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First publicly-funded Steiner school in Britain passes major hurdle

29.04.2005 - NNA Nachrichten

After what was described by one source as “a long and arduous process”, lasting several years, the first state-funded Steiner academy in Britain is set to go ahead and move Waldorf education into the mainstream.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has told the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) which represents Steiner schools in Britain and has sponsored the project, that its proposals have passed the first major hurdle and can progress to the detailed feasibility stage. The purchase of the site on which the school is to be built was completed on Friday.

Welcoming the support of the government for this development, the SWSF said in a statement, it was now hoped that this first step would lead to the signing of a funding agreement – the official green light for construction – by the beginning of 2006.

Schools Minister Stephen Twigg said:  "I welcome this exciting and innovative proposal.  Academies are steadily transforming the life chances of children and young people in areas where they have opened.  If successful it will be the first Steiner academy and I am sure it will prove to be a huge asset for the local community."

Academies are independent but publicly funded, no-fees, all-ability schools which the British government has been promoting since 2000.  The SWSF has raised ten percent towards the construction costs and the DfES will provide the balance and meet the running costs. 

“The first publicly funded Steiner academy in this country signals an exciting breakthrough,” the SWFS says. It represented a positive shift towards providing a broader range of provision, more choice for parents locally, innovative solutions for old problems, the potential for raising standards through the sharing of new ideas and best practice and a more secure base for the delivery of Steiner education.

Seventeen academies have opened in the UK so far and a further 46 are under development.  Academies are an integral part of the government’s strategy to raise school standards and improving education in disadvantaged and challenging situations. The programme is also committed to innovation through experimentation and exploring the benefits of different educational models. This project represents a step into entirely new territory for both the Department and for Steiner schools.

The new school is scheduled to open in September 2007.  It will be built on land adjacent to the existing Steiner school buildings in Much Dewchurch and will cater for children from 3 to 16. After that pupils transfer to the local further education colleges.

Patrick Cosgrove, Director of the Learning and Skills Council for Herefordshire and Worcestershire said:  “The Learning and Skills Council congratulates the Steiner School in Herefordshire on its success in getting the Minister’s approval to explore Academy status. We are interested in supporting imaginative approaches to learning which may assist our own agenda of increasing participation and attainment post-16 and, of course, promoting the importance of vocational education and training.”

At present parents pay up to £3,000 a year for a place but if the proposal goes ahead all children will be funded by the state. The Waldorf School in Much Dewchurch was opened 21 years ago and teachers 200 students. An extra 60 places will be available if the academy moves goes ahead.

Defining moment

According to the SWFS statement, the Steiner academy will aim to bring out the potential in pupils of all abilities by providing first-class and ecologically sensitive buildings and facilities for teaching and learning, as well as a broad and balanced education through the teaching of the Steiner curriculum. It will pursue radical approaches to tackling underachievement and promoting excellence together with innovative timetabling and teaching method and new forms of governance, as well as harnessing parental passion for the educational principles to sustain their involvement

A spokesperson of Steiner Schools Fellowship said:  “We believe this development is important for 2 main reasons: it acknowledges that other educational models can bring innovative solutions to old problems and that there is a need for different kinds of schools to meet the needs of  parents who have different values about the very nature of education itself.

“It is a defining moment when such differences can be celebrated and the hope is that this Steiner academy marks the beginning of a new era where the full potential and relevance of this education can be realised.”

It is hoped that the Hereford school will encourage other Steiner schools to adopt a similar approach. At least another six are though to be willing to go down the same path in the next few years.

The school hopes to play a key role in the diversity agenda by sharing best practice with other schools locally and by becoming an example school. It will be an educational and community resource not only for its pupils but also for their families and the wider community. It will form part of a wider exploration of what Steiner education has to offer and how this may contribute to the education landscape of this country.

“I welcome this news about the first Steiner academy in the UK. It marks the meeting point of two fundamental educational principles: the right of parents to an education for their children which is broadly in line with their own beliefs and values, and the right of children to a high quality, well-resourced education that helps them to develop their full potential. There may be things that mainstream education can learn from the Steiner movement,” said Mark Halstead, Professor of Education at the University of Plymouth.

William Braid, Chair of Governors at Hereford Waldorf School said: “The present school community and prospective pupils look forward to this development and hope this will provide new buildings and better facilities that, together with our dedicated staff, will encourage the outside world to take more notice of the underlying principles that this education is based on.

“They are unique. And yet this is a very pragmatic, common-sense approach that can quickly find resonance in our instinct as a parent for what is right – the protection of a child’s right to childhood.”

A teacher from the Hereford Waldorf School said:” We welcome the validation this gives to Steiner education and we look forward to this unique curriculum becoming more widely known and appreciated. Of course we also look forward to the range of new resources this will bring.”