Tuesday, December 29, 2009

No Easy Answers in 21st Century Learning

From 'Children & Young People Now', 10 December 2009 by Howard Williamson

UK Youth hosted a conference at Windsor Castle at the end of November on the future of learning. Chaired by yours truly, it sought to examine and debate what kinds of learning young people need for the 21st century, including "non-formal" learning.

Keynote contributors were Guy Claxton, author of What's the Point of School? and Richard Pring, leader of the Nuffield 14 to 19 education review and co-author of the recent Education for All. Tim Loughton, the shadow children's minister, took part in a panel debate. Though only a small number of people were physically present, it is estimated that 20,000 individuals followed the proceedings closely.

The ideas produced were very different from the developments around academies, the preferred educational trajectory of both the government and the opposition.

These flagship schools were meant to promote both economy (through private sector investment) and excellence, but seem to have done neither. There has been a triple whammy of negative publicity in recent weeks. First, the United Learning Trust, which runs 17 such schools, was banned from taking on any more until standards in its existing schools improved. Second, many of the sponsors who were meant to pledge in the region of a tenth of the overall investment in a new academy have actually contributed nowhere near that amount. And then - the icing on the cake - the new primary school league tables report that the school with the worst average point score (nil point!) is an academy: the first publicly funded Steiner school in the UK, the Steiner Academy in Hereford.

Paradoxically, Steiner is on a bit of a roll at the moment. The Cambridge Review of Primary Education, the first of its kind for 40 years, appears to have endorsed much of the thinking and many of the approaches that have always been advocated in Steiner education: learning through play, not starting formal school until the age of six, a commitment to a broader curriculum, a resistance to teaching to the test, and attention to an individual's spiritual and emotional needs. This approach, traditionally dismissed as rather wishy-washy, has recently been applauded by shadow schools secretary Michael Gove, for producing commendable and credible education outcomes. The Tories appear to be leaning towards closer engagement with the Steiner movement and an interest in its "nurturing capacity".

So how will the Tories deal with the Hereford scenario? We don't know, any more than we really know the school's level of educational performance. Although the sponsors applied successfully for academy status, the parents refused to let their children take the national tests. Will this remain an isolated incident or the start of things to come? Have parents and others (like many at the Windsor conference) finally had enough of politically inspired knee-jerk educational nonsense? We'll see.

Howard Williamson is professor of European youth policy at the University of Glamorgan

Friday, December 11, 2009

Steiner 'cult' is an ethos that fosters humanity

Published in The TES on 11 December, 2009 | By: Catherine Paver

Last week the very first state-funded Steiner school in England appeared in the national league table for 11-year-olds' test results - at the very bottom.

But the school is not ashamed, nor should it be. The parents of pupils at the Hereford Steiner Academy had wanted their children to have a Steiner education, and that means no uniforms, no hierachy among the teaching staff - and no tests. So the parents simply withdrew their children from the Sats.

Many myths are circulated on the internet about Steiner schools, which can make them sound like part of a sinister global cult. But while some of the philosophy behind them can seem hippy-ish, the myths are usually unfounded. I know, because I taught in a Steiner school in South Africa for three years.

There was no head and all the teachers were paid the same salary. Equality was a tangible thing: pupils, teachers, cleaners and parents all chatted at the staffroom kettle. Pupils at the school generally liked what they did. But they did not do whatever they liked, and lessons were compulsory. Each child has the same class teacher for seven years, so the teachers gain authority from knowing the pupils so well.

Being taught formally from the age of seven, rather than earlier, did not lose the pupils anything at all. I was delighted to see Steiner schools in England gain an exemption recently from the Early Years Foundation Stage requirement to teach literacy before the age of seven. Certainly at the school where I taught in South Africa, the pupils' handwriting was clear and fluent.

The academic curriculum also suited the development of the child in ways that I found sensible, not flaky. In history, for example, the pupils studied revolutions at the age of 14, when they themselves are in the grip of violent hormonal conflicts. They related to the topic at an emotional level, which helped motivation.

