Update May 2019: this post has been reworked to accommodate the changes in source material it initially relied on. The main thrust of the post remains the same.
Welcome to another post in the series looking at Steiner Free School applications.
Racism is illegal in this country and government risks legal challenge if, in approving Steiner Free School applications, it can be shown state funding Steiner schools endorses and furthers a racist doctrine. Government has been made aware of the racism within Steiner belief and so when processing the Steiner Free School applicants the Department for Education (DfE) must consider to what extent the demonstrable and well documented racist content of Steiner belief informs or structures Steiner school pedagogy.
No Steiner Free School applications succeeded in the first round of applications but they continue to apply and are lately joined by Steiner ‘flavoured’ schools such as Zelda and the Full Fledge Ecology School (now defunct) as applicants. This complicates the Steiner racism and other controversies surrounding his belief system, Anthroposophy, in that it becomes less easy for public and government alike to ascertain just what exactly a Steiner school is and to what degree an individual school’s praxis accords with Steiner orthodoxy.
What this blog post does is make clear what is and isn’t a Steiner school and how Steiner schools are formally recognised by Anthroposophists and by agencies and bodies external to the Anthroposophy movement. The post also isolates a distinguishing feature of UK Steiner recognised schools, their delivery of education in accordance with Steiner’s spiritual evolutionary narrative relating to child development.
Steiner school recognition & accreditation
To begin with, we’ll need to know how Steiner schools are formally accredited and recognised and how such schools can be distinguished from Steiner flavoured (non-recognised) schools.
Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) is the national umbrella organisation for UK Steiner schools. If you scroll down nearly to the bottom bit of their home page there’s a notice making it clear that in the UK SWSF holds the legal mark for the right to use the terms Steiner and Waldorf in school names. The legal mark is similar to a brand name – no Steiner schools in UK can use the term Steiner or Waldorf in its name without formal SWSF permission. As will be shown later, similar national Steiner associations having similar functions and ‘brand’ rights exist for USA and Germany but the ultimate controller of the brand name lies in the hands of the chief body of the global Anthroposophy movement, the School of Spiritual Science at Dornach, Switzerland.
On its front page the SWSF website summarises its main activities, saying ‘we seek to safeguard the Steiner ethos and to serve the interests of our members, as well as to represent and further the relevance of Steiner education in the wider education debate.’ Take note of that somewhat ambiguous term ‘ethos’.
Tucked away elsewhere on its website SWSF has a document titled ‘From Newly Founded to Full Member School‘. It describes in detail how schools and kindergartens become accredited as Steiner schools by SWSF (for schools) and by a SWSF subgroup called Steiner Waldorf Early Years Group (SWEYG) for kindergartens. Membership proceeds in stages and according to the accreditation document an early requirement of budding Steiner schools is an immersion within Anthroposophy. Provisional Steiner school status, for example, is conferred only when “there has been adequate preparation including anthroposophical study” and when “an Anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school, including the Waldorf curriculum”. (Note May 2019: the current doc has been edited, there is now no mention of Anthroposophy in it.)
The school’s originators must therefore be somehow committed to Anthroposophy. Presumably to prevent any backsliding, as part of ongoing reviews of a school en route to full membership, the school has to comment on how it studies Anthroposophy. Accreditation is arrived at as and when a school formally becomes a full member of SWSF, the school is then a formally accredited and recognised Steiner school.
SWSF’s counterpart in the USA is the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America (AWSNA) and they have a similar notice of claim to the Steiner/Waldorf school legal mark. Details about AWSNA school accreditation can be found from this page as can notice of the ‘brand’ rights. Like SWSF, AWSNA has information for budding Steiner schools (e.g. here) and offers a similar membership programme but AWSNA provides more information about Anthroposophy and its underpinning of Steiner/Waldorf schools than does SWSF. As with SWSF, AWSNA expects of a school’s originators some commitment to Anthroposophy, usually by their forming and participation in Waldorf study groups.
Whatever operational differences exist between SWSF and AWSNA schools (as a result of different national legislative frameworks for example) it is clear that a commonality between them is Anthroposophy. Regarding what Anthroposophy is and what it has to do with Steiner education, I would recommend reading government commissioned research findings known as the Woods report for information on English Steiner schools. Researched and authored by Steiner sympathetic academics, the Woods report goes into detail regarding the extent and nature of the Anthroposophical underpinnings of SWSF member schools. Some extracts from the Woods report have already been published on the blog but two in particular are relevant and worth repeating here. The first comes from page 84 of the report and is entirely in line with AWSNA, saying:
“(An) understanding of child development according to the principles of anthroposophy is at the core and heart of Steiner education…”
The second comes from page 97 of Woods:
“Steiner education is grounded in the principles of anthroposophy and Steiner’s educational philosophy. From these roots come the importance attached to a particular understanding of child development, concepts integral to Steiner schools’ pedagogy.”
