Michael House School, a Steiner education school and Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) member, was in the very recent past heading for financial ruin and is still in bad financial shape. The school raised funds back in 2003/2004 by selling off land but has failed to make a profit in any year since then.
The school’s Annual Report & Accounts for year 2007 show the school to have run up a 100,000 GBP loss on an income of some 375,000 GBP, the reasons being:
“(the) School continued to funds its activities via the capital that had been raised in previous years rather than through balancing its income from pupils and its operating costs. Records pertaining to the fee discounting system used during the period of these accounts were not adequate for the current Trustees to be able to satisfy themselves that the system was applied equitably and fairly. The level of discounts given to fee payers, the reasons for granting discounts and the manner in which these decisions were arrived at were not fully recorded in the Trustees minutes at the time.”
In September 2008 the Charity Commission provided the trustees in post with an ‘Order’
“to empower them to manage the School, re-establish the Association and its membership, call an AGM to present these accounts and to elect new Trustees”
all of which they did before the end of the year. A Charity Commission Order is usually applied for by the trustees in exceptional circumstances when, for example, they need to make some sort of change or decision but are prevented or hampered from doing so by their constitution or way of operating.
In Michael House’s case the changes made appear to have been root and branch and by the end of 2008, when all of the changes mentioned above had been made, only one of the original trustees in post when requesting the Order remained, the others had all been replaced.
It was the new trustees that signed the 2007 Report & Accounts and it was they that offered the reasons as to why Michael House School had reached such a perilous financial situation. It possibly hadn’t helped school finances that until the new trustees came in the accounts were recorded by hand in old fashioned ledgers. Also, in accounting year ending 2006 the former trustees were noting that increased fees were being absorbed by increases in salaries for the staff – not a good way to balance the books. It appears the old guard finally gave up hope when the school’s Development Steering Group which had been meeting to explore the idea of a multimillion pound development at the school ceased its meetings in April 2007 without having firmed up any recommendations.
Still losing money, the tone of the school’s Report & Accounts for year ending 2008 is one of optimism. The trustees reported a 10% reduction in expenditure, an increase in fees, improved financial controls and much reduced losses. Perhaps encouraged by the use of a computer, the school even saw one of its “rare amplified music events” (as the trustees put it) when a local band lent a hand in school fund raising efforts.
Michael House School (not to be confused with Michael Hall School, the one that was ripped off by its own bursar) is in Shipley (Derbyshire) and was founded in the 1930’s. It has about 150 children on its roll and an average annual income of over 400,000 GBP. When last inspected by Ofsted it was a dangerous place for children.
The most recent Ofsted Inspection of Michael House School took place in February 2007. All of the following quotes below are taken directly from the report of the Inspection.
At the time of the 2007 Inspection the schools policy for child protection was out of date and, worryingly, the report notes:
“Most administrators, teachers and assistants have been checked with the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). The most recently appointed members of staff are currently having checks. Staffing and recruitment procedures do not comply with latest regulations, however, as they do not show securely that individuals’ identities, certificates and professional qualifications are checked and recorded.”
Elsewhere in the report inspectors noted:
“The climbing frame in the muddy adventure playground presents a dangerous hazard to pupils as it has no soft surface materials beneath the equipment.”
Fire Officer recommendations had
“not yet been completed with the urgency required”,
there still being a fire hazard, for one example, in a school warehouse.
Inspectors shared the concerns of parents regarding management of the school:
“a significant proportion of parents feel that the school is not well managed: for example, they express frustration that decisions take a long time to be made and even longer time to be implemented. The inspectors agree with this view.”
So, the kids were at the time of the inspection at risk of injury when playing on a climbing frame and there was a fire risk in at least one area of the school. On top of that there was the potential for harm from staff; ‘most’ staff had been checked with the CRB but most means not all of them had been checked. Recently appointed staff had not been checked with CRB before being appointed and even when staff were checked Michael House School had no sure way of knowing that the people they appointed were who they say they were or that their qualifications were genuine. Incredibly the Ofsted inspection gave the the school a ‘satisfactory’ rating.
This is an example of how, if you believe in karma, it is actually illogical to take health and safety seriously. I expect many trustees of these schools do not share anthroposophical beliefs, or even know what these are (though not bothering to read any Steiner is no excuse) and are mystified by their inability to change school structure or run things in a more coherent way, banging their heads not so much against a brick wall as into a blancmange.
And where was the money going to come from for the multi-million £ development? Academy funding? The tooth-fairy?
Oh but trustees do buy into Steiner belief. Check this old post out for an example
How many trustees or directors of an Anthroposophical org are fully into Steiner belief will differ from organisation to organisation and I’m hopeful of coming up with an index/measure or proxy measure of that but yes, for those that aren’t, trying to implement change must be difficult to say the least. From what I can gather decision making in Anthroposophical orgs is ideally a collective one by consensus and this tends to suit dominant personality types. It is not at all unusual to have some words of Steiner read out loud and have people meditate on the Steiner content prior to a meeting…you can see how some people having or perceived to be having more of an attunement to Steiner could dominate such meetings the reason being that psychologically we most of us tend to follow the herd and accept authority figures. Many a psychological experiment has demonstrated that. I’ve heard from people with experience of Anthropos meetings where the dominant types are so far into Steiner they believe themselves to be his reincarnation. Hard to voice a minority view in such a setting
I quote from your link:
‘Further, any newly appointed trustee must openly declare that they fully subscribe to the philosophy and praxis of Steiner Waldorf education. No person who is not a member of the Association shall in any circumstances be eligible to hold office as a Trustee.’
Certainly anyone who has made a declaration of that kind (however they made it) should know what they’re agreeing to. Theory and practice.
Your analysis of the decision-making in Steiner schools confirms my experience as a parent. Cheers Mike.
I am an ex-pupil of Michael House school of the class that actually built the dangerous playground. (I was on exchange and am innocent!) My father, never at all particularly interested in Steiner above other philosophers, kept those hand-written ledgers for 7 years as school administrator and often took his work home. I find myself uniquely placed to offer comment.
The school constantly attracted people to it that misrepresent anything good Steiner might have had to say by using the fact he said it nearly a century ago as an excuse not to change anything, or come to any decision, ever.
It’s not Steiner’s fault that the place was always run, as implied above, by people incapable of dealing with the modern world.
In Germany this problem with the Steiner schools was not apparent when I studied there, as they are state funded and not considered a hide-out from from the realities of the modern world.
Thomas, thanks you for sharing your thoughts.
I’m not too sure how or if Steiner/Anthroposophical schooling can be modernised without losing the very thing that distinguishes it from any other form of ‘alternative’ education? But I’ll leave that for yourself and anybody else interested in the topic to comment on.