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Steiner nursery failed by inspectors

A kindergarten which follows the principles of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner has pulled out of the Government's nursery voucher scheme after being failed by school inspectors.

It is one of two nurseries identified in reports by the Office for Standards in Education as failing to provide a satisfactory education.

The decision by the New School Kindergarten, in Wroxham, Norfolk, could lead to other non-conformist nurseries pulling out of the voucher scheme, due to be introduced nationwide in April. The school is one of 27 kindergartens in England attached to Steiner schools, which believe formal education should be delayed until the age of seven.

The other nursery said to be failing is Cascade Nursery in Gorleston, also in Norfolk, one of four local authority areas taking part in the voucher pilot scheme.

The two nurseries, which will be banned from admitting four-year-old children with Pounds 1,100 vouchers unless they draw up an action plan in 40 days, are the first out of 332 so far inspected to be failed.

The inspection report on the kindergarten at the New School, a small independent school for children from four to 14 years old, identified "many weaknesses" in language and literacy, mathematics and knowledge and understanding of the world, and "some weaknesses" in the remaining curriculum criteria. It concluded: "Most children are not likely to achieve appropriately in all six areas of learning by the time they are five years old . . . Resources generally are not adequate."

The school's senior teacher, Peter Reeve, believes it failed its inspection because Steiner teaching clashes with OFSTED's philosophy of education. The Steiner approach concentrates on the development of feelings and a sense of values as much as the intellect, and defers formal teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic until about seven.

The kindergarten, where all the staff are qualified teachers, has now withdrawn from the voucher scheme. In a letter to the Department for Education and Employment, Jackie Cox-Taylor, the kindergarten teacher, said: "The scheme seems very narrow, the educational areas of development are all too intellectual. Real development of the child - socially, physically, emotionally - is paid very scant attention."

The Cascade, the second nursery to fail its OFSTED inspection, is run by staff with NNEB and BTEC nursery nurse qualifications.

The inspection report identified "many weaknesses" in five areas of the curriculum, and "some weaknesses" in the sixth area, physical development.

The inspectors said: "Teaching is generally unsatisfactory and lacks content and planning. There is also a lack of stimulating adult interaction.

Cascade belongs to the Pre-School Learning Alliance, which is helping the nursery to draw up an action plan so it can continue to be validated for voucher money.

Co-owner and manager, Gail Eccles, said: "We had considered withdrawing from the voucher scheme but the children that we have got are voucher children and there are very few places for them."

News of the two failures emerged on Tuesday after the Labour party claimed that a significant number of "substandard" nurseries had passed their OFSTED inspections.

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