Steiner plots free schools with spiritual ethos

19th August 2011 at 01:00
Group which puts holistic learning ahead of curriculum backs three applications

The group behind Steiner schools, which shun the national curriculum in favour of children's emotional and spiritual needs, wants to become a multi-school sponsor on a similar scale to Ark Schools.

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) is backing three proposals for free schools - currently being considered by the Department for Education - which it hopes will be the first step towards a network across the country.

The fellowship is keen to emulate Ark Schools, which plans to sponsor 14 academies and free schools by 2013, particularly in deprived inner-city areas.

SWSF spokesperson Sylvie Sklan said the organisation was trying to respond to parents and other free-school groups who want a Steiner school in their area.

"We have had a vision for some time of Steiner provision becoming more mainstream, and free schools could provide the opportunity we're looking for," Ms Sklan said.

"Local authorities' roles are being demolished now and something has to take their place. It will be multi-school sponsors, most likely, that step in and we would like to be one of those sponsors."

The SWSF already has one school in the state sector, the Steiner Academy Hereford. Two of the three Steiner applications currently in front of civil servants are for entirely new schools - the Frome Steiner Academy in Somerset and the Leeds Steiner School, both of which hope to offer provision from primary up to 16.

The third is an existing fee-paying school, the Meadow Steiner School, also in Somerset, which is hoping to make the switch to the state sector.

Ms Sklan said further expansion plans would have to wait until it was clear what the Government's approval criteria would be for the next round of free schools.

The news of Steiner schools being considered by the Government to become free schools comes just a week after The TES reported that an evangelical church was progressing through the selection process, despite previously stating it would teach creationism in science lessons.

The Steiner approach emphasises the importance of practical crafts such as woodwork, book-binding and knitting, while students spend less time learning ICT skills.

Such free-school proposals appear to undermine the Government's stance that schools should be teaching a more traditional "knowledge-based" curriculum.

Steiner schools are based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who founded "anthroposophy", which promotes the belief that all humans possess an innate spirit or soul, through which a person can connect to a spirit world via "inner development".

The British Humanist Association said it had "serious concerns" over what would be taught in the Steiner schools, given that free schools have considerable freedoms over their curriculum.


Art of success

Former Steiner pupils include Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston, broadcaster Emma Freud and singer Annie Lennox, who named her band the Eurythmics after eurhythmy - a form of dance or movement that Steiner pupils participate in.

Photo: Andrew Fox

Original headline: Steiner plots network of free schools with spiritual ethos

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