Jess Staufenberg | Tue 23 Jun 2020 07.30 BST
Fran Russell, former jails inspector, says the government is wrong to dismiss the Steiner movement to run state schools
A former HM prisons inspector might seem an unusual choice to head up Steiner schools, the liberal-minded movement whose aim is to provide “unhurried and creative” education. Fran Russell says in some ways she is surprised to find herself in the job. “I never imagined this is where I’d be,” she laughs. “But I feel compelled. I feel Steiner education has something important to contribute.”
Steiner schools have attracted controversy worldwide for many years, in particular around the “anthroposophy” of the movement’s founding father, Rudolf Steiner, the social reformer and clairvoyant, who died in 1925. Steiner himself had racist views – he espoused a hierarchy of races from “black to Aryan” – and at some UK schools there have been complaints about racism. He also believed that naturally overcoming illness could improve one’s “karma”, a theory linked to anti-vaccination ideas among some followers.
Russell’s appointment seems to be part of a campaign by the movement to put all this behind it and re-enter UK mainstream education, following a run of public failures. Russell, who is also a trained lawyer, has been executive director of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, which heads Steiner schools in the UK and Ireland, since September. She knows there must be change, but says she is committed to the organisation’s relaxed approach to child development.
“I think the Steiner kindergarten is the kind of start every child should have,” she says. “If the children I met in prison, who had mostly had very difficult childhood experiences, had been to kindergarten like this, a lot of the damage in their lives might have been lessened.”
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