Kindergarten to close in battle over foundation stage

15th May 2009 at 01:00
Steiner institution shuts its pre-school section rather than accept formal learning rules and computers

An independent Steiner-based school plans to close its kindergarten rather than comply with the pre-school national curriculum.

Graeme Whiting, headteacher and owner of The Acorn School in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, where there was no formal attempt to teach reading and writing until seven, had hoped his school would be granted an exemption from the reading, writing and assessment sections of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) because formal learning for young pupils goes against the school's philosophy.

However, the early years curriculum - which includes 69 learning goals, from being able to dress and undress to being able to write simple sentences with correct punctuation - is compulsory in all settings catering for under-fives.

Mr Whiting applied to be exempted from the early years curriculum in February. The application is ongoing, but he has decided to take pre- emptive action.

"I'm not prepared to struggle on month after month hoping a petty bureaucrat will say this school can continue as it is," he told The TES.

"I'm not going to kowtow and have children on computers. I'm passionate about education and I believe if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"Parents send their children here because they don't want them to have tests and assessments. They don't want children learning to read and write before the age of seven."

The Acorn School has 11 children in its pre-school wing, about half of whom are due to transfer to the main school in September. The others will have to be provided for elsewhere or stay at home until they are of school age.

Ofsted conducted a light touch inspection of the school in January, when inspectors rated it good with outstanding provision for extra-curricular activities.

The report said: "The Acorn School is outstandingly successful in fulfilling its stated aims because the passionate inspiration of the headteacher engenders an ethos in which all pupils feel valued and nurtured. In this family climate, pupils' personal development and their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development are outstanding."

In the kindergarten, which was also rated good, inspectors noted an emphasis on developing children's social, emotional and creative skills.

Rosie Stephens, the school secretary and a kindergarten parent, said: "We're not closing the kindergarten solely because we've not got exemption from the EYFS. It is wider than that. The whole movement is threatened. Parents are just leaving education until children are past EYFS age.

"My six-year-old will not be affected, but we're going to keep my two- year-old girl at home. It is very difficult but I certainly don't want my child to be profiled. I want her to be left alone, not to be a statistic."

In response to a freedom of information request, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has revealed that three early years settings have applied for exemption. None has yet been granted.

One of the three is believed to be Wynstones School near Gloucester. Ken Power, a teacher at the Steiner school, said parents had been the driving force behind the resistance to the early years curriculum.

"Parents didn't want it," he said. "We have an excellent kindergarten, so why change what's good?

"We've been battling with this for a couple of years. We're not fighting this because of our own philosophy, but because parents made serious choices about coming to this school and do not want that jeopardised by an EYFS system that basically tests children."

The school has not made any changes to its curriculum while it awaits the decision.

Creative philosophy

  1. Steiner schools are co-educational. They take pupils from 3 to 18.
  2. Their ethos is an unhurried and creative learning environment with no formal learning of reading, writing and maths until pupils near the age of 7.
  3. Formative assessment (constructive rather than simply testing) is an important part of the approach.
  4. Computers are not introduced until pupils are about 13 or 14.
  5. Lessons include a balance of artistic, practical and intellectual content.
  6. There is no formal hierarchy among the staff. Responsibility lies with a college of teachers, an formal group which all are entitled to join.
  7. There are 24 Steiner schools in England. In addition, there are 11 early childhood centres. Worldwide, there are 958 schools.

    1. Additional content:

      Take a look at our Early years forum

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