception, Years 1,2, 3 and 7, (Early Years, classes 1,2 and 6), growing both the lower and upper ends of the school simultaneously.
For further information contact: Steiner Academy Exeter.
Exeter will join Frome (2012) and Hereford (2008) as state-funded Steiner Waldorf schools in the UK.
Whilst some new Free Schools are struggling to enrol the number of pupils their initial projections anticipated, both the Frome and Hereford Steiner Academies are over-subscribed, confirming the strong demand for this unique education.
Commiserations are due to hard working colleagues in Leeds who had already overcome a number of hurdles to reach the final stage of the Free School application process. They have been informed that their bid will not advance further, largely for reasons relating to economies of scale.
There are more than a thousand Steiner Schools in over sixty countries around the world. In some countries (including many in Europe) the schools are partly or fully state-funded, whilst in others there is no state funding available. The government’s Free School programme has created an opportunity for new Steiner school projects such as Exeter and Frome to apply to become state-funded Academies.
Steiner Waldorf schools form the largest group of independent, non-denominational private schools in the world.They thrive on every continent, in every culture and within a wide range of ethnic contexts, including Israel, Egypt, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil and China. There are currently over 1,000 Steiner schools worldwide and 35 in the UK. There are over 2,000 Early Years settings in a total of 64 different countries. The first school was opened in Germany in 1919, the first in the UK in 1925.
Groups in England (the legislation does not include Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) who are interested in the possibility of state-funded Steiner education in their area should register their interest with the SWSF by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Both the Daily Telegraph and the The Daily Mail reported this week on the plight of children and childhood in the UK as the Save Childhood Movement was launched.
The movement’s development director, Wendy Ellyatt, who is also an author and consultant in early education, said the launch reflected growing concerns over the state of modern childhood. The movement will campaign on a range of issues covering education, health, technology and commercial pressures that hamper children’s development.
The move follows the publication of a landmark report from Unicef last year that found British parents were trapping their children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” by showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them.
This came after a 2007 study by the UN children’s agency ranked Britain bottom out of 21 developed countries for child welfare and third from bottom for educational standards.
The Save Childhood Movement is backed by leading figures such as Baroness Greenfield, the Oxford University neuroscientist, Sally Goddard-Blythe, director of the Institute for Neuro-physiological psychology in Chester, Prof Lilian Katz, an expert in early childhood education at Illinois University, and Dr Richard House, senior lecturer in psychotherapy at Roehampton University. The movement believes that `this erosion has resulted in a modern generation of children that are disconnected not only from their love of learning, but also from their innate sense of self worth and belonging. It has created a culture with increasingly high levels of childhood depression and dysfunction and profoundly compromised child wellbeing.`
The movement, similar in many of its aims to the Alliance for Childhood, hopes to: `identify and highlight those areas of most concern, to protect children from all inappropriate developmental and cultural pressures and to fight for their natural developmental rights. It aims to provide a critical platform for dialogue and debate and to unite those individuals and organisations already calling for change.`
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.
SAH qualified as one of the top 10% of non-selective schools in England where at least 19% of students gained 5A*-A grades including English and Maths in 2011.
Every school in the country has been ranked according to how well they performed in their GCSE results in 2011 in new rankings released by SSAT, the representative body for schools.
The new rankings, calculated by SSAT using official data, raise the bar for schools by only counting the school’s performance at the highest grades – A*-A – reflecting schools’ desire to achieve the very best results for their students.
Sue Williamson, Chief Executive of SSAT said:
`Steiner Academy Hereford should be congratulated for their stunning achievement in securing some of the best GCSE results in the country. Steiner Academy Hereford has proved itself to be one of the best schools in the country at securing superb GCSE outcomes for their students. There is plenty that other schools could learn from Steiner Academy Hereford’s success.
`These results are testament to the commitment and hard work of the students, teachers and leadership team at Steiner Academy Hereford and a vindication of their belief in high expectations, good teaching and ambition for every young person`
This follows on from the similar success of the Edinburgh Steiner School reported here last year.
