Thursday, June 30, 2005

Research Project

First comprehensive report on English Steiner schools published

A unique study, the first comprehensive mapping of Steiner School Education in England, conducted by researchers at the University of the West of England on behalf of the DfES, will be published on 30 June 2005.

This wide-ranging study covers leadership, curriculum, teaching style and methods, educational philosophy, the approach to special educational needs and national tests as well as links with parents and staffing.

Education in Steiner schools is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, known as anthroposophy, and the schools provide an alternative approach to mainstream education in the UK and many other countries. The schools have distinctive practices which emphasise the development of the whole child and in particular the spiritual aspects of their development.

In England there are 23 Steiner schools and the research covered 21 of these - 15 were visited and a number of case studies carried out, as well as a survey of Steiner teachers and a review of existing research studies. The study aimed to identify good practice, find differences and common ground with mainstream education, and to find out how the two sectors might learn from each other.

Current education policy is to broaden choice for parents through diversity of provision as well as promoting the freedom for schools to excel through innovation, collaboration and sharing. The report also makes recommendations should Steiner schools enter the maintained sector.

Professor Philip Woods who led the research says the report identified a number of strengths in Steiner schools, "There was a striking consistency between the schools, despite a large variation in the size and resources available. Overall we found areas of good practice such as the early introduction and approach to modern foreign languages, development of speaking and listening through oral work and the combination of class and subject teaching for younger children. In addition the development of good pace in lessons through an emphasis on rhythm, the emphasis on child development in guiding the curriculum, and Steiner schools' approach to art and creativity were all distinctive strengths. We also found that the emphasis given to teachers reflective activity and heightened awareness as well as the non-hierarchical, collegial form of running schools, offers a contrast to current practice in the maintained sector and may prove relevant for mainstream schools."

While the report cautions about the difficulties of transferring practices from schools with differing philosophies, it says there is considerable scope for many aspects of the good practice of Steiner schools to inform what goes on in state schools, and vice versa, and it suggests LEAs, government and Steiner schools should promote opportunities for professional dialogue between the two sectors.

Professor Woods says, "We see a great potential benefit from mutual dialogue and professional interaction between Steiner and mainstream educators. As well as the good practices we have identified from Steiner schools there are also areas in which Steiner schools could benefit from maintained sector practices such as management skills, organisational and administrative efficiency, classroom management, working with older secondary school children and record keeping and assessment."

The report also identifies the challenges facing Steiner schools, if they were to become part of the state-funded sector and offers a series of recommendations to meet these challenges, "Governments, LEAs and Steiner Schools need to promote a wider understanding of the philosophy behind the schools, and there needs to be a greater understanding amongst assessment bodies of the ways in which Steiner schools assess progress and facilitate pupils' learning. We also recommend that, if Steiner schools became part of the state sector, the Government would need to enable Steiner schools to opt out of the National Curriculum. There would also be challenges to be met in the way the schools are managed and the training of teachers."

The report recommends further research into the relative effectiveness of Steiner and mainstream school practices to strengthen the evidence base of Steiner schools.

Editor's notes

The research team are: Professor Philip Woods, Dr Glenys Woods and Dr Martin Ashley from the Faculty of Education, at the University of the West of England.

Copies of the full report, 'Steiner Schools In England' (RR645) - priced £4.95 - are available by writing to DfES Publications, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley, Nottingham NG15 0DJ.

Cheques should be made payable to "DfES Priced Publications".

Copies of this Research Brief (RB645) are available free of charge from the above address (tel: 0845 60 222 60). Research Briefs and Research Reports can also be accessed at

Further information about this research can be obtained from Elif Aksit, 6D, DfES, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT.


The views expressed in the report are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education and Skills.

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