Oversight and recognition of the accreditors
Now, implicit to accreditation is its assurance that a level of quality set by the accrediting body has been met by the party or individual accredited. Given that SWSF and AWSNA’s accreditation process guarantees their member schools will be Anthroposophical, how, if at all, are the various national Steiner education associative bodies themselves accredited by other Anthroposophical bodies and what Anthroposophic quality of them is required for accreditation?
Well, this document was written in late 2009 by the grand sounding Hague Circle, one of the most influential Anthroposophical organisations devoted to the application of Anthroposophy via Steiner education. It is a formal statement describing the characteristics of Steiner/Waldorf schools. The Hague Circle has since changed its name to the International Conference of Waldorf Schools (Hague Circle). Anyway, at the end of the statement is a paragraph about the legal mark or ‘brand’:
“Within the Pedagogical Section there is an organ responsible for the recognition of schools as Waldorf Schools and, for kindergartens as Waldorf Kindergartens. The legal right to this name is granted after the school or kindergarten has been recognized as such. This task can also be delegated to national committees. The Waldorf Schools which have been recognized are listed in the International Waldorf School Directory, published by the German Association of Waldorf Schools.”
and as the Preamble of the characteristics document makes quite clear:
“Schools or kindergartens which do not reflect these characteristics don’t belong to the worldwide movement of Waldorf schools.”
If some decoding might help you, the Pedagogical Section is one of several departments within the School of Spiritual Science, Dornach, Switzerland, the headquarters of the global Anthroposophy movement. Other Dornach Sections exist for each of the various applications of Anthroposophy such as biodynamics, Anthroposophical medicine and so on. The ‘Waldorf’ term in the Hague Circle doc can also refer to Steiner/Steiner Waldorf schools. As for the organ reference, Anthroposophists do love their organs – the chapter of one biography of an early UK Anthroposophist I read was titled ‘Rudolf Steiner grew an organ in my head’. But I digress.
So, Dornach is the controller of the legal mark, the Steiner/Waldorf ‘brand’. As to who Dornach delegates its powers of control over use of the legal mark to, there has been interminable discussion within the movement as to how this should play out. According to a very recent statement from AWSNA it would appear the German Association of Waldorf Schools (Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen, ‘the Bund’ for short) holds the global rights outside of the USA, AWSNA holding the rights within its geographical purview. Ultimately, these rights can only have come from Dornach’s Pedagogy Section. The Hague Circle
The Anthroposophical nature of accreditors
Earlier in the year, a document appeared authored by an intellectual rights legal expert, Alexander Schupp. Schupp works for the Bund and advises on trademark/mark rights and licensing. His document sets out the newly arrived at arrangements for associative licensing and sub-licensing of the ‘mark’. This not my area but it seems now that once an associative body has been granted rights to oversight and use of the legal mark within its area it may then sub-license the same right to another body related to it. So, we might see e.g. an Oceania Steiner/Waldorf association formed and licensed which could then sub-license countries or groups within Oceania. These in turn would guard the legal mark and through their accreditation process ensure their member schools meet Anthroposophic standards. Hierarchy of control still has Dornach at the top and they (or Dornach) can rescind or annul rights if it is felt necessary to do so. Apart from recouping admin costs for the processing of applications there is no financial charge involved in granting rights to the mark.
Handily, Schupps’ document points to the Anthroposophic qualities required of groups/national associations applying for rights of use of the legal mark, the Steiner ‘brand’. The associative body:
“…has to be created by the vast majority of the schools and and/or kindergartens operating on the Waldorf educational basis in its regional scope and accepted as representative of common interests.”
Since the associative body will consist mainly if not entirely of Waldorf entities it follows that the newly formed body will be Anthroposophic leaning. Even if, somehow, it wasn’t it would not be able to accredit schools that do not meet Dornach standards:
“The national association has to have jointly confirmed and laid down the procedure concerning the incorporation of new schools and/or kindergartens. The descriptions made therein as to what a Waldorf/RudolfSteinerschool and/or kindergarten is, must not contradict the “Key characteristics of Waldorf education” passed by the International Conference.”
