Raphael Steiner School, an Early years/kindergarten in Thornham Magna, Suffolk, has closed. Announcing the news in its Summer 2009 newsletter, the Steiner Schools Fellowship (SWSF) noted “the remote position of the school…along with costs involved in buying land and providing classroom spaces” as factors contributing toward the school’s demise.
Raphael Steiner school aimed from its inception in 2002 to establish and maintain a school working towards ecological principles, so adding a distinctive and chic veneer to the obligatory Anthroposophical underpinnings of any ‘Steiner’ school. However, Raphael’s finances were always a tad wobbly and in 2007 – the last year the school submitted accounts to any regulatory authority – although the school was operating at or near to full capacity (with around 30 children on roll) the school was struggling to remain solvent.
Raphael Steiner school’s overheads were high with well over half of its income of 120,000 GBP in accounting year 2007 being swallowed up by wages. The school was also saddled with a 160,000 GBP bank loan – perhaps taken out to fund land costs and building of the two log cabins the school operated from – and servicing of the bank loan together with other unavoidable overheads must have been an ongoing financial challenge for the school.
Financial difficulties apart, an Ofsted inspection of the school in 2007 (Edit January 2013: report unavailable probably because the school is now defunct) could also have had an impact on the school’s viability. A few concerns were noted in the report. For example:
“Children are beginning to learn the importance of personal hygiene as staff remind them to clean their hands after they use the toilet and before eating. However, the setting does not ensure children have access to heated water for washing and they use a shared bowl of water and towel for cleaning hands within the main play room. As a result children may be at risk of cross infection.”
It was also noted by the inspector that the school:
“…hadn’t given full consideration to security, including what they may do in the event of stranger danger and how they may respond if a child becomes lost.”
Similarly, although the school (or setting as Ofsted call it below) undertook measures assuring child welfare and protection, the inspection report noted:
“…the setting’s policies are out of date and do not clearly reflect current advice about what the setting should do in the event of an allegation being made against an adult at the setting. As a result children’s well-being in these situations is not assured.”
According to the SWSF Summer 2009 newsletter, many of the kids formerly enrolled at Raphael Steiner school have moved over to Cambridge Steiner School, an Anthroposophical school slammed on health, safety and welfare grounds in a report of an Ofsted inspection there in 2008. A signal of the seriousness of the shortfalls found at Cambridge appears in the opening pages of the report:
“…although pupils are well supported and nurtured, the school does not provide adequately for their health, safety and welfare. Many of its policies and practices do not meet the regulations for registration. A number of these were noted in previous inspections and have not been adequately addressed.”
A potted version of the alarming findings contained within the rest of the Cambridge Steiner School 2008 Ofsted inspection report can be found here in an earlier blog post.
Other children formerly on the roll at Raphael Steiner school ended up in Norwich Steiner school. Norwich Steiner school (i.e. an Anthroposophical school) is a kindergarten/Early Years setting with an intake and fee structure similar to Raphael’s. Though weaknesses were noted, judging by Ofsted’s inspections the Norwich Steiner is quite a good school. Two Norwich Ofsteds are available online, one took place in 2006 and the other in 2007 and both can be downloaded from this part of the Norwich Steiner school’s website.
Regarding the weaknesses at Norwich Steiner school, in brief: hygiene was said to be compromised, the admissions register/system didn’t meet required regulations and its safeguarding children procedure was muddled in that it was unclear as to which authorities should be notified in the event of allegations being made against staff. Oh, and the school’s door security system was ‘not robust enough to ensure children do not leave, or intruders gain access, having the potential to compromise the safety of children’.
Continuity of a sort, then, for parents transferring their children from Raphael Steiner to other Anthroposophical schools in the region. Or, as the SWSF Summer 2009 newsletter‘s puts it, ‘the work of Raphael goes on in other forms’.
Only anoraks will be at all interested but the Norwich Steiner school mentioned in the above post is in fact the working name of the Norfolk Initiative Steiner School, registered charity number 1099377 but given the tag name ‘NorfolkSchl’ in the list of recorded UK anthroposophical organisations on a page of this blog at http://ukanthroposophy.wordpress.com/recorded-uk-organisations/
The Norwich Steiner School Association Limited, registered charity number 803400 and given the tag name of ‘NorwichSchl’ has nothing to do with the Norwich Steiner school mentioned in the above post. Confusingly its school had the working name of ‘The Norwich (Project) Rudolf Steiner School’ and, before that, ‘The New School Wroxham Association Limited’.
Although the SWSF Summer 2009 Newsletter gives the Wroxham school as closing it is still alive according to the Charity Commission website. My understanding is that the Wroxham school has moved to the Cromer area of East Anglia.
Your above comment is very interesting, what is it with all the names? Having Steiner, Waldorf, Anthroposophy is bad enough!
Perhaps to stop concerned parents or the curious observer from getting too close?
Or possibly to try and hoodwink the government?
Thanks for the link to the news Notahobbit.
re the different names, there’s nothing sinister about that surely and even if a school wanted to keep itself to itself it’d still be accountable to regulators such as Ofsted and Charity Commission.
