Amanda Spielman has called on Damian Hinds to close down all inadequate Steiner schools that fail to show rapid improvement, after Ofsted found widespread failings during a special inspection of a group of schools.
Ofsted has warned that a batch inspection of Stenier schools found a number of areas of common weakness which mean that many children are inadequately safeguarded and are receiving a poor quality of education.
The chief inspector has now written to the education secretary urging him to take action to close down failing schools and review the principles behind Steiner schools.
Ofsted carried out nine full inspections of nine Steiner Schools – six independent schools and three academies.
Six of the nine "overall effectiveness" judgements from full inspections were inadequate, and three were "requires improvement".
None of the schools was judged "good" or "outstanding" for overall effectiveness.
Tes reported last week that governors of a Steiner academy said they would mount a legal challenge against an Ofsted report which placed it in special measures.
The Steiner Academy Bristol was inspected at the end of November and was subsequently found in a report to be inadequate on all five fronts, from early years provision to effectiveness of leadership and management.
However governors said they were “concerned” that the approach of Ofsted to Steiner schools has impacted on the “fairness and independence” of the inspection process.
Ms Spielman’s letter to Mr Hinds, published today, says “a significant number" of schools were inadequate in all areas, and a number of the independent schools inspected failed to meet the department’s independent school standards.
She wrote: “Overall, the findings are deeply concerning. They demonstrate that there are a number of areas of common weakness in these schools, which mean that in many cases, the children attending them are inadequately safeguarded and are receiving a poor quality of education.
“At the root of many of the weaknesses are poor leadership, management and governance. Many of the schools inspected lack clear lines of responsibility and, too often, senior leaders do not hold staff to account, while governors fail to fulfil their role in holding school leaders to account.
"In the worst cases, senior leaders and governors have created a culture in which it is difficult for parents to raise their concerns, and some parents who have made complaints to Ofsted or to the school have felt ostracised and intimidated by school leaders."
Ms Spielman has called on Mr Hinds to carry out “a thorough examination of the underlying principles of Steiner education and consider the extent to which they may have contributed to the common failures we found in our inspections”.
She also urged his department to take enforcement action to close down all inadequate Steiner schools that fail to improve rapidly, and to commission Ofsted to be the inspectorate for independent Steiner schools formerly inspected by the SIS.
Ms Spielman said that with the exception of the Steiner Academy Hereford, there were shortcomings in the quality of teaching and outcomes for all pupils across all the education inspections Ofsted carried out.
She added: “Expectations are often not high enough and the curriculum is lacking in the ambition needed to ensure that all pupils make good progress.”
Mr Hinds said: “Where any independent school fails to meet the independent school standards, we will take robust action; and we will move academies that are deemed inadequate to new sponsors where necessary.
“We will continue our work with Ofsted to act quickly to ensure no pupil experiences a substandard education."
The Department for Education has already started work to re-broker the three Steiner academies placed in special measures to ensure swift improvement.
Tes reported last month that a Steiner free school which was judged to be “inadequate” by Ofsted is to be moved under the control of a “strong” multi-academy trust.
As reported in Tes, Steiner Academy Exeter was temporarily shut following an Ofsted inspection in October, which raised concerns about safeguarding, governance and provision for children with special educational needs.
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship executive said: “It is a matter of deep regret when individual schools fail in their duties. There is no compromise where the welfare of pupils is concerned. Our role is to provide guidance to schools in order for them to ensure all standards are in-line with the requirements set out by the Department for Education (DfE).
“While we celebrate the good outcome for Steiner Academy Hereford, we are disappointed that six schools have been judged as inadequate and have taken immediate action to ensure that standards rapidly improve as per Ms Spielman’s recommendations.
“SWSF proactively sought and agreed to meetings with both DfE officials and Ofsted prior to Ms Spielman’s findings and will continue to make the vital changes required.
“We have appointed a team of four quality care advisers to complete our own independent compliance checks so that all schools continue to uphold DfE regulations and requirements.”
Steiner Waldorf schools across the UK are run independently from The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF).
However the SWSF said it instils a shared responsibility across its network of 31 Steiner Waldorf schools and 14 independent early years' settings.