Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What do Ed Balls and Sir Jim Rose know about early childhood that most European education experts don't?

Christopher Clouder, on behalf of the Executive of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, has issued the following statement in response to the interim report of Sir Jim Rose's Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum:

"The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship would not normally comment on Sir Jim Rose's interim review of the primary curriculum, as most of our schools are independent and therefore not affected by his proposals. However, we are very interested in anything that affects the quality of childhood and we are also, since the introduction of the Steiner Academy Hereford, part of the state education system.

"We are therefore pleased to note that Sir Jim has come up with some interesting proposals to overhaul what is taught in primary schools. For example, Steiner schools already introduce the teaching of French and German at an early stage - consequently we support his call for pupils to be offered one or two languages from the age of 7.

We also think that there is greater scope for creative and thorough teaching through a more theme-based approach to the curriculum, especially if this allows children to become more deeply involved in what they are taught. The 2-hour Main Lesson on a topic lasting several weeks has become one of the most successful and distinguishing features of Steiner teaching, for it allows teachers to cover the curriculum intensively and economically, and for pupils to develop their skills and capacity to focus on a task. Furthermore we are delighted with the recognition of the importance of play, although the fact that play is also joyful and not only utilitarian has been omitted. The proposal to strengthen the SEAL framework across the curriculum is both timely and vital.

"We have some reservations, however, about some of Sir Jim's other recommendations. While we understand the thinking behind his proposal that summer-born children should start school in the September term after their fourth birthday, if their parents wish it, we note the research evidence that indicates there is considerable variation in the age at which children are developmentally and neurologically ready to read and write. Boys are often later than girls in developing fine motor and language skills and the ability to sit still. Children born prematurely, or children who are born during the summer months can be 9-12 months younger than their peers in terms of neurological development.

Steiner schools work with a model of child development which considers the period from birth to six years old as being of critical importance in establishing the learning attitudes that children will take with them throughout their lives. Only when a child is physically, mentally, socially and linguistically ready should he or she be considered properly ready for formal education. In many cases, children are not ready before their seventh year.

"To give just one example to bear this out, a recent research study in Northern Ireland (where children start school at 4 years old) quoted by Sally Goddard Blythe of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychiatry (INPP) of 339 children of 5-6 years old showed that 48% of them had immature physical skills. In a study of 400 8-9 year olds, 35% of them still showed signs of physical immaturity. Northern Ireland has the lowest compulsory school starting age in Europe (4 years old). In most of Europe, with the exception of Malta, the Netherlands, Scotland and England, the starting age is at 6 years old or 7 years old. This includes Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden, in fact those countries with the most successful economies.

"We believe that it is quite possible for teachers to identify when children are physically ready for formal learning – balance, posture and motor skills provide indications of maturity in the central nervous system of the developing child and can be assessed at key stages in development. Steiner school teachers are trained in these techniques and use them to assess when children are ready to leave Kindergarten and move into Class 1.

"Children who are delayed in their physical development need more time involved in general physical activities before being ready to integrate fine motor and visual integration tasks. The consequences of not giving children the time to play and become ready for formal learning can be disastrous for their future ability to make the most of their education. Scotland and Wales have examined the evidence and both countries are moving towards the Nordic model of a later start to formal education. In Wales, the starting age is now 7 years old."

The question to Ed Balls and Sir Jim Rose must be: what do you know about early childhood that most of Europe, including Scotland and Wales, don't?

"The other huge issue, which is not addressed by Sir Jim, because it was excluded from his brief, is the whole question of the national curriculum SATs tests for 11-year olds. Are teachers going to have the time to give to Sir Jim's ambitions for improving, for example, children's speaking and listening skills, when they expect to devote hours to coaching children for the tests? The use of the tests for the publication of national performance tables means that schools are judged on the results and it is unrealistic to think that schools will not continue to give a very high priority to preparing their pupils for them."

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hereford Steiner Academy receives European Funding

It was announced today that Hereford Steiner Academy has been successful in a bid for EU funding. The funding will allow the school to take part in a two-year project to explore the design of new qualifications pathways. The project could lead to opportunities for students in further learning and employment, as well as leading to the accreditation of the Steiner curriculum in Europe.

The Hereford Steiner Academy, due to open on 1st September 2008, is one of a group of 12 Steiner schools across 8 European countries – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Norway, Slovenia – to secure EU funding under the Comenius-School-Partnership-Programme. This project was initiated by the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education together with the Potsdam Waldorf School and the bid for funding was written by ECSWE and Potsdam Waldorf School on behalf of the partners.

The Principal of the new Academy, Trevor Mepham, was delighted with the announcement. He said:-

"This funding has potential significance for pupils and staff as the school begins life as an Academy. Being part of the School Partnership Programme provides us with an opportunity to work with colleagues and partners in European education to ensure that the learning and achievements of our students are recognised across European boundaries. This could lead to new employment opportunities for students as well as business links for the school. We are one of two Steiner schools in the UK to be selected for this project which brings a European initiative in education into the county of Herefordshire."

