At this time of year many Steiner Waldorf schools hold their annual Advent or Winter Fairs. A much loved community event put together by parents, teachers and children – family, friends and members of the public are warmly welcomed. Beautiful gifts can be bought, often made by our talented parents and children themselves. There is delicious food and drink, live music, grottos to visit and games to play. A wonderful festive event to get everyone warmed up for Christmas. Check your nearby schools to find out the date. Most run this Saturday 27 November and next Saturday 3 December.
In a recent Ofsted inspection of Lancaster Steiner School inspectors said “Pupils enjoy attending this happy and nurturing school. They describe learning as fun. Pupils appreciate the many opportunities they have to learn outdoors. Those pupils new to the school make friends very quickly. They are warmly welcomed and soon feel part of the school family”. The report went on to say “Leaders are determined that every pupil will achieve well, including pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). Pupils learn how to be resilient, resourceful and imaginative learners.“
The school still has some work to do on strengthening curriculum planning to ensure more knowledge is learnt in some subjects but inspectors found that the English and science curricula were carefully planned so that pupils could “build on and deepen their knowledge as they move through the school”.
The school received well deserved congratulations from the Executive Director of Education and Children’s Services at Lancaster County Council, Edwina Grant OBE. In a letter to the school she said – “It is pleasing to see that pupils say they trust their teachers and know that they are able to share any worries or concerns they may have, and that pupils’ well-being is so well supported”. We agree. Particularly following lockdown, it is important that children feel safe and cared for at school.
The school has already started work to improve curriculum planning,/ in the areas identified by inspectors and is being supported in this work by SWSF.
Here is a link to the full report. https://files.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/50170067
SWSF welcomes the BERA manifesto for education for environmental sustainability. https://www.bera.ac.uk/news/manifesto-for-education-for-environmental-sustainability-efes-published-by-bera-research-commission. It reminds us of how ground break-ing is the Steiner Waldorf curriculum. From early years it embeds understanding, respect and care for the environment in a plethora of ways. Gardening starts in kindergarten and continues through much of the curriculum. Children grow their own food, cook, learn how to make things from scratch and to work together in collaboration. These activities can then be used in other lessons including English, maths and science. Community festivals mark the changing seasons and encourage reverence and thanks for Nature, creating a relationship between children and the natural world that they cherish and carry with them for life.
In Class 3 the children learn about farming and usually spend several days staying on a farm helping with planting, harvesting, feeding the animals, milking the cows and goats etc. The farms work on biodynamic principles so when the children come to learn about wider issues of sustainability they can draw on their first hand experience.
Only natural materials are used in the schools so there is no plastic even in kindergarten where many of the dolls and other toys are made by the teachers and some by the children themselves. Conkers, twigs, leaves are collected to be played with, counted or put on the nature table.
As world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26 we are reminded of our duty to give children and young people an understanding of the natural environment. Many are saying – the BERA commission and others – that it is the responsibility of schools to ‘teach’ them. We agree and say we must not just teach children in the classroom but also make the care of the natural world part of their first hand experience where ever possible. This is the way that children will grow into adulthood understanding the natural worlds’s importance to human existence when it is their turn to be the decision makers, policy makers and caretakers of the world environment.
Here is an inspiring film describing the work of the Community School for Creative Education in Oakland, California, USA. It serves a community rich in cultural diversity and from some of the poorest socio-economic groups in California. It is state funded through the charter school system, much like academies in the UK. It is a much loved and successful school. Take a look!
“Pupils love school, finding it calm, supportive and nurturing. You are never far from stunning artwork or the sound of music. Pupils develop strong personal qualities and value the rich range of learning, from botany to woodwork. They behave well.
This school values individuality. One pupil spoke of being ‘able to let my guard down and be me’.”
So opens the first paragraph of Ofsted’s recent report on Brighton Waldorf School!
