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Private faith schools join list of those considering academy switch

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 2 July, 2010 | By: Irena Barker

Muslims, Buddhists - and Sathya Sai followers - look to Government cash in place of fees

A school that follows the teaching of the Indian guru Sathya Sai has appeared on a Government list of independents considering applying for academy status, in a bid to replace fees with Whitehall funding.

In total, 17 private schools, including Buddhist and Steiner institutions, have so far shown an interest in becoming state-funded under the Coalition's drive to expand the academies programme.

Many of the others on the list are Muslim schools and those catering for other minority faiths, but Montessori and Steiner schools also appear among the 1,700 state and fee-charging institutions that may choose to become academies.

Heads who spoke to The TES said they were interested in state funding so that they could admit children regardless of their ability to pay.

But many said they were making only very tentative enquiries and expressed fears that academy status could compromise their basic principles.

Organisations representing independent schools say they do not expect many members to switch to academy status, except as a way to remedy financial woes, because accepting taxpayers' money could affect their independence.

So far, six private schools have become academies, with one more in the pipeline.

Belvedere Academy in Liverpool, one of the first schools to transfer to the state sector in 2007, was this week celebrating the "outstanding" rating it has been given in its first Ofsted report.

The 83-pupil Sathya Sai School in Leicester, which bases its education on the Sathya Sai education in human values programme, is also considering academy status.

Headteacher Usha Lim said she felt it was "unfair" for parents to have to pay taxes and schools fees. "Our parents are working class or middle class - they are not rich people," she said.

Martin Whitlock, who is "exploring the possibilities" for state funding at the Rudolf Steiner School in Totnes, Devon, said: "We seek to make education available to families regardless of their ability to pay, and state funding would help us fulfil that mission.

"But this can only work if we can achieve that without it interfering with our methods and principles."

Steiner schools, one of which has already become an academy in Hereford, shun the national curriculum and testing.

Other schools on the list of those showing an interest include the Islamic Al Muntada Secondary Girls's School in west London, which is currently running an appeal to raise £1.4 million.

Peter Barber, owner of Hill Head Preparatory School in Fareham, Hampshire, said he had shown an interest in academy status to "trigger a debate" over excessive local authority interference in his foundation stage pupils, who are partially state-funded.

Meanwhile, a conference hosted this week by the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools heard that the huge expansion of the academies programme and the introduction of "free schools" run by teachers and parents could result in a boom in partnerships between the state and private sector.


- Private schools that have already become state-funded academies

Birkenhead High School Academy, The Wirral

Bristol Cathedral Choir School, Bristol

Colston's Girls' School, Bristol

The Belvedere Academy, Liverpool

The Hereford Steiner Academy, Herefordshire

William Hulme's Grammar School, Manchester.

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Comment (2)

  • Steiner schools are religious schools - as correctly listed by the British Humanist Association a few days ago:

    Whilst they are not honest with parents or potential funders about the nature of anthroposophy, the religion (not philosophy) that underpins without exception every Steiner Waldorf school, representatives of Steiner education in the UK must understand that further state funding would lead inevitably to greater exposure.

    A more candid presentation of Steiner education (Waldorf in the US) is provided by anthroposophist and teacher Eugene Schwartz. His lecture 'The Karma of Education' was given at Rudolf Steiner House, London, April 16 & 17, 2010 and is available as a podcast:

    'Eugene explores the multifarious descriptions of life after death given by Rudolf Steiner. He traces the progress of the human soul and spirit through the “planetary spheres” as the consequences of one life become the foundation for the next, and he pays special attention to the pedagogical ramifications of this modern understanding of Karma.'

    It would help parents and policy makers if Steiner schools were more consistantly classified as faith schools.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    2 July, 2010


  • With Steiner schools seeking public funding, there is a growth in websites that describe Steiner schools as faith-based. To anyone who bothers to study Steiner carefully, however, it is very clear that his ground was science, not faith. We have become used to thinking that the scientific method is synonymous with knowledge of the sensible world, but it is not. The supersensible world, that realm of our experience not accessible to our physical senses, is also understandable scientifically; only while the method remains constant the modality is different. Nowadays we are all too easily given to assuming that science and matters spiritual cannot cohabit, but this is intellectual laziness. Steiner's appeal was always to his listeners to experience for themselves the things of which he spoke, not to take anything on trust or as hearsay. That his proponents and opponents alike often pay little heed to this appeal is a sin that ought not be visited back onto Steiner. His entire enterprise was to make the step from belief through faith to science. The challenge is to upgrade our understanding of science, not downgrade the status of Steiner's methodology. It may be that adherents to Steiner's views take them on faith, but it is wrong to method, to history and to intellectual honesty to claim his work and its results are based on faith, let alone religion. Importantly, this suggestion did not win the day in the US courts, which reasoned Steiner's work was philosophical rather than religious. Perhaps it is time for a UK ruling on this point. -
    Dr Christopher Houghton Budd

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13 July, 2010


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