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Free Schools(4) – Absurdly normal

News to me since this series of posts about Steiner Free School applications began is that Michael Gove’s Department for Education (DfE) is refusing to comply with a Freedom of Information request regarding the detail of an October 2010 meeting between DfE and Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) at which issues relating to Steiner and Free Schools were discussed. Nitpickers will scream if I don’t point out that the official release of DfE’s meetings describes a meeting with ‘Steiner Fellowship’ but it’s safe to presume DfE is referring there to SWSF.

Hopefully, one of the issues discussed will have been Steiner’s racism, a subject attracting more and more attention. Even if it wasn’t discussed, DfE can hardly claim to be unaware of the racism within Steiner belief and texts because Gove’s own advisors and promoters of his Free Schools policy attended a ‘special seminar’ where the subject of racism within Steiner was discussed. In fact racism was introduced as a topic for consideration by a key Gove advisor in the morning session of the seminar. Team Gove advice proffered at the seminar was to treat Steiner racism as a pr problem. The alternative, as had been suggested at the seminar once Team Gove had departed, was to publicly jettison Steiner racist teaching. From the record of the seminar:

“It was acknowledged that the Steiner schools Fellowship should give a clear and categorical rebuttal of these aspects of Steiner’s work. Clear statements should be made stating “We do not believe that human beings evolve through the races. We do not believe that blond hair bestows intelligence, etc…”.

“It was felt that there may be some difficulty in making a blanket rebuttal of all Anthroposophy because many people throughout the Steiner schools system, especially teachers, strongly support many aspects of that belief system. If teachers were asked to make a blanket rebuttal of Anthroposophy, many of them may not do this.”

SWSF since then has not issued clear rebuttals of Steiner core belief and has instead taken Team Gove advice to heart and relied on pr and spin in its attempts to defuse the Steiner racism issue. SWSF now has a tortuously worded statement re Steiner racism on its website.  It’s a painful read, not so much artful spin as it is sophistry and splat. An excellent article here explains Steiner racism and in the process dismantles and rebuts the statement made by SWSF. (Update January 2013: SWSF’s formal statements on Steiner racism has morphed since publication of this post. It is still unsatisfactory, it’ll be covered in a forthcoming post)

Meanwhile, government has still to make a decision regarding Steiner Free School applications. It is perhaps because SWSF fails to satisfactorily tackle the substance of Steiner racism and doesn’t appear to even understand the difference between discrimination and racism no Steiner Free School application to date has been approved but there are still applications in the pipeline. With that in mind it is worth quoting from the aforementioned article the concerns of historian Peter Staudenmaier.

“What is worrisome about the Waldorf movement’s continued failure to address anthroposophy’s racial legacy is not that Waldorf schools in the twenty-first century will start churning out little Hitler youths; what is worrisome is that Waldorf advocates and sympathizers may unknowingly help prepare the ideological groundwork for another unforeseen shift in the broader cultural terrain, in which notions of racial and ethnic superiority and inferiority could once again take on a spiritual significance that lends itself all too easily to practical implementation in a changed social and political context.”

Here in UK the state itself is preparing the ideological groundwork by normalising Anthroposophy and its controversial, racist, beliefs. Normalisation began with the publication of the Woods Report during Blair’s era of conviction politics. The Report has many typos, is methodologically flawed and contradicts its own findings but that’s another story –  reproduced below are a representative set of  the Report’s recommendations as to how government, state agencies and the public should learn about Steiner and Anthroposophical belief.

Recommendation 9: Government and LEAs to ensure that they,and agencies such as Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), are informed by a developed understanding and appreciation, in the full context of Steiner education, of how Steiner schools assess progress and facilitate pupils’ learning and of other distinctive aspects of Steiner schools (Recommendations 12 and 18); this to be developed internally, through opportunities for elected representatives and officials concerned with Steiner education to build up such understanding and appreciation, and/or facilitated though external advisors.

Recommendation 12: Government and LEAs to ensure that they, and other relevant agencies, are informed by a developed understanding and appreciation of Steiner schools’ unconventional pedagogical practices, this to be an integral part of Recommendation 9.

Recommendation 16: Government and LEAs to undertake or otherwise facilitate a programme of action aimed at promoting an informed understanding of Steiner education and the educational philosophy in which it is grounded, and to include as a component of this, communication of appropriate information for parents/carers so that they are able to make an informed choice of school where a maintained Steiner school is an option.

Recommendation 17: Steiner schools to devise and carry though a strategy for enhancing understanding amongst the general public and particular stakeholders (such as parents/carers, LEA officers and mainstream teachers) of Steiner education, including its foundation in anthroposophy and why it is not right to see it as a faith or dogma.

Recommendation 18: Government and LEAs to ensure that they, and other agencies including the NCSL, are informed by a developed understanding and appreciation of Steiner schools’ collegial structure of leadership and management, this to be an integral part of Recommendation 9.