On the teaching of reading inspectors found – “Teachers encourage a love of reading, including stories, poetry and non-fiction. The school introduces pupils to a diverse range. Older pupils read challenging texts fluently and recall their favourite books and genres.
The report acknowledges that Covid “hampered” the work being done by the school to raise standards and that parents and pupils praised the online provision created during lockdowns.
Congratulations to all the staff and pupils at Brighton for their hard work during very challenging times.
To read the report in full
To find out more about Brighton Waldorf School
Congratulations to the teachers and pupils at Iona School in Nottingham. Recently inspected by Ofsted inspectors found:
“Pupils enjoy coming to this friendly and happy school. One pupil said, ‘Everyone knows everyone, and I am friends with everyone!’ Incidents of poor behaviour and bullying are rare. Pupils get on well with each other. They are polite and respectful of visitors. They feel safe. Pupils are well supported by caring adults.”
“Staff have high expectations for every pupil. The curriculum is preparing pupils well for their next stage of education”.
“Parents are overwhelmingly positive about the school. One typical comment was, ‘This school is wonderful for the well-being of every child. The way subjects are taught gives a wholesome, full body way of learning.’”
Iona School provides Steiner Waldorf education for children aged 3 to 11 years.
To read the report in full click on the following link.
As the new academic year starts, Greenwich welcomes Allan Osbourne as its new Executive Headteacher.
Allan joins the school from mainstream education where he was an Executive Headteacher of Ongar Academy and Director of Education for Ongar (3 primaries and 1 secondary school). As a Headteacher he took two schools out of special measures to “good” or “outstanding”. He lives locally and says he is totally involved in the community the school serves and is so looking forward to working with the children and families at the school.
Allan has also written for educational publishers on the ability to cope with extreme stress-provoking events without experiencing any personal stress signs or symptoms and on how to build personal resilience to withstand such events without developing stress-related problems. He has just started his PHD in the field of educational leadership.
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship acknowledges the injustice and discrimination faced by people of colour in the UK and around the world over multiple generations. We recognise the immense damage this has done and the impact such discrimination continues to have on the members of those communities as regards being treated equally and pursue their hopes and dreams in life freely.
It is fundamental to the ethos of Steiner Waldorf education that we be engaged in a continual process of enquiry, self-education and self-reflection both as individuals and as organisations. At SWSF we have been going through such a process in discussing issues of racism. This statement is a result of this process.
SWSF acknowledges that racism permeates much of society and is committed to being an anti-racist organisation. This means we will take conscious steps to identify, address and oppose racism and racist activity.
Rudolf Steiner provided insights, indications and understanding of child development that form the basis of Steiner Waldorf Education as it has developed in the UK today. It is an education philosophy that puts at its heart respect for the unique nature of each human being. However there are some statements in Steiner’s work which we acknowledge are racist and we wholeheartedly repudiate them. They sit in contrast with the bulk of Steiner’s work which puts at its heart the equal value, dignity and potential of each human being and do not reflect the values of this organisation or the wider Steiner Waldorf Education movement in the UK.
Our responsibility to bring change.
We acknowledge that we have a responsibility to do all we can to address issues of racism particularly in our work with schools and the children and families they serve. Any effort to exclude or disparage specific groups of types of people, including through unconscious action, is contrary to the fundamental ethos of Steiner Waldorf Education.
We recognise that our own organisation and the Steiner Waldorf education movement in the UK lack diversity. We are working to change that situation and undertake to monitor and regularly review our progress in doing so. We are committed to becoming an inclusive organisation and will support schools to take on and develop ways of promoting equality and diversity in all aspects of running a school.
We will also support schools to incorporate anti-racist and inclusive approaches throughout the curriculum and in their work with families. We will encourage them to include pupils in this process, integrating knowledge, understanding and recognition of racism and how to build an inclusive society as part of their education.