So why, then, did Plymouth University axe its undergraduate course in Steiner teaching earlier this term? It gave a "lack of interest" as its reason for dropping the only course of its kind in Britain.

I can't help wondering if it was the weirdness of anthroposophy, the Steiner form of spirituality, that may have put applicants off. As one mother wrote online: "I'd sell my granny to send my kids there if it wasn't for anthroposophy!"

So what is anthroposophy? First, it is never taught to pupils. Meaning "wisdom of man", it is Rudolf Steiner's description of human development, seen in spiritual terms such as the "astral and etheric bodies". Steiner was an Austrian philosopher and reformer, who founded his first school in 1919 for the children of workers in the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart. An inspired thinker and reformer, he was still a man of his time: the era of European transcendentalism.

His philosophy ensures that children are treated as rounded individuals rather than measured as units of production. Meanwhile, since freedom is crucial to the Steiner philosophy, they - and the teachers - are free to think his spiritual views are bonkers.

I was once told that a baby should not be taken on an aeroplane because its spiritual and physical bodies have not yet combined. Well, I suppose you would cry too if you had left your soul on the runway. While such claims may be odd, the latent spirituality behind them gives these schools a valuable breadth of sympathy. It's what Steiner called "receiving a child with reverence" and "solving its riddle, from hour to hour". It taught me the value of lateral thinking and keeping calm in conflict resolution.

Take Peter's story. "Right now, his soul is black," said his teacher. Weird - but it was said with compassion, and freed up discussion on how to help him. In time, we found that angry Peter loved making puppets, which improved his behaviour. Would discussion of mark schemes have done the same?

Not all Steiner teachers are anthroposophists. How many teachers share the spiritual beliefs of their school's founder? I never have. And most beliefs look odd from a distance. I have worked in a Catholic school, whose kind, sensible teachers wore miniature instruments of torture (crucifixes) and pretended to drink blood (Mass). It didn't bother me because they were nice people.

Steiner schools are not a "cult", because a cult wants to be a religion when it grows up. Steiner's ideas simply serve the good of the child.

Nik Voigt, a filmmaker and photographer, attended a Steiner school and then a mainstream school as a pupil. He attributes his chosen career to his very first lesson at the Steiner school. "The teacher said, 'Everything is made up of lines and curves.' It may sound simple but it opened my eyes." In a state school, he felt he lost contact with his creativity. "In art lessons we were told, 'This is how you draw a jam jar.' What can you do with that?"

What Steiner schools cultivate is something that underpins creativity and imagination: humanity. Steiner wrote that "the new generation should not just be made to be what present society wants it to become". A valuable statement today, when sometimes it feels as if that is all we are doing.

Catherine Paver, Writer and part-time English teacher.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Steiner schools - has their time come?

Steiner schools are hoping the time could soon come for them to be given state funding. Are they right?

