1st August 2008 at 01:00
Will the Steiner formula work for tough, inner-city kids?.

YES says Gary Lachman author of `Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work' (Floris Books, 2007)

When the first Steiner school opened in Stuttgart in 1919, it was hoped that space would be devoted to less privileged children.

One thing early 21st-century England and early 20th-century Germany have in common is the high cost of private education. Then, as now, the majority to benefit from the Steiner approach came from well-off backgrounds.

With the opening of a state-funded Steiner academy in Hereford, the possibility of an inner-city school again hangs in the air. It could provide the kind of life experience most urban pupils rarely have. Children from all backgrounds can benefit from Steiner, but the underprivileged doubly so. In some cases their lives could be transformed.

The Steiner emphasis on nurturing children's imagination and creativity through gardening, farming, woodcraft, music, art and movement can bring urban pupils into contact with a nature they rarely encounter. The broad curriculum could introduce them to a world they might otherwise never know.

Computers, calculators and other electronic aids are mostly absent, a welcome respite from today's worryingly ubiquitous television screens. Instead, the human relationship between teacher and pupil is the kernel of the Steiner method, something easily lost in overcrowded urban classrooms.

Inner-city Steiner schools have been successful in Australia, California and other places where the need for a more well-rounded approach has been recognised. There's every reason to think the same would be true here.

NO says Trevor Averre Beeson executive head of Salisbury School in north London, which is managed by Edison, a results-focused US company

The Steiner approach is what psychologists call "right brain".

When I became head of Islington Green in 2002, it was still struggling. There was no shortage of inspirational teachers and creative curricula projects - a school proud of its Pink Floyd hippy connection. But it lacked direction, structure and organisation. In other words, it had right-brain creativity, but needed the left brain to counter the chaos that had dogged it.

In my 14 years working as a headteacher in three London schools, I have found a sizeable proportion of pupils lack a stable, structured home life. They don't bring with them a clear sense of morality and they haven't learnt the social skills required to succeed, so school has to provide an explicit set of core values and a behavioural code.

Creativity has its place, but it can't flourish in the absence of a clear discipline structure that helps young people manage their lives.

A lot of the schools I've served in have been in disadvantaged areas where parents value qualifications because they often don't have any themselves. These schools have to give young people the qualifications that will give them the life chances to succeed.

It is this clear, fair, assertive approach that helps transform failing schools.

If the Steiner movement opens an inner-city academy, I would urge them to have a code of conduct as strong as their commitment to creativity. Otherwise their young people may suffer further confusion in an already challenging world.

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