We realise we will make mistakes but we will endeavour to listen, be open and learn. We will seek partnerships that will support this work and encourage people to come forward with feedback and suggestions. We recognise that this will be a continuing process and that fundamental change takes time.
This is a statement which reflects our values, intentions and actions. It is a living document and we encourage debate and discussion regarding the issues within it and invite feedback and welcome comment from any person.
Actions taken by SWSF to promote a more diverse and inclusive school movement in the UK include:
Three-day teachers conference held in April 21 on the theme of Diversity and Inclusion brought together 500 delegates from the UK and around the world to discuss solutions for creating a more inclusive movement. Sessions included “Experience Decolonising the Waldorf High School Curriculum” and “Developing a Culture of Anti-bias in Steiner Waldorf Early Childhood Programme”Presentations and workshops from the teachers conference are available to schools to use as a resource for training and consciousness raising. All schools asked to create Racial Equality and Diversity Leads to champion and support anti-discrimination work in each schools, including in the curriculum.An SWSF Network Group for Racial Equality and Diversity Leads supports the work in schools with regular meetings, training and initiatives.Development of a new MACRO curriculum which provides the basis upon which schools can decolonise their MESO and MICRO curricular. A resource hub is currently under construction that will provide specific ideas and guidance.Training delivered by Equaliteach (ongoing).Development of a resource hub for teachers covering race and other diversity issues.
Steiner Waldorf Education Worldwide
The Steiner Waldorf Education movement has grown exponentially across the world and exists in over 90 countries including India, Kenya, China, Taiwan and the Middle East. Schools thrive in an array of diverse cultures and spiritual beliefs and bring people together. Waldorf Schools were some of the first schools in South Africa to educate white and black children in the same class. In the Middle East the Ein Bastan school on the West Bank brings together Arab and Jewish colleagues to work side by side educating Arab and Jewish children together. In Northern Ireland the Holywood Steiner School was the first school to teach both Catholic and Protestant children together.
At our second on line annual teachers conference we focused on the theme of diversity, equality and inclusion. There were an array of speakers and presenters from the UK and around the world, each thought provoking and poignant taking our learning and personal development a step further.
We were able to welcome over 600 delegates mostly from UK and Ireland but also from other parts of Europe, South Africa, Kenya, Philippines, USA and Bhutan. It was a wonderful opportunity to bring together representatives of the world-wide movement to discuss these important issues that impact us all.
At the start of the conference, was an acknowledgment, that as a school movement we have not sufficiently engaged with the issues of racism and equality in our schools. We recognised that despite our good intentions to be inclusive, in practice we often were not. It was time to change and this conference was the start.
Speakers were open about the problems we need to face including having an overly Eurocentric curriculum, lack of representation of BAME teachers and pupils in our schools, issues around understanding and meeting the needs of learning and behaviour differences and being inclusive of those from the LGBTQ+ communities. It was heartening to see how many around the movement were already working hard to tackle these issues. It was a pivotal moment with almost universal enthusiasm for the need to speak out and acknowledge where there were failings, recognise our intrinsic strengths and to work together for change.
The first big issue was the acceptance that for too many years the Steiner Waldorf movement has been undermined by assertions that it is based on a racist dogma because of a number of statements made by Rudolf Steiner in lectures which clearly read as espousing racist concepts. Although these statements are at odds with the fundamental ethos of Rudolf Steiner’s vision for the world which was to create an inclusive, kinder and whole community where each person is recognised as a unique human being, we have to acknowledge their existence and reject them.
Previously, the response to assertions that these statements were racist has largely been to seek to explain or contextualise the underlying meaning as being different from how they appear. Sadly, this has served to make the movement appear to be an apologist for racism. The mood of the conference was instead to acknowledge any racist statements for what they plainly appear to be and to wholeheartedly apologise for the offence and exclusion they have caused. Then for our energies to be focused on taking steps to examine and self-reflect (as the rest of society must do) on our biases and the reality of practices in schools which may discriminate, exclude and marginalise despite our best intentions; and to work to become anti-racist schools because this is in the nature of who we are.
