'Homeopathy? Sorry, we're just not swallowing it'

14th September 2012 at 01:00
`Anti-scientific' Steiner schools use book that dismisses Darwin

State-funded Steiner schools have come under fire for promoting homeopathy and basing teaching on a book that criticises Darwinism.

The Steiner Academy Hereford, state-funded since 2008, has asked parents for permission to use homeopathic remedies for various ailments, including burns, and employs a doctor trained in complementary medicine. It also uses a controversial course book in science that claims Darwinism is "rooted in reductionist thinking and Victorian ethics". The school says its aim is not to "promote scientific orthodoxy".

Opposition has grown as the second state-funded Steiner school opened this week in Frome, Somerset, with a third due to open next year in Exeter, Devon.

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, has lobbied education secretary Michael Gove to reconsider funding the Exeter school. "These schools are promoting anti-scientific nonsense and how the hell Gove agreed to fund them I don't know," he told TES.

Complementary medicine expert Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of the University of Exeter, added: "Steiner schools seem to have an anti-science agenda which is detrimental to progress. the government makes a grave mistake allowing pseudoscience and anti-science in our education."

Questions have been raised about a book used as the foundation for science lessons, The Educational Tasks and Content of the Steiner Waldorf Curriculum, which says the model of the heart as a pump is unable to explain "the sensitivity of the heart to emotions" and promotes homeopathy, which relies on a belief that illness can be fought with a diluted amount of the cause of the illness.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has raised concerns about Steiner schools employing "anthroposophical doctors", experts in the complementary medicine developed by the schools' founding father, Rudolf Steiner. The Steiner Academy Hereford confirmed that it employs a qualified doctor who is trained in anthroposophical treatment.

Richy Thompson, the BHA's education officer, said it was "gravely concerning" that Steiner schools promoted homeopathy and based teaching on a book inconsistent with mainstream science. "How can pupils receive a vigorous science education under these circumstances?" he said. "It is gravely concerning that these schools provide alternative medicines such as homeopathy, thus legitimising belief in cures which do not work."

Alan Swindell, a spokesman for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship in the UK, said it was not the place of any school to "promote" an approach to medicine, either conventional or complementary. The science course book was not used by pupils, but was "one of many resources" teachers would refer to, he added.

Clarence Harvey, acting principal of the Steiner Academy Hereford, said: "It is not our aim to promote scientific orthodoxy, but rather to enable pupils to think and engage in independent verification of reality."

Jenny Salmon, administrator of the independent Exeter Steiner School and a trust director of the town's proposed Steiner academy, said: "Steiner schools attract people who have an alternative lifestyle. Fifty or 60 per cent of our parents consult complementary therapy. We do not expect this to be the case at the new Steiner academy."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "No state school is allowed to teach homeopathy as scientific fact. We have rigorous criteria for approving free schools. Applicants must demonstrate that they will provide a broad and balanced curriculum."

Steiner style

  • The principles of Steiner education are based upon "anthroposophy", the philosophy developed by its founder Rudolf Steiner. This is centred on using the mind and senses to explore a spirit world.
  • There are 34 Steiner schools in the UK, but only two are so far state funded.
  • They emphasise teaching through music and physical expression and creating an "unhurried environment" for children to learn in.
    • Photo: The Steiner Academy Hereford asked parents to sign consent forms for the use of homeopathic remedies. Credit: Sam Frost

      Original headline: `Homeopathy? I'm sorry, we're just not swallowing it'

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