Free Schools(1)

Prior to moving home I had part written a lengthy post about the many Steiner schools applying (at that time) to become ‘Free Schools’ but the draft of that post was lost when my computer died. Rather than a re-write I’ve decided to cover the topic in shorter, easier to digest chunks a la ‘Odds & Sods’ blog style. But there’ll be bigger portions. Chunkier portions. Oh read on, life’s too short…

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There are many reasons as to why the government should not approve Steiner Free School applications but will reason be enough to overcome cronyism?

Cronyism? Absolutely, yes. Here’s a photo of the boss of the Department for Education (DfE), the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP.

The picture appeared on the election blog (no longer online) of Annunziatta Rees-Mogg when she was a Conservative candidate for Somerton and Frome constituency. Gove had at the time been visiting the Meadow School for Steiner Education Edit March 2019: this school is now closed) Annunziatta is standing in the middle, Gove to her left and one Emma Craigie stands to her right. Emma Craigie, a former trustee of Meadow Steiner and of a now defunct Steiner school project in Bath, is actually Annunziatta’s sister, they’re the children of Lord William Rees-Mogg.  Annunziatta (a journalist for the Telegraph and contributor to the BBC) didn’t win her seat (results here), family honours went to her brother, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who won his seat (results here) when standing as a Conservative in the neighbouring constituency of North East Somerset. Emma Craigie is now (according to Linkedin) an adviser to or for Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF).

A cross-bencher in the Lords and well-known journalist, Lord Rees-Mogg reported on Gove’s Meadow Steiner school visit for a piece published in the Daily Mail from which we learn that Gove used to be a features editor at the The Times, a paper Lord Rees-Mogg  used to be editor of and still occasionally writes for. Sarah Vine is married to Gove and she too writes for The Times.

Whilst still an opposition MP, Gove – one of the MP’s exposed by the Telegraph during the expenses scandal – had one Rachel Wolf working for him as a special adviser. Rachel Wolf heads up the New Schools Network, a charity lobbying for Free Schools prior to the last election.  Once in office Gove granted the New Schools Network half a million quid to do the admin work (advising and assisting wannabe Free Schools) his own department’s civil servants would routinely have been expected to do.

In January 2011 the some 15 or so Steiner schools were expressing an interest in becoming  Free Schools. This means approximately 50% of SWSF member schools considered or applied to become Free Schools. A stampede, you might say, but so far not a single one of them has put in a successful application. This is very surprising given that the SWSF and its schools have some hugely influential backers and supporters. However, there’s no knowing as to how the same or new Steiner applicants will fare during the next or future rounds of application processing – according to a Department for Education FAQ unsuccessful applications can resubmit.

The publication here on the blog (a scoop, by the way) of a transcript of discussions at a ‘special  seminar’ ruptured the then standard lines of defence taken by Steiner educators and Anthroposophists generally when dealing with accusations of Steiner racism. The content of that blog post, widely circulated, might have something to do with the apparent lack of Steiner Free school successes but let’s be pragmatic, practical and sensible. Let’s presume the worst of our political classes.

Here’s a quote from Sam Freedman (another Gove advisor) speaking to Steiner school trustees and administrators (including Emma Craigie). The quote comes from the ‘special seminar’ and is a response to a questioner asking if Freedman saw any particular problems with Steiner schools becoming state funded. Freedman replied (verbatim):

“Not in terms of the way we want to legislate, but, I mean I’m sure this is something that you all know about anyway, there’s a big PR issue, and if a lot of Steiner schools open quite quickly in the state sector, I mean I’ve been, erm, I’ve had all sorts of people writing to me just because they found out that I was coming to this meeting. Attacking. Attacking the Steiner Schools… Anonymously. Through social networking. People find out who you are, find out your account number and bombard you with articles, negative articles… This was pointing out all the things they think are wrong with Steiner movement, link after link after link. And that’s just from me coming to this meeting, so you have to be aware, well I know you’ll all be aware anyway, but this will be on a much, much bigger scale.”

Ahh, if a lot of Steiner schools open quickly in the sector there’ll be a fuss. If they open at a slower rate there won’t be?

That’s it for now. Follow on, chunky sized, posts will explore the reasons as to why government should and cannot accept Steiner Free School applications.