The first programme meeting takes place in September, in Potsdam, Germany. At the end of the 2-year project, all project partners will gather in Hereford for one of the final project meetings at the Steiner Academy in Much Dewchurch.

There are currently 30 schools teaching Steiner education in the UK and Steiner schools are part of mainstream state-funded education in the majority of European countries. Founded in 1919, Steiner curriculum emphasizes social, emotional, practical and academic learning. Steiner schools welcome pupils from all faiths and backgrounds.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hereford Steiner Academy gets go-ahead

Schools Minister, Andrew Adonis, has given the go ahead for the Hereford Steiner Academy to open in September 2008.

The Academy is sponsored by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship and will be the first school in the UK to offer free Steiner education. The Hereford Steiner Academy will replace the Hereford Waldorf School and will have around 290 pupils aged three to 16 years on its roll when it opens in September. The school will benefit from significant capital investment from central government which will be used to refurbish much of the school's existing site as well as developing new teaching facilities.

The Principal of the new Academy, Trevor Mepham, said:

"We are delighted to become the first Steiner school in the UK to offer publicly-funded Steiner education and we look forward to opening in September. This is an opportunity for us to participate in the broader educational discourse; to listen, to learn and to contribute our own ideas, approaches and experiences."

Sylvie Sklan, chair of the transitional board of governors and lead representative for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, said:

"We are very pleased that the Academies programme has enabled us to make the Steiner curriculum more open and accessible. The new Academy will provide greater choice for the parents of Herefordshire and enable more children to benefit from this creative education."

Schools Minister, Andrew Adonis, said:

"The academies programme is all about raising standards and offering choice for parents, so I'm delighted that the first state funded Steiner school can now open as an academy.
"Academies are allowed a flexible curriculum and an independent governing board, which is where they fit with the Steiner ethos. Academies are popular with parents, with on average three applications for every place and I'm sure the Hereford Steiner Academy will be no less popular."

There are currently 26 schools teaching Steiner education in the UK and Steiner schools are part of mainstream state-funded education in the majority of European countries. Founded in 1919, Steiner curriculum puts equal emphasis on emotional and academic learning and Steiner schools welcome pupils from all faiths and backgrounds.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

News from Ireland

To all Friends of Raheen Wood & Mol an Oige Steiner Schools, CountyClare, Ireland

Dear All,
We have now received letters from the Irish Department of Education and Science informing us that Minister Mary Hanafin has decided to grant provisional recognition to the proposed Raheen Wood and Mol an Oige Steiner National Schools with effect from 1st September, 2008.This is an historic moment in the 21 year old path of Steiner Education in Ireland, and it is significant for the worldwide Steiner Waldorf movement as a whole that another sovereign state has today agreed to recognise what we bring to the education of young minds and hearts.As is the norm for new schools, what has been granted intially is provisional recognition, in this case for one year. The question of permanent recognition is considered then when the Department is satisfied that the long-term viability of the new schools has beendemonstrated. At Raheen Wood, an All School Meeting on 28th February will consider the question of acceptance of the Department's offer.
Alan DickeyFor Raheen Wood School Transition Group

Monday, February 11, 2008

Press Release 8th February 2008

Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship: Statement in Response to Reports from the Cambridge Review and the National Foundation for Educational Research (08-02-2008)

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Movement (UK) welcomes the reports that have been published by the Cambridge Primary Review and the NFER concerning the issues of school-starting age, pupil testing and school league tables.

Along with others, we consider the child's first years of learning and educational experiences to be of crucial importance and value for the child, the child's future health and development and the emerging society, which we share.

In Steiner schools across the world, the young child is enabled to develop sure foundations for learning. In our settings we provide an environment in which young children can immerse themselves in creative, experiential, social play. This play is not scripted or determined by narrow 'academic' learning outcomes. In this way, children develop skills and learning dispositions for life and for living: thoughtfulness, care, responsiveness, enthusiasm, a lasting interest in the world and one another. These human qualities and values elude attempts at quantification, yet are the life-blood of meaningful individual and community life. Our educational approach aims to develop a full range of competences through providing a blend of cognitive, practical and aesthetic experiences. This approach is founded on the principle of meeting children in their development, rather than pushing and prodding them towards artificially constructed targets and goals.

While tests and league tables are ephemeral and arguably insubstantial, aptitudes and attitudes are lasting and potent forces for social renewal and progress. 'Earliness', 'competitive acceleration' and relentless testing lead to pressurised learning and have questionable purposes except in their own terms. As concepts they are qualitatively different from 'readiness', 'suitability' and 'authentic assessment', or respecting the child and their learning.

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Movement supports the NUT's call for a considered review of current arrangements for the testing of primary school pupils. Steiner educators are ready to contribute to such a review and to join the debate about the most effective ways for children to be educated and cared for in our times.

8th February 2008