Evidence that the nature of SW education is to be multi-cultural and inclusive can be found in the fact that our schools are growing at an incredible rate around the world, thriving in an array of diverse countries such as India, Kenya, China, Taiwan and the Middle East where schools bring Jewish and Arab children together. In over 90 countries these schools are a testament to how the SW ethos is about serving and bringing communities together regardless of race or culture.
Inclusion is not just about race.
The conference has also highlighted that the same work needs to be done in relation to providing a truly inclusive environment for the LBGTQ+ members of our community and in understanding children, parents and teachers who may experience and perceive the world and learn in different ways. For these issues to be approached not as “disorders” to be “treated” but as differences to be understood, respected and accommodated within the education we provide.
Of course there is a long way to go in bringing about change. We are just at the beginning but our intention is clear.
For our part, SWSF is committed to supporting schools create the structural change needed to create the momentum that turns intention into action.
We have asked schools to create Racial Equality and Diversity Leads to champion this work in each school and we are supporting them with the SWSF Diversity and Inclusion Network set up last year.
A new curriculum framework will provide a basis for schools to develop a de-colonised curriculum. SWSF is providing practical support for schools in devising new meso and micro curricula that reflect not just the community in their schools but also the wider range of cultures that they will encounter in society and life.
There will also be more opportunities for Continual Professional Development around autism and other social and learning differences.
The Big Conversation
In addition to those actions we want to instigate a Big Conversation around all these issues. To understand how another might experience the world differently, we need to inform ourselves, share experiences and talk about the issues with each other. To assist in this SWSF will be sharing recordings of presentations and workshops so that schools can carry through the discussions from the conference into their own communities. Change is hard. It can be destabilising and frightening, even if it is the right thing to do, and it is important that we create safe spaces for people to express their true thoughts, feelings and fears without worry of condemnation.
As we take these steps and really listen to our colleagues, children and parents (including those who come only to open days) we will start to become genuinely more inclusive, more diverse and move further towards our goal as Steiner schools to truly serve all those in our global community.
Executive Director SWSF.
Congratulations to North London Rudolf Steiner School who have received a “good” Ofsted inspection. Inspectors said – “Children arrive happily each morning and settle quickly. They enjoy daily routines, such as ‘ring time’, when they join together to sing, tell stories and share their ideas. Staff make sure that children are safe and very well cared for.”
Inspectors also praised the school’s approach to literacy and the use of story telling. “During the inspection, children listened so attentively to a story told by the headteacher, you could hear a pin drop. But their learning did not stop at the end of the story. In their own imaginative play, children used key words and phrases from the story accurately. They created their own books based on what they had heard. Children retell their own stories to their friends with enthusiasm” The full report can be found on the Ofsted website on the following link.
Our schools do not allow the use of mobile phones during the school day and we discourage access to phones until children are much older than is the norm.
It is important children learn how to make friends in the real world before making friends on social media. We want them to be conscious users of the technology, not unconscious consumers of it. They need to be mature enough to understand the benefits and the risks. In this way they will both be safe and able to make the best of what the technology has to offer.
There is considerable concern that young people are losing the skills to socialise on a face to face basis. This is impacting on their ability to develop much needed soft skills in the workplace and make friendships that will sustain them in life. Children in Steiner schools are well known for their social skills and personable approach. We believe much of that comes from the fact they learn by doing real things and interact in real not virtual ways for the important early and primary school years of their lives.
A recent blog by the race equality think tank, Runnymede Trust, about how to decolonise the curriculum in traditional state/independent schools, focused on the fact that teachers were “important agents for change” https://www.runnymedetrust.org/blog/decolonising-the-curriculum-the-importance-of-teacher-training-and-development.
Teachers are even more important in Steiner Waldorf schools where they are empowered to shape the delivery of the curriculum to meet the individual needs of the children in a particular class.
