State funds for Steiner

8th April 2005 at 01:00
New academy will have no head, and no formal teaching of reading till the age of seven, reports Michael Shaw

An academy that follows the child-centred philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner is expected to get the go-ahead from ministers.

Supporters of the Steiner Waldorf system have campaigned for decades to win state-funding in the UK for their schools, which have no headteachers and avoid teaching reading until pupils are seven.

The Department for Education and Skills has now revealed that proposals to turn a Steiner school in Herefordshire into an academy for three to 16-year-olds have passed the first stage and are being examined for feasibility.

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, which represents the UK's 30 existing independent Steiner schools, hopes to begin construction of the academy next year and open it in 2007.

They have been encouraged by Stephen Twigg, the schools standards minister, who described the proposed 330-pupil school as "exciting and innovative" and "a huge asset for the local community". The academy would replace the independent Hereford Waldorf school in Much Dewchurch, near Hereford, and would be built on an adjacent site.

Many of the 800 Steiner schools worldwide are already state-funded, including those in Denmark and Sweden. Their curriculum is based on the one developed by Rudolph Steiner in 1919 for a school for children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria tobacco factory in Stuttgart, Germany.

Although pupils at British Steiner schools do not usually sit exams until GCSE, those at the academy will have to take the national key stage tests at 11 and 14. Like all academies, the Steiner academy will be forced to teach the core national curriculum subjects of English, science and maths.

But it will not face the same restrictions as other state schools over how it teaches the subjects or other topics.

Despite the testing and curriculum changes, the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship said it was optimistic it could create a state school that remained faithful to the Steiner ethos.

The organisation intends to employ a principal who would handle the financial management of the academy but who would leave the organisation of teaching to the teachers. A spokesperson for the fellowship said: "The curriculum will be distinctive. It would be difficult to compare how the younger children perform with those in other schools, but as they get older the core skills they gain will be more and more similar to those of the national curriculum. It's brilliant for us because we are used to operating on a shoe-string."

The school's buildings will be made from natural materials and are only expected to cost around pound;7 million, as it will be about a third the size of most academies.

The Steiner fellowship has raised nearly a million for the project from two sponsors - a parent and a German software firm. The rest will come from the Government. Many details including how teachers will be paid have yet to be agreed. Steiner schools operate their own pay scales, sometimes based on teachers' circumstances, and senior staff can receive less than pound;18,000 a year.

And in keeping with the Steiner schools' mistrust of technology, pupils might not begin computing lessons until they were 13 or 14.

William Braid, chair of governors at Hereford Waldorf school, said: "We hope the academy will encourage the outside world to take more notice of the underlying Steiner principles."



* Children do not learn to read or write formally until they are around seven

* Lessons are often taught through performing arts such as "eurhythmy", an activity in which pupils move in formation to music

* The use of televisions and computers with younger pupils is strongly discouraged

* Teachers manage the school collegially without a headteacher

* Teaching materials, toys and furniture are usually made from natural materials such as wood

* All children learn to play the recorder and to knit

* Pupils usually retain the same classmates throughout school and have the same class teacher from the age of six to 14

* The first two hours of each day are normally devoted to broad themes such as "trees" or "North America" which pupils explore for around three weeks

* Festivals and seasons are given special attention so pupils appreciate the rhythms of nature

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