You’ll see that there is plenty of scope in those recommendations to allow for what could become an indoctrination process rather than an informational one because, so far as I can see, we would all of us be informed of what Anthroposophy is by information coming only from Anthroposophists or Anthroposophical supporters. You may feel SWSF might be fair in the way it delivers information. Far from it, as we’ve already seen from one example currently on the SWSF website. Some readers will also remember the outrageous behaviour of an official SWSF ‘Communications Officer’ in his attempts at countering SWSF perceived ‘attacks’ (aka as criticisms). Do you think SWSF could responsibly, accurately and fairly ‘inform’ agencies and the public as to what Anthroposophy is?

Somewhat alarmed, I submitted a FoI to the education department asking how the department had acted on the Woods Report generally (in its entirety) and on the above recommendations in particular. Bizarrely, the department claimed it had taken no action whatsoever (e.g. didn’t even bin it, file it or pass it on elsewhere for action) even though government duly went on to fast-track the establishment of the first state funded Steiner education school shortly after the Report was published. However, the wording of their response doesn’t rule out the possibility of other departments or bodies (within or external to government) acting on the Woods recommendations.

Just for the record, the online summary of their disclosure (Edit March 2019: apparently there are no archived FOI disclosures prior to 2015) makes no reference to the Woods recommendations, is dated incorrectly (their formal reply to my FoI request is dated April 2008) and my quite detailed request is simplified as asking for ‘Details of the actions taken or planned following the publication of the report on Steiner Schools in England.’ If anybody reading this can shed light on what the DfE or other bodies has or is doing in this area please do get in touch or comment, anonymity and confidentiality is assured.

So, even before the coalition came to power the education department wasn’t very forthcoming when approached about matters Steiner related. DfE’s more recent blocking of a FoI request re its meeting with SWSF is only worsening the situation. Worse still is news of HRH Prince Charles (aka the Meddling Prince) meeting with Gove and meeting on another occasion MP Richard Benyon. MP Richard Benyon has been proactive in supporting Steiner education and Prince Charles is quite keen on Anthroposophy too.

If the above fails to convince as evidence of normalising Anthroposophy then having the Crossfields Institute recognised as an awarding body by Edexcel certainly will.

Founded in 2007, Crossfields is unabashedly Anthroposophical but you’d have to dig around a but these days to find the evidence for that. Let me save you the trouble of doing so by summarising what its stated objects are as given in its Memorandum and Articles of Association lodged at Companies House:

“The objects of the Charity are to advance education, particularly (without limitation) in promoting and developing education, training and research… inspired and/or underpinned by Anthroposophy.”

Similarly, the Charity aims to be active:

“in promoting and developing education, training and research…in Anthroposophy and activities or subject areas developed out of or inspired by Anthroposophy”

Initially Crossfields wanted to become the UK’s first Anthroposophical university but might be happy remaining as it is now, collaborating with Alanus University and in being an Edexcel recognised awarding body. Both Alanus and Edexcel are privately owned. Crossfields has also linked up with Norway’s Rudolf Steiner University College.

Edexcel recognition now allows Crossfields to design awards and qualifications from entry level and level 1 (Foundation courses and GCSE’s) all the way through to level 5 courses (roughly on a par with HND, Diplomas in Higher Education stuff)  – so, state funded or not, we might expect Steiner schools to be offering Crossfield’s Anthroposophically designed GCSE and A levels in Steiner schools before too long. Indeed, Ringwood Waldorf School, a Free School applicant, in the editorial of its 2011 magazine announced:

“We wish to highlight most particularly that which is almost unique to our school: that we will offer an end-of-school validation based on examinations in the Steiner curriculum only, a validation which will, nonetheless, have the value of GCSE and ‘A’ level exams, enabling students to go on to higher education if they should wish.”

Crossfields and its Anthroposophic supporters have yet to work out a way of having their own teacher training certification recognised but they have been actively working on that and on finding alternative venues for delivery of training since Plymouth axed its Steiner Education BA.

Other accreditation/recognition news is that the Biography & Social Development Trust (Edit March 2019: seems to be defunct now as does Artemis below) has had its diploma in biographical counselling (or Anthroposophical counselling, as it might more accurately be termed) accredited by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. The Artemis school of Speech & Drama, long financially struggling, has had its diploma accredited by the British Accreditation Council since oh, July 2009, so quite old news. Also, an article here by the Crossfields director mentions something about their involvement in accrediting the Biodynamic Agricultural Association’s ‘Apprenticeship-Learning diploma’.

So, a lot of normalising of Anthroposophy is going on within and outside of the Steiner education sector but let’s bring this back to the DfE and Steiner Free School applications.

Hopefully Gove and his DfE team understand there is no PR escape route from Steiner racist doctrine for SWSF (or for government should it state fund more Steiner schools) for so long as Steiner education remains wedded to the Steiner model of child development. There’s ample enough Steiner literature online to demonstrate Steiner evolution is a racist narrative, his model of child development through stages restates and elaborates on that narrative and the model structures Steiner education’s pedagogy, curricula and teacher practice. Should DfE be too busy to collate the information, a collection of examples of Steiner racist material, all sourced, available online here might be a good starting point.