As for hoodwinking government, why on earth would they do that when the state is keen on seeing state funding of Anthroposophical schools? The state cannot say that it is unaware of what an Anthroposophical school is based on and what such a school does and goes about what it does. Well, not unless government didn’t read its own commissioned research report (the Woods Report) into Steiner education. That is entirely possible given that the number of typos in the Woods Report http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR645.pdf indicates that it wasn’t even proof-read by its own authors or by the department commissioning it.
Btw, as far as its academic merit goes, the Woods Report is fatally flawed in that it contradicts its own research findings and its methodology imo is as good as its presentation – typos and all – might suggest. As for its treatment of Steiner racism, well this old CHASE post touches on it (see footnote 4 in particular)
For all that, the Woods Report is useful as a source material insofar as how it characterises Anthroposophy and Anthroposophical education.
Hmm, getting back to the Raphael closure, I have recently been alerted to http://www.thornhams.org/land-bid-by-the-raphael-steiner-school-gislingham-5.htm
so it would seem that planning problems could also have played a part in the failure of the Raphael school.
The Norwich Steiner School must have gained from the closure of Eye in terms of staff and families. I wonder if they extended a hand to help – or ceased upon the opportunity to bolster themselves?
My son attended that school (the kindergarten) in 2008 – for a few months until we realized what Steiner education actually stood for, when we immediately pulled him out.
Part of the problem was that the original Kindergarten teacher left to have a baby and they hastily appointed a very inexperienced teacher to take her place. It was her first job, she had no understanding of children and she completely alienated parents and children – who left the school in droves because of her. She ran the school into the ground within 6 months.
I wish people would tell the truth.
The problem is not with Steiner education – that is a wonderful thing – but it seems with the people who cling to it for themselves more than for their children. Sadly, when things go badly wrong – like in Eye and Norwich – it seems to be because of a few individuals who have taken control of the school, made some decisions that suit them at the expense of others, and the default reaction when people won’t put up with that is to suppress the (inconvenient) truth and close what should be an open community. The usually excuses of “confidentiality” and “trust” are used to avoid discussing the real issues and suppress – or attempt to – any notion that people have acted improperly.
The saddest thing of all however, is the reaction of many parents who are faced with a very difficult decision. Most families have no other choice – their children do not “fit” in mainstream, and for whatever reasons they feel they cannot home-educate. The fear that the school will close, or suffer irreparably if things are exposed is a very real one for their own children.
You then have a complex moral dilema whether to stand up for truth, justice, and those being hurt – or to push these aside for the sake of your own children. It’s not an easy choice…
The other problem with silence is that it lets the perpetrators off the hook – giving them sanction to act without accountability in the future – and with renewed zeal. One must then ask one-self – is this the sort of institution / are these the sort of people I want my child taught by?
Interesting comment AlternativeAlternative, thanks for opening up that avenue of thought (the dilemma about having to choose between silence and speaking up).
If I might say though, it’s not as if there aren’t alternatives to Anthroposophical schools. Many of the ingredients that Anthroposophical schools offer can be found individually or in combination in other methods of schooling. Speaking up isn’t going to put at risk anything and can only help parents unburden themselves and help others considering an involvement with Anthroposophy come to a better informed decision.
[…] Raphael Steiner school’s closure has been covered in an earlier blog post. High overheads (wages & debt servicing) and an Ofsted report noting some health and safety […]
The Rudolf Steiner School, Old Buckenham opened in April 1980 and continued there until September 1985 when it transferred to Wroxham, closer to Norwich, its intention being to admit pupils from Norwich, under the name of Rudolf Steiner School, Wroxham. For seven years from 1980, the school was privately owned, but in 1987, a registered company, The New School Wroxham Associated Ltd., charity No 803400 was formed and took over the responsibility for The New School Wroxham. as it was at this point called.
In around 1991, a breakaway group of parents from the Wroxham Steiner School kindergarten sought to establish a parent and toddler group in Norwich and from this there gradually emerged a Steiner kindergarten, initially called the Norwich Steiner School Initiative, and after a couple of years, a Class 1 was formed for a Norfolk Initiative Steiner School. The name of the registered New School Wroxham Association had been changed to the Norwich Steiner School Association with the intention of combining on one site with the above. However, this did not happen and the Rudolf Steiner School, Wroxham, continued until 2008, when its registration with the DfE was terminated and the building was sold.
The registered company, the Norwich Steiner School Association limited, charity 803400, was retained with the inention of starting up a parent and toddler initiative in North Norfolk and linking up with Mighty Oaks Parent and Child Group, Swanton Novers.( see website). Also, a remaining pupil from the Wroxham School is still being tutored privately under the aegis of the Association. To make contact with the above tel: 01263 824846. The name of the Norwich Steiner School Association is to be changed to the North Nofolk Steiner School Association.
Peter H Reeve
Company Secretary (1987 to 2011)
For additional clarification, there never was a direct connection between the Raphael School, near Eye, and the Steiner School at Old Buckenham, 1980, that moved to Wroxham in September 1985 until it closed in 2008. Neither was there a connection with another small Steiner School in Suffolk that opened for a couple of years near the coast at Aldringham in 1980.
The Norwich Steiner school initiative, originally a breakaway from the school at Wroxham, being within a couple of miles from Norwich city centre, has consolidated its position. The initiative at Swanton Novers did not follow up its original wish to become a Waldorf kindergarten and instead developed into a small forest school.
The telephone contact number quoted is incorrect – not 01263 824846, but 01263 825846.