Congratulations to Charlie Mole, former pupil of Elmfield Steiner School in Stourbridge. Charlie’s work for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on the production of `Deaths in Custody: a Case to Answer` won the Amnesty International Digital Media Award:
The SWSF supports the call from Dr Richard House, education campaigner and child psychologist, for a new approach to early childhood education in the light of current research. Dr. House, in a speech to the Westminster Education Forum, claims that there is now sufficient evidence that an early school starting age is bad for children. He is calling on the Prime Minister to intervene and wants to see the following action from the government:
make the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) voluntary rather than statutory;
extend the EYFS to the end of the sixth year;
consider, via an independent inquiry, raising the statutory school starting age to 6
allow schools the flexibility to allow children to repeat a year
In Steiner schools 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 to which Dr. House makes reference. 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 SWSF response to the letter in the Observer, Sunday May 13th, re. `pseudoscience`.
The letter invoking fear of `pseudoscience` in proposed Free Schools (Observer Sunday 13 May) suggests that Steiner education poses a `grave threat to science education`, whilst offering no evidence to support the statement. Is an evidence-based approach not central to all good science? In Steiner schools it certainly is. In Steiner schools all science teachingbegins with the close observation and direct experience of physical phenomena in order to gather evidence, rather than with a description of prevailing theories and models. An open mind as to causes and first principles is encouraged. Conclusions and concepts are then derived from the observations and finally the theories that explain the whole are introduced. This approach reflects the way that science has developed historically. It is an approach that resulted in the 2006 PISA study into Austrian Steiner schools concluding that state schools could learn from Steiner methods `especially concerning science teaching`; an approach which led to the same recommendation from a National Academies report in the USA; an approach that assists Steiner pupils in their generally excellent results in GCSE science subjects; an approach that has produced scientific alumni such as John Fitzallen Moore, Prof. Dr. Wolf-Christian Dullo and Kristen Nygaard, and an approach favoured by the parents who want their children to receive a scientific education that empowers them to question, enthuses them to explore, and equips them with a context in which to consider the ethical and moral issues that surround science. The `grave threat` our youngsters face is one posed by science-as-orthodoxy, not by an educational approach that is rigorous, open-minded and questioning.
A new baby is due to be born this autumn! It is the North of England Steiner Waldorf Early Childhood Studies programme (NESWEC) which will provide an initial early childhood training course based in the York Steiner School. The validation will be identical with the London Waldorf Early Childhood course, with Edexcel through Crossfields Institute, and our intention is to have both these courses placed on the national frameworks in England and Scotland as soon as possible so that they will provide a valid early years qualification, now necessary for working in early years settings in these countries. Currently the London course is the only one available in Britain and a new course based further north will be its ideal complement.
The three year structure, the assignment load, and the costs will all be comparable with the London course. The core tutor team will include the tutors from the Plymouth Foundation Degree and we intend to bring to this new course the strengths of our Plymouth experience. These include strong support for our students, an open and interested attitude towards the wider world of early childhood studies and the essential balance of thinking, feeling and willing throughout the course.
We aim to provide a high quality, nationally validated and accredited course in Steiner Waldorf principles and practice that will attract students from outside the Waldorf movement as well those already involved in Steiner Waldorf schools and settings.
The taught sessions for the first two years will take place on 10 weekend residentials in the York Steiner School and 2 five-day residentials annually in Elmfield Rudolf Steiner School, Stourbridge.
The third year will be a full time work placement in a Steiner setting supported by a work placement tutor and including 3 weekend residentials, leading to a level 5 qualification. This is equivalent to a Foundation Degree. (Level 6 is equivalent to a Bachelor’s Degree and we hope that it may be possible to provide a Steiner Waldorf early childhood course to this level in future.)
We are looking for seed money for setting up the course and would welcome any offers of grants or loans that might assist us. We are also ready to receive expressions of interest from potential students. You can contact me via our web-site at www.neswec.org.uk , e-mail me at email@example.com or write to me at 132 High Lane, Brown Edge, Staffordshire, ST6 8RU.
I look forward to hearing from you
On behalf of the NESWEC core tutor group
Screen-Free Week: One Steiner School Confronts the Issue Head On.
`Dear students, to remain in this school you will have to commit to zero use of all screen technologies: no more TV, no more DVD’s or cinema, no more social net-working. Collect your contract from my desk and return it, signed, to the office by the start of next week. Any questions?`
They didn’t buy it for a second. The nonsense of such a `zero-tolerance` Screen Policy was obvious to all. Beyond a smirk, an `in your dreams` and an amused curiosity these teenagers knew they were being set up for a discussion rather then being informed of the school’s latest attempt at shooting itself in the foot. But they were ready for the argument and equally ready to share their concerns about how their lives are constantly being channelled through screens.