Our annual Teachers Conference this Easter focused on issues of diversity and inclusion in relation to race, sexual orientation and neuro-diversity. Presentations by a range of UK and international contributors examined the biases and assumptions that underpin current thinking. The conference helped raise awareness, understanding and knowledge about issues or racism and discrimination and stimulated debate about how to create a non-euro-centric curriculum. There were workshops from teachers already working to de-colonise the curriculum in their classrooms and huge enthusiasm for a collective re-working that would re-fresh the SW approach and meet the needs of children for generations to come.
SWSF’s Kath Bransby is currently working with Waldorf academic, Dr Martin Rawson developing a new approach to defining and understanding the Steiner Waldorf curriculum which will enable teachers to deconstruct the euro-centric curriculum and create a much more inclusive and individualised approach. It is to be launched in the Autumn. More news to come.
See the first stage A Framework for Curriculum Practice https://www.steinerwaldorf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/1.Waldorf-Education-for-the-Future-A-Framework-for-Curriculum-Practice.pdf.
It has been disturbing to read the testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website www.everyonesinvited.uk and in the recent Ofsted report about peer on peer abuse in and around schools throughout the UK. Steiner Waldorf Schools have not so far been included in the list of schools published by Everyone’s Invited but we do not assume that the children in our schools have been exempt from such experiences. It is something that touches the whole of society. We are discussing with our colleagues in schools what steps can be taken to create an open dialogue about issues around sexual harassment, rape culture and bullying and to create better awareness and safe spaces for children to report issues of abuse in their lives and to be believed. Developing the ability to treat others with respect and empathy is a central aim of Waldorf Education and is something we strive for in our school communities. The testimonies found in Everyone’s Invited have held up a mirror to society to which we all have a responsibility to respond and work together to find solutions to end these experiences for all
The WESTT teacher training course is holding an introductory webinar on Tuesday 8 June at 7.30pm – 8.30pm.
Based now at Ringwood Waldorf School you can register for the webinar on their website.
The webinar will be hosted by Alan Swindell and Sven Saar two of the course leaders, and will include an introduction to Steiner-Waldorf Education, an overview of the WESTT course and the opportunity to ask questions.
Register on the website.
This new film explores the issues and dilemmas around children’s use of technology. How do we teach our children to use technology in a way that serves but does not dominate their lives? Will access to an early childhood free from technology become a privilege available only to the few? And whose responsibility is it to find the right path?
A film from the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in the heart of Silicon Valley USA. Entrepreneurs, Stanford researchers, investment bankers, and parents who run some of the largest hi-tech companies in the world, talk about what children need to navigate the challenges of the 21st Century in order to find success, purpose, and joy in their lives.
Unfortunately the Board of Trustees at Wynstones in Gloucestershire have had to postpone initial plans to re-open the school this September because the pupil numbers needed have not been secured. The school has nonetheless retained its registration with the Department for Education and the Board is conducting a review. Alternative plans are expected to be announced in the next few weeks. SWSF have been supporting Wynstones on a number of levels and will continue to do so as the Principal and Board navigate their way around what we hope, will be only a pause in the re-opening of a school on the site.
Two Waldorf schools in the West Bank are doing important work educating Jewish, Muslim and Christian children together. The work of Ein Bustan, (teaching Jewish and Muslim children) and Tamrat El Zeitoum, (teaching Muslim and Christian children together) seeks to foster in the children resilience, acceptance and understanding of each other at an early age. Children who have grown together are more likely to work towards peaceful solutions when adults. Trauma informed, the education also helps the children cope with the stress of living in a world surrounded by conflict. There are other Waldorf schools in Israel and the West Bank doing similar work but take a look here at these two inspiring schools https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzDlFUqtJEo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY4DdW3-bkk
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Steiner Waldorf schools, where play is seen as central to learning and wellbeing have seen interest in their schools rise through the pandemic.