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Free Schools(3)

Back in January of this year the Ethereal Kiosk (aka zooey blog) published a list of the Steiner schools applying for Free School status. None of the schools succeeded but the situation as far as applications goes is that unsuccessful applicants may reapply. So I’ve looked again at zooey’s list to see how many of the original applications back in January are still live and looked at the finances of all the applicants on the list.

I’ve slightly amended and expanded on zooey blog’s list and summarised what is known about each of the Steiner Free School applications below. Please feel free to send in corrections, additions, news and comments.

Apologies for the layout, there’s no easy way to copy and paste Excel tables into blogs and I’ve resorted to simply copying and pasting an image of the table into the blog post.

The information about the status of the various applications was obtained from school websites and other online sources and was accessed June 10th to 12th 2011. It was updated July 2nd to correct some minor inaccuracies (two names of schools and two dates of incorporation) appearing in the post as originally published and the main body of the text below has changed accordingly.

The financial data was near all obtained from the financial summaries of charities available at the Charity Commission website and supplemented by some other online resources.  You can search for a charity here but be aware that some of the applicants are new formed and there won’t be any financial data for them. A small amount of financial and other data was purchased from Companies House. (Edit March 2019: you can obtain filed company accounts for free these days)

Note that the Monkton Wyld Steiner is a kindergarten operating within Monkton Wyld Court, a multi-purpose events and education centre – it hasn’t been possible at this time to isolate the kindergarten’s finances from those of Monkton Wyld Court itself.

So, you can hopefully make out from the above that one school (Brighton Steiner) has formally announced its withdrawal from the Free School process, at least seven applications have been submitted and the status of the applications of the remainder isn’t known. York Steiner had been thought to have withdrawn its application (see comments on a previous blog post) but an article about Free Schools in a York Steiner School newsletter  (unavailable online January 2013) ends “We continue to apply with open minds but doubtful hearts” and so the status of the York application is taken to be unknown at present.

Of the known submitted applications, news to me was that the Frome Steiner School registered as a company on 19th April using the name Frome Steiner Academy, a possibly very significant choice of name. Given that the Frome application is supported by the Meadow Steiner School and so presumably being guided by Emma Craigie it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Frome’s application.

It would appear that having been unsuccessful in the earlier cycle of the Free School process both the Meadow and South Devon Steiners switched horses by involving themselves in new applications from Frome Steiner and Dart Steiner respectively. Whereas Frome has become incorporated Dart Steiner hasn’t at the time of writing. Incorporation is a requirement of Free School applicants and a signal of intent so Dart Steiner is probably just testing the waters at this stage*

The Leicestershire Steiner incorporated end of May, a clear sign that its application is on track. No record of Lincoln or Oxfordshire’s becoming incorporated as yet.

Other news about known submissions is that Mulberry Tree Steiner remains an unincorporated charity and therefore unlikely to become a Free School in the near future. From Elmfield’s 2010 report and accounts it appears in addition to a Free School application Elmfield is actively looking into becoming an Academy. Presumably Elmfield is active in one or both of those routes to state funding then.

Regarding the progress of the other applications, there’s nothing to note except Exeter Steiner remains an unincorporated charity and so probably not pursuing Free School status.

Regarding the finances of the schools and groups on the list, well, I wonder how or if government can approve applications from any of those schools and groups on the list having a history of financial difficulties. Or, if government feels it can approve such schools/groups, how about Michael House Steiner School which is not only regularly running at a loss, at one point its finances became so dire the Charity Commission had to step in and oversee the running of the school – is such a school worth throwing state money at?

Even the financially stable schools on the list can have financial histories they’d rather not be reminded of – one example is St Pauls Steiner and the case of its misappropriated funds. As a group the existing established Steiner schools on the list don’t inspire financial confidence. Steiner schools outside of the list hardly inspire confidence either (eg the MPPS meltdown, eg the Steiner school ripped off by its own bursar). It’s not as if there are many Steiner schools here in UK and maybe what, 32 or so in England and Wales, the areas the Free Schools legislature applies to. I leave you to estimate what the percentage of the financially struggling schools on the list is and what the probability of financial shenanigans occurring amongst Steiner schools in any one year might be. All in all it’s almost as if there’s a systemic failure or culture of lax financial probity at play here. If that’s right then surely government should not be rewarding such schools by state funding them. Whatever the case, bailing out any single financially stricken school is obviously not something a financially prudent government should do.

Readers might claim I’m over-egging the pudding insofar as the poor financial state of Steiner Free School applicants goes. There’s no mischievous intent, I’ve simply done a very quick overview using data from a reliable source and reported and commented on what I see. It might be argued that all charities are suffering in the recession, Steiner school finances should be seen in light of that. True but most of the available accounts used have been from accounting year 2009 back to 2004 and many schools report losses in consecutive years prior to and including 2009 accounting year.

I’d like to draw attention to the Zelda School application, not because of what it is – one of the faddish Steiner eco/environmental schools – but because of what it isn’t. Zelda School isn’t a Steiner School, it’s inspired by Steiner. Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) holds the legal claim (see bottom of this SWSF page) to use of the terms Steiner/Waldorf etc when those terms are to be used in the name of a school, it’s like a brand name and you can’t use the brand without permission from SWSF. So, it’ll be interesting to see how Zelda and Fullfledge Ecology School, outside of the SWSF fold, get on in the Free Schools process as compared to SWSF member schools. Government decisions on schools such as Zelda and Full Fledge might serve as some sort of barometer as to how favourably the SWSF brand is seen as compared to that of competing brands or independent Steiner flavoured schools outside of the SWSF fold.

Finally, I’d like to remind readers all Steiner schools are Anthroposophical schools. Hmmm, or are they? Brighton Steiner has decided to eschew state funding and York Steiner has voiced the concerns many SWSF schools have about the dilution of Steiner principles state funding might bring with it – no change there then but what of the other schools? A forthcoming blog post in this series on Free Schools will revisit and give an update on the subject of the Anthroposophical underpinnings of UK Steiner schools.

*footnote: Dart Steiner’s blog is now titled South West Steiner Project but the domain name is still dartsteiner.


  1. mule mule June 14, 2011

    Perhaps the only way Steiner can creep into the curriculum and have access to Free School funding is by not mentioning Steiner.

    Do you know if the Waldorf trademark is separate to the SWSF? Members of the German Waldorf Association hold the copyright:

  2. MarkH MarkH June 27, 2011

    I think it’s a pretty good bet that those schools whose finances aren’t particularly healthy will be concentrating on balancing the book by increasing fees etc. before re-applying for Free School status?

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