Raphael Steiner School closes

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“…the setting’s policies are out of date and do not clearly reflect current advice about what the setting should do in the event of an allegation being made against an adult at the setting.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’.