The debate, at the South Devon Steiner school, was not stirring up anything new. Steiner schools have never been afraid to engage with the debate on how technology impacts on children, and nor are they alone in this. Mary Winn’s The-Plug-In-Drug was published in 1977. Jerry Mander in 1978, Martin Large in 1980 and more recently Aric Sigman’s Remotely Controlled have given teachers plenty of academic and populist back-up for endless parents’ evenings on the subject of TV. Aric Sigman, one of the speakers at the Steiner Waldorf Schools Easter Conference in 2010 had awoken the indignation, anxiety and sense of responsibility many educators are feeling as the three `platforms`: mobile phone, lap-top and TV, fight it out for supremacy.
Increasingly parents are asking schools for guidelines and support as they attempt to manage their children’s exposure to screen time, and sensible schools are taking the discussion and consultation to the older pupils where interesting new perspectives emerge: `It’s too late for me` one pupil said after the above classroom discussion, `but I wouldn’t want my little brother playing computer games at the age I did.` `You can’t keep us away from films and stuff` said another, `it’s not going to happen. But at least we know how to talk about them, what they are really about.` One group of thirteen year-olds bemoaned the passing of books: `We want a library` they said, more than they wanted internet access. `Energy use,` said another, `people need to know about data centres and the carbon footprint of the internet.`
More than anything else these young people want to take their place in the real world, both as digital residents and as free individuals. They are on the front line of a compromise and feel it keenly. They also know that a `zero-tolerance` approach is never going to work, and nor do they want to sacrifice the benefits that screens bring to their lives, but they do want to engage actively with the problems that screen exposure brings. As one sixteen year old summarized it: `We don’t want to look back on all this as the “Screen Age” in the way that people look back on the “Cigarette Age”, shocked by a level of harm that nobody really questions. But don’t tell us it damages our heath, we already know. We need to learn how to live with it.`
An earlier version of this article appeared in the SWSF Newsletter in Spring 2010
Celebrate Screen-Free Week: April 30-May 6
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship is proud to officially endorse Screen-Free Week (April 30-May 6), the annual celebration where children, families, schools, and communities `turn off screens and turn on life.` Please visit www.screenfree.orgto join the fun and to download your free Screen-Free Week Organizer’s Kit. It’s packed with fact sheets, great suggestions for screen-free activities, pledge cards, and more!
We all know that children spend far too much time with screens: an astonishing average of 32 hours a week for preschoolers and even more for older children. Excessive screen time is harmful for children—it’s linked to poor school performance, childhood obesity, attention problems, and the erosion of creative play.
Screen-Free Week (formerly TV-Turnoff) is a wonderful way to help children lead healthier, happier lives by reducing dependence on entertainment screen media—including television, video games, computers, and hand-held devices. By encouraging children and families to unplug, Screen-Free Week provides time for them to play, connect with nature, read, daydream, create, explore, and spend more time with family and friends.
The SWSF shares many of the concerns highlighted in Stephen Moss’s research commissioned by the National Trust.
An active engagement with the natural world is an important aspect of Steiner Waldorf education.
In Steiner early years settings the young child is given every opportunity to play outside, to explore and make use of natural materials and to experience the outdoor as a familiar environment, full of wonder and possibility.
Throughout the primary school years teachers will look for opportunities to link classroom learning to the outside environment. The study of house building and farming at age nine may involve the making of clay bricks or the hands-on experience of farming techniques. Chemistry lessons at age 12 may involve the building of kilns to make charcoal or lime; physics lessons may involve green-wood turning or practical engineering solutions that take children out of the classroom and into the natural world.
At the same time a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world is fostered from pre-school all the way to adolescence. This is supported by the use of stories that draw on the world of plants and animals, the celebration of seasonal festivals and a curriculum that includes botany, geology and animal study .
At secondary level there is an approach to natural sciences that emphasises the need for observation and direct experience rather than simply an abstract knowledge of prevailing theories. A sense of the moral responsibility we have towards the natural world is cultivated.
