State schools ‘could learn from Steiner principles’ Polly Curtis, education correspondentThursday June 30, 2005
Ministers should consider adopting Steiner school principles of putting pupils’ spiritual and social awareness ahead of test results, a government-backed study recommended today.
The Steiner schools movement was started by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian educationalist, who a century ago developed a curriculum that advocates developing pupils’ spirituality and sense of social justice to help them learn.
There are 23 independent Steiner schools in the UK, charging between £1,000 and £4,000 a term. Most other European countries have Steiner state schools. Last month, the government announced it was conducting a feasibility study to see whether it could set up a state-funded Steiner school, and today’s report, based on research at 21 of the schools, will fuel speculation that the government is considering introducing more of them.
Today it emerged that the government is to fund the introduction of Montessori teaching at a Manchester primary school. Although often compared with Steiner schools, Montessori schools differ in that they do not follow a strict curriculum, instead they give pupils total control over their education, deciding the pace at which they learn and advocating learning through play.
Philip Woods, of the University of West of England, who led today’s research, said Steiner schools were successful in teaching foreign languages at an early age, getting pupils enthusiastic about learning and involving them in choosing what they wanted to learn about.
“We also found that the emphasis given to the non-hierarchical, collegial form of running schools, offers a contrast to current practice in the maintained sector and may prove relevant for mainstream schools,” he said.
Pupils at Steiner schools take GCSEs and A-levels, but they do not sit other national tests, such as Sats, which have been widely criticised by teachers for restricting the curriculum in mainstream schools.
But the report also highlighted the problems children have in adjusting when they move between Steiner and non-Steiner schools and points out that while state schools could learn a lot from Steiner schools, the independent schools could also learn from government-run schools.
Prof Woods said: “We see a great potential benefit from mutual dialogue and professional interaction between Steiner and mainstream educators. As well as the good practices we have identified from Steiner schools there are also areas in which Steiner schools could benefit from maintained sector practices such as management skills, organisational and administrative efficiency, classroom management, working with older secondary school children and record-keeping and assessment.”
For Steiner schools to be state-funded the government would have to bend the rules to allow them to opt out of the national curriculum. But with the government increasingly encouraging schools to take more control over how they are run and what they teach, and with moves towards giving parents more choice of different kinds of schools, the report suggests ministers might support such a move.
The independent report was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, which today said it was considering its findings. A DfES spokesman said: “The government is committed to widening diversity in education provision in the interests of raising standards and offering parents a choice of schools for their child.”
The DfES has been working with the Steiner fellowship of schools since 2001 to discuss how the schools could be introduced into the state system.