Those key characteristics Schupps refers to first appeared in the Hague Circle characteristics statement linked to earlier and they have been tinkered with off and on since they first appeared in 2009. The most recent version I can find can be found in an article in a 2016 Autumn edition of Dornach’s Pedagogical Section Journal. It appears to be exactly the same version as the one given on the Hague Circle’s own website and dated to May of 2016. Notice though that the characteristics published do not replace any earlier versions, they supplement the characteristics given in the original 2009 characteristics document – the original document remains the linchpin holding any additional descriptors together. In a section of the original 2009 document titled ‘Guidelines of Waldorf Pedagogy’ Dornach cites the fundamental importance one key text – his ‘Study of Man’- has for every kind of Steiner educational setting:
“The basis of Waldorf education is a study of human being and developmental psychology presented by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) in his volume of lectures entitled “A General Knowledge of the Human Being” or “Study of Man”……It is a pedagogy which has its origin in the child and its goal is to develop each child’s individual potential…..It is the foundation of work within all types of institutions involved in education and professional training (for example, institutions for pre-school education, kindergartens, schools, job training, schools for children with learning difficulties, and many more). Educators and teachers require teacher training in Waldorf education, and feel obliged to undertake a form of self-education which is appropriate to Waldorf education, as well as further continuing professional development.”
Seen by Steiner as one strand of his overarching spiritual evolutionary narrative, Steiner describes in ‘Study of Man’ the spiritual mechanics of reincarnation and the incarnating child.
Knowing this helps clarify the quote from the Woods report given earlier, “(An) understanding of child development according to the principles of anthroposophy is at the core and heart of Steiner education…”. ‘Study of Man’ is more often published with a different title these days – same text different title, ‘Foundations of Human Experience’.
The last sentence of the ‘Guidelines’ section and its reference to teachers feeling obliged to undertake self-education is distinctly odd but there is some clarification elsewhere in the document e.g.:
“The most important aspect of working with the young child is the inner attitude of the educator, who is the role model for the child’s imitating. That is why this type of work requires constant self-education.”
“The educator’s goal is to train himself extensively at being a creative educator so that his lessons result in making the students intellectually creative, socially responsible and instilling in them the ability to make decisions and act upon them. The teacher’s process of self-education, together with his basic and further training are necessary prerequisites for this.”
It turns out education of teachers within Steiner/Anthroposophical schools is routinised by collective study of ‘Study of Man’ at a weekly meeting, a characteristic of the schools. Again from the ‘characteristics’ document:
“Each colleague feels obliged to participate in the weekly pedagogical conference. This is the leading pedagogical body of the school or kindergarten and includes foundation work (the study of man/education), dealing with pedagogical questions, the observation of children, questions of organisation and the task of leading and shaping the school together with other committees. The teachers’ conference is not only a place where colleagues receive further training, but also where perception, judgement, learning and giving the school new impetus all lead to a common consciousness for the whole.”
Parental involvement with Anthroposophic belief in Anthroposophical schools isn’t accidental or infrequent, it is programmatic. Woods Report page 17:
“An integral feature of Steiner schooling is the importance attached to family support for the education of the child, and the importance of adult learning and development in the wider school community. The schools need to explain their distinctive philosophy to parents and do so through means such as evening lectures or informative articles in newsletters.”
Or parents could pop along to a school study group. For example, this AWSNA school currently holds a weekly group meeting Monday nights. Such study groups are a common feature of Steiner schools and Steiner’s ‘Study of Man is often a subject of group focus at meetings. It’s also on every single Steiner/Waldorf teacher-training course I’ve ever come across. For schools it informs and structures the pedagogy and curriculum. It serves as a focal point for the meeting of minds in group or independent study. In fact, ‘Study of Man’ is by far the single-most important text for Steiner educationalists, educators and education generally, it’s part of the DNA of Steiner/Waldorf educational settings. If a school or other setting doesn’t draw on and/or ‘Study of Man’ by teaching to a Steinerian model of spiritual human development and/or by studying it in groups or as individuals (in kindergarten or as part of the pre-school formation process, for example) then it won’t be recognised by Dornach or any other Anthroposophical accrediting body, it cannot be a Steiner school, won’t be an Anthroposophical school.