There’d be no real harm done to Steiner education were it to remain outside of state funding. Crossfields and SWSF have in effect set up an alternative education system within which, as independent schools, they can operate according to orthodox Steiner pedagogy and offer their own qualifications and be inspected by their own (or very nearly their own) schools inspectorate.

Whereas SWSF appears stuck with Steiner orthodoxy and can only fall back on PR and spin, DfE does have a political escape route should Gove choose to tell the Steiner ed lobbyists enough is enough. All he need do is point to the Woods Report’s flaws and bias, how Woods sidelined the Steiner racism controversy and accepted at face value Anthroposophists’ own stance on the issue.

Politically this would be a neat trick in that the coalition could kick Labour for beginning the state funding of Steiner ed and Gove could present the Tory party as fully modernised, rid of or intolerant of the racism it has long been associated with in the past. It would however incur the wrath of influential Steiner supporters such as Lord Rees-Mogg and HRH Prince Charles and so jeopardise Gove’s own political career.

Whatever Gove’s decision, the issue of Steiner’s racism and his other controversial beliefs should be dealt with appropriately, transparently. Blocking or giving meaningless, silly, replies in response to FoI requests and an over-reliance on misinformation and spin is no way to be dealing with the political, moral and ethical conflicts and problems the process of normalising the absurd brings with it.

The next post in this series will see a return to the shorter, chunkier, bite sized posts of yore. Exciting, enthralling and scintillating questions will be posed and mind bogglingly prosaic answers there will none be! Allegedly.


  1. Thetis Thetis July 6, 2011

    I was interested in the Woods Report recommendation 17: ‘Steiner schools to devise and carry though a strategy for enhancing understanding amongst the general public and particular stakeholders (such as parents/carers, LEA officers and mainstream teachers) of Steiner education, including its foundation in anthroposophy and why it is not right to see it as a faith or dogma.’

    How then are we permitted to describe anthroposophy? As a philosophy? The Encyclopædia Britannica describes it as a ‘philosophy based on the premise that the human intellect has the ability to contact spiritual worlds.’ It then links to a section on the occult. This really does sound like a religious belief – if it isn’t a faith position surely, bearing in mind the nature and implications of this premise, some evidence is needed? Mainstream teachers and government officials, even some parents should surely ask for the sort of evidence that has the potential to exist outside the minds of Prof and Mrs Woods, especially the latter, occupied as she is with a (in my opinion) mysterious dreamworld of Angelic Atlantean Reiki crystal barmpottery:

    Evidence is not generally required for the claims of ‘faith’ (although it is, now, for CAM). Admitting to religion might have been a better route.

    I realise that Steiner educators have a marked tendency to dismiss evidence, except where it looks as if some sciency stuff might back up one of their claims. If this doesn’t worry the DfE there really is little hope for education in England. On a positive note, at least we have here an admission that even though ‘anthroposophy is not taught to the children’ it is the foundation of Steiner education: it matters enough, is potent enough for a government report to recommend that it’s better understood by those outside. Of course anthroposophy is an esoteric ‘philosophy’ – which is a problem. The ‘strategy for enhancing understanding’ recommended by the Woods, to be devised by Steiner schools, thereby ends up as confusing as a game of metaphysical peek-a-boo.

    It may not be ‘right’ to see anthroposophy as a dogma, anthroposophists say this all the time. But it’s certainly accurate to describe the way anthroposophy translates into Steiner education as a manifestation of dogma, and that’s the point. It may be that most Steiner teachers are not sophisticated enough to ‘do’ anthroposophy right (this may be a blessing) or that anthroposophy is not after all an expression of spiritual freedom. At any rate, if the Woods have not ‘done’ anthroposophy in the approved manner they have no right to comment. Wasn’t that Steiner’s opinion? And neither has the DfE.

  2. mule mule August 8, 2011

    ‘You’ll see that there is plenty of scope in those recommendations to allow for what could become an indoctrination process rather than an informational one because, so far as I can see, we would all of us be informed of what Anthroposophy is by information coming only from Anthroposophists or Anthroposophical supporters’.

    Absolutely spot on. Another meticulous piece of research.

    I see that both Meadow Steiner School (to be renamed Frome Steiner Academy) and Leeds Steiner initiative have got to interview stage. Leeds will meet with the DfE today (8th of August).

    So not only do Steiner Waldorf schools have their own inspection service, EYFS exemptions, disclaimers, teacher training and possible exemptions of their teacher training currently being pushed through in the House of Lords –

    they now want to introduce their own qualifications… then Gove will need to read this:

    which universities will accept such qualifications? Anthroposophical ones? Or are we to expect more exemptions?

    It is not only the parents who are misled.

  3. mule mule August 8, 2011

    The more I read about the behaviour of the movement, the more I think they are in the process of building their own parallel universe, rather like a Philip Pullman novel.

    Interesting that Philip Pullman made a substantial donation to the Open Eye campaign, an initiative set up by two Anthroposophists to save childhood (Steiner schools).

  4. Helen Helen January 10, 2012

    I think the parallel universe is planned for Stroud, Gloucestershire. The Steiner presence here is growing,spookily fast…

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