Steiner schools teach project blocks (“main lessons”) such as farming, building, or ancient Greece and to motivate learning geography, history, maths and English. Academic subjects are studied in the morning when the brain is most effective, and sports or crafts in the afternoon. State schools teach discrete subject content specified nationally in a document that makes little reference to developing the “whole child”, and would benefit from a more holistic approach. Too much emphasis on skills and tests and spoon fed content can marginalise the development of a desire for knowledge. Steiner schools, as the report says, could benefit from better management and teacher training.
Unfortunately Steiner schools have maintained a purist attitude to anthroposophy, the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was a prolific author with an interest in mysticism and the occult. He believed himself to be a psychic. So it’s often the anthroposophy that alienates people: many parents don’t want their children taught by teachers whose training includes reincarnation and karma. Yet where some of the ideas are sound, must they be shrouded in a cosmic mist? Anthroposophists do themselves little favour (and earn enemies) when they refuse to engage with those of a more sceptical bent.
There’s a new state funded Steiner City Academy being built in Gloucestershire. When I’ve talked to those involved in Steiner schools they’ve been concerned that the anthroposophical underpinning might be diluted. Perhaps a school which “compromises” on Steiner’s principles won’t be a Steiner school as far as they are concerned. For the rest of us, simply because some of Steiner’s ideas are unacceptable, we shouldn’t ignore this well developed alternative educational system. The result may be a distinct new school system. Good. The report is overdue.