So, it is the supreme head of the Anthroposophy movement, the School of Spiritual Science in Dornach, that ensures and assures the minimum Anthroposophical qualities described in its ‘characteristics’ documents are baked into Steiner/Waldorf educational settings. Settings must meet those minimum Anthroposophical requirements before they can become accredited and make use of the Steiner/Waldorf terms in their names. This is achieved and maintained via Dornach’s ownership, control and supervision of use of the Steiner Waldorf legal mark, a little like a protected brand name – an educational setting may not use the terms ‘Steiner’ or Waldorf’ within its title without Dornach’s permission. Dornach can mandate other Anthroposophical bodies to perform the same duties and mandated bodies may in turn ‘sub-license’ oversight of the mark to related bodies. The Anthroposophical nature and qualities of all parties involved is achieved through a system of checks. Here in UK the SWSF is the organisation mandated to oversee use of the Steiner/Waldorf name. It doesn’t matter too much which ‘organ’ recognises our UK Anthroposophical schools, the main point to be aware of is that our schools are guaranteed to be Anthroposophic by a national or international Anthroposophical organisation of an entirely Anthroposophical nature.
Recognition of Steiner schools by agencies outside of the Anthroposophy movement
External to the Anthroposophy movement, SWSF – the accreditor of UK Anthroposophical schools – is recognised here in England by the government. Our first state funded Anthroposophical school commenced in the time of Blair’s ‘conviction politics’ and opened only after the Woods Report was published. Prior to Woods, concerted efforts by Blair’s government to have an Anthroposophical school piloted within mainstream had come to nought and so government became proactive in having a SWSF school achieve academy status instead. Entirely against the wishes of the local community and their elected representatives the first state funded Anthroposophical school opened in Hereford, Gloucestershire in 2008. Background information regarding this may be found in part of Hereford’s Academy application form, SWSF newsletters (pre and post Hereford achieving academy status) and, re opposition to the academy see this Guardian newspaper report.
As under the previous administration, government today appears to recognise SWSF as the sole body responsible for accrediting/recognising Anthroposophical schools and as the body representing them. SWSF describes itself as representing Steiner education to the media, academics, and governmental agencies and mentions it works with government and agencies in connection with state funding for SWSF schools. Note that Prior to the Hereford Academy SWSF described itself as lobbying government whereas these days SWSF works with government – an example of this was the mention in an earlier post of the recent meeting between SWSF and DfE at which ‘issues relating to Steiner and Free Schools’ were discussed. How closely SWSF works with the devolved governments or with the Northern Ireland Assembly is unclear to me.
There will of course be other bodies external to the Anthroposophy movement recognising Anthroposophical schools or their associative bodies but so far as this post is concerned it would be tedious and unnecessary to look at recognition of Anthroposophical schools and associations on a nation by nation or case by case basis, it’s enough to know what the situation here is domestically and within an EU context.
Schools and their recognition apart, one of the fastest growing Anthroposophical endeavours withIn the UK education sector involves the creation, awarding and design of new certified courses. In the vanguard of this activity is the Crossfields Institute. Recognised as an awarding body by, amongst others, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), Crossfields has the same level of recognition as other awarding organisations such as Pearson (Edexcel) and is also a higher education institute. At one time Crossfields was explicitly Anthroposophical and casual visitors could visit the Crossfield website’s online forum. Nowadays one has to dig deeper to discover its Anthroposophic core credo,(scroll to ‘Objectives’ in the linked doc) perhaps because it isn’t as hard core Anthroposophical as it once was?
Well we don’t know and this brings to mind one of the difficulties the public has in determining to what degree an individual school’s praxis and pedagogy accords with Steiner/Waldorf characteristics as spelled out by Dornach and the Hague Council. As the situation stands, some schools and organisations are quite explicit about this, some less so, some not at all. Then there are a range of other characteristics not even mentioned by Dornach. The Woods report, for example, found that in 71% of Steiner schools an Anthroposophical doctor assisted with school assessments. Last time I checked, far less than 71% of schools even mentioned a doctor and far fewer than that mentioned an Anthroposophical doctor would be assisting in educational appraisals of pupils. It is extremely unlikely a prospective Steiner school parent will even know what an Anthroposophical doctor is and it’s near certain that no parent would be expecting an Anthroposophical doctor to be retained or to visit the school or have anything at all to do with their child’s educational assessment. Schools should routinely ensure prospective parents are made aware of this and other contentious aspects of Steiner/Waldorf education. It shouldn’t be this way, the onus is on schools to be fully transparent in the first place.
At least we know one thing for sure – whatever the school, if it carries the Steiner/Waldorf legal mark it is assuredly going to be teaching to a model of child development based on aspects of Steiner’s spiritual evolutionary narrative relating to karma, reincarnation and the incarnating child.