Steiner schools engage their parents in critical debate on issues such as play and screen entertainment, encouraging them to give their children wide opportunities to get active out of doors.
National Trust research
Congratulations are in order for Ruth Sherlock, a graduate of the Hereford Waldorf School, (now the Steiner Academy Hereford). Ruth has won the Young Journalist of the Year Award for 2012.
The Daily Telegraph describes how Ruth ` beat off stiff competition to win young journalist of the year for her reporting from Egypt and Syria ….The judges praised her “astonishing collection of work” during the Arab Spring after she produced a series of “harrowing” accounts which showed her “skill in colour writing as well as courage”. `Ruth also features in the SWSF video `The Gift of Learning` that can be viewed here and on the SWSF facebook page.
Interest in school videos from around the globe confirms growing trend.
The excellent Waldorf Today web site and news service has made available six short videos from six different Steiner schools, four in the USA, and one each in Germany, Australia and Canada.
This comes at a time when media experts and `trend analysts` are pointing to the fact that young people are increasingly using social media such as facebook and You Tube as their search engines of choice, rather than the likes of Google and Yahoo. This means that a prospective parent searching the internet for information about Steiner education is more and more likely to meet a video clip than a `traditional` web site.
SWSF has experienced the same phenomenon in recent weeks with the huge interest in the DVD `The Gift of Learning`
Waldorf Today can be found at: http://www.waldorftoday.com/
View the following videos:
New Documentary: “The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner”
A new documentary about Rudolf Steiner by the award-winning documentary film-maker Jonathan Stedall will have its première at Rudolf Steiner House in London at the end of February.
The documentary, “The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner”, involved filming in five countries and three continents. The two-part documentary (each part runs for 90 minutes) gives an historical overview of Steiner’s life, as well as looking at examples of his legacy around the world.
“This documentary will confront both the challenge of understanding the essence of Steiner’s message, as well as the challenge of taking what lay behind that message into the future,” Cupola Productions, the company specially set up to make and distribute the film and raise funding for it, says on its website.
Filming took place in Austria, Switzerland, India, the USA and in Britain. As well as relating the story of Rudolf Steiner’s life, the film looks at some of the current work inspired by his insights – in particular the Waldorf School movement, biodynamic agriculture, eurythmy, Camphill communities and Ruskin Mill, Weleda and the worldwide network of anthroposophical medical work, including the Hiscia Institute in Arlesheim, Switzerland, and the Blackthorn Medical Centre in Maidstone, UK.
For more information:
Cupola Productions Ltd.: www.rudolfsteinerfilm.com,
Jonathan Stedall: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk
Over 130 guests attended a recent reception at the Steiner Academy in Much Dewchurch, including Madame Mayor of Hereford Julie Woodward, Jesse Norman MP and Baroness Estelle Morris of Yardley.
Other guests included representatives from the local community, the Training and Development Agency (TDA), the Department for Education, Canterbury Christ Church University and assorted educators, local politicians, governors, staff parents and friends. The guests toasted the completion of the building programme with some of Herefordshire’s finest apple juice and cider.
Following an afternoon tour of the school, which included drop-ins to woodwork, music, art and maths, 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.
The 3-year, £9.5 million building project, designed by John Renshaw Architects and built by Speller Metcalf is entering its final phase, with just the landscaping and garden and craft classrooms to finish. The Steiner Academy Hereford is the first publicly-funded Steiner school in the UK and has 330 pupils on roll from 3+ to 16 years of age.
The school, whose Class 10 (Year 11) students achieved a GCSE success rate for 5 GCSEs (maths and English included) of 72%, has over 60 children and young people on its waiting lists.
The Academy’s Principal, Trevor Mepham, declared that this event confirmed that the Steiner Academy is open for business as a member of the local family of schools, offering an authentic and effective difference in the educational landscape of Herefordshire.
Chair of the Board of Governors and Sponsor-Lead, Sylvie Sklan said, “It was good to be able celebrate the completion of this first publicly funded Steiner school with so many of the people who helped to make it happen. This project has been a long time in the making. But in the bigger scheme of things, what has been created now – on a site that has been a place of learning for many generations – will bring benefit to generations of local children for many years to come.“
Following the reception, under the banner of Arts Alive and Nightjar Music there was a concert by the acclaimed Senegalese kora player, Sadio Cissokho.