Written by Sally Gossling
Developed by Rudolf Steiner (1864 – 1925), these schools exist worldwide and provide an alternative form of education that is child-centred and values physical, emotional and spiritual growth. While a large number of early learning centres are available from age 2 upwards, formal learning does not start until the age of 6, with provision being available until the age of 18. A teacher will stay with their class for the first 7 years and after that they have a class mentor. Teachers are allowed to develop their own materials and text books are not particularly used. Topics are covered in depth for a period of several weeks before changing. Children are taught to write before they are taught to read and much is made of mixed-media teaching where a topic is explored through music, art and dance as well as through reading and discussion. The schools do not believe in forcing children to learn or teaching them before they are ready. For a long time Steiner Schools did not work with computers, particularly in the Primary phase, but this is slowly changing to keep in line with evolving needs. Research shows that many Steiner students go on to study successfully at university despite having alternative qualifications (Baldwin et al, 2005).
Steiner Schools have different status in different countries. In the UK and Ireland they remain part of the fee paying private sector although elsewhere in Europe they form part of the publicly funded State system despite their alternative curriculum. However, to ease transition into mainstream schooling, Steiner Schools ensure that their pupils are at a comparable level for key transfer points at 11 and, in many countries, 14. The schools themselves are self-governing, drawing on expertise from parents, teachers and an administrator.
In the UK and Ireland there are 31 Steiner schools, 56 Early Years settings, and six Steiner Teacher training courses. This rises to 550 schools across 20 European countries and over 880 schools, 1500 Early Years settings and 60 Teacher Training courses worldwide in countries including Australia, Norway, Holland and Canada.
Steiner schools now arguably form the fastest growing sector of independent private schools around the world. In the UK they are hoping that the Government’s Diversity Agenda will allow them to run schools in the maintained sector too. A number of recent studies have looked at ways of incorporating the most successful areas of Steiner schools within mainstream education, although such differing philosophies mean there is a long way to go yet.
Steiner schools are generally viewed as effective places of learning and development, even for those who have transferred to them after having problems accessing the curriculum in mainstream schools for a variety of physical, social and emotional reasons. Assessment of learning is more inclined towards descriptions of activities and creativity rather than tests and trades (Edwards, 2002), although many are suitably educated to sit GCSEs and other country-specific exams if they so wish. Parents are considered an essential part of the partnership which supports a child’s development and are involved on a frequent basis.
Steiner schools in the news
A report by a team from the University of West of England, which was commissioned by the DfES in the UK, suggests that Steiner schools were good at enthusing children about learning.
The full report is available from http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR645.pdf
See Curtis (2005) for a brief newspaper article on the report.
Baldwin, Faith, Gerwin, Douglas, Mitchell, David (2005) Research on Waldorf Graduates in North America http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/Graduateresearch.pdf (Visited 06-July-05)
Curtis, P. (2005) State schools 'could learn from Steiner principles', Education Guardian, 30th June 2005. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,5500,1517494,00.html (Viewed 22-July-05)
Edwards, Carolyn Pope (2002) Three Approaches from Europe:Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia, Early Childhood Research and Practice http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/edwards.html (Visited 06-July-05)
Jeffreys, Branwen (2005) Steiner schools 'could help all', BBC http://newswww.bbc.net.uk/1/hi/education/4633601.stm (Visited 06-July-05)
Ullrich, Heiner (2000) Rudolf Steiner, Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education http://www.thebee.se/comments/articles/Ullrich1.htm (Visited 06-July-05)
Freedom in education website
This page provides a description of Steiner education and some useful links to related websites.
http://www.freedom-in-education.co.uk/Steiner.htm (Visited 06-July-05)
Steiner School website
Based at a school in New York this site gives a comprehensive description of the type of education available during preschool, lower school and upper school.
http://www.steiner.edu/ (Visited 06-July-05)
Steiner Waldorf Homepage for the UK
An overview of Steiner Waldorf in the UK, including detailed sections on approaches to teaching and learning as well as information on funding and publications available.
http://www.steinerwaldorf.org.uk/ (Visited 06-July-05)
This site claims to give an independent view on the system and, rather than being rooted in a particular school, gives an overview of the key aspects of Steiner schools.
http://www.waldorfanswers.org/ (Visited 06-July-05)
Edwards, Carolyn Pope (2002). Three Approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 4 (1)