From The Guardian, Tuesday 1 December 2009, by Adharanand Finn

"Children should start school at six", screamed the national newspapers a few weeks ago on the day the biggest review into primary education in 40 years, the Cambridge Review, was published. It was a strange moment for the 31 Steiner schools across the country. Here was a central plank of their philosophy, which on every other day of the year was regarded by many as marginal, woolly and even backward, being proclaimed to the nation as the answer to its educational woes.
Of course, the Cambridge Review was about more than the age children should start formal education, but those headlines rang like a great call to action through the Steiner community. The Steiner Fellowship, the umbrella organisation for the mostly fee-paying schools, immediately issued a response welcoming the report.
"We are convinced that a later start to formal learning allows children to experience the joy of learning without unhealthy stress or the risk of early burn-out," it said. "We hope the findings [of the review] are taken seriously."
Theresa Trapp, a kindergarten teacher at the Exeter Steiner school, was less diplomatic. "It's about damn time," she said. "Children learn so much through play. It's about time we realised that."
The Cambridge Review also seemed to concur with the Steiner approach on a number of other issues, such as the need for a broader curriculum, less focused on "the three Rs", and that testing pupils for the sake of school accountability, namely Sats, was detrimental.
Everything seemed to align further when, a few days later, the archbishop of Canterbury condemned the English education system as "oppressive" for prioritising test marks over children's spiritual or emotional happiness. Steiner has long trumpeted its aim of addressing the needs of the "whole child", including its spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
The optimism all this generated in Steiner schools was only slightly tempered by the immediate rejection of the Cambridge Review's key findings by the government and the Tory party.
But behind the scenes the Conservatives had been making friendly noises towards Steiner schools. The shadow education secretary, Michael Gove, paid a visit to the Meadow Steiner school in Bruton, Somerset in June and came away "very impressed".
"From my visit today," he said, "it is clear to me that the children at the Meadow school benefit from a very nurturing environment, and while the education is based on alternative principles, they also end up with an impressive record of literacy and numeracy. This is just the kind of environment and parental interaction that we should be encouraging."
This was followed by the announcement of the Tories' new schools policy, which would make it easier for independent schools based on alternative methods to access state funding. The policy is based in part on the successful charter schools in the US, many of which are Steiner schools.
A few weeks ago, the Steiner movement held a special pre-election seminar, Moving Forward, with Conservative special adviser Sam Freedman, who turned up to explain how Steiner schools could benefit under a future Tory government.
To qualify for funding, schools would need to have a business plan, to be non-selective, to be inspected and, for reasons of accountability, reach a certain minimum benchmark in terms of exam passes, he said. The schools would also need to demonstrate enough parental demand. Most Steiner schools would happily meet these requirements.
Sylvie Sklan, from the Steiner Fellowship, however, is keen to point out that though the Tories may make state funding more accessible, the big breakthrough for the public funding of Steiner schools has already happened - when Britain's first completely state-funded Steiner academy became a reality in Hereford last year.
"The precedent that Steiner schools could be state-funded was set then," she says. "And we have to be thankful to the Labour government for that."
Despite long waiting lists for pupils to join the academy, the reason a raft of other state-funded Steiner schools haven't followed in its wake, says Sklan, is not a lack of political will, but "because of resistance from local authorities whose strict regulations are designed for standard schools".
Crucially, however, under the Tory plans authorities would not have the same powers to block new schools opening.
On the same night as the Moving Forward seminar, the world premiere of the film We Are The People We've Been Waiting For took place in Leicester Square. The film, produced by Lord Puttnam, is a critique of all that is wrong with the state education system.
The film argues that by focusing too much on rigid academic skills, schools are failing children. It suggests that, at its best, our education system is turning out foot soldiers who may struggle to adapt. At its worst, it is a "scandalous waste" of young people's talents.
Sklan says Steiner education avoids these pitfalls by not simply focusing on the transfer of knowledge and skills, but on "nurturing capacities and supporting the development of the whole child". This, she says, leads to adults who are able to think for themselves and excel in an ever-changing world.
Along with the Cambridge Review and the encouragement from the Tories, many involved with Steiner are beginning to think of this as a "moment" for the schools. With one state school up and running, it remains to be seen if Steiner can capitalise on this alignment of voices in its favour and make the leap into the mainstream, as it has in other countries such as Germany and the US; or whether, once all the noise has died down, its unconventional methods will remain on the fringes of our educational approach.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Edinburgh Rudolf Steiner School pupil success

Edinburgh pupil ranked joint highest in Higher physics exam

Published Date: 24 October 2009

Edinburgh school pupil Tommy Shinton has been ranked joint highest in Scotland for the mark he achieved in his Higher physics exam.

Edinburgh Rudolf Steiner School pupil, Tommy Shinton, has subsequently been invited by the Institute of Physics in Scotland to attend this year's Science and the Parliament event at Dynamic Earth to receive a prize for his efforts.The event, on 11 November, will be attended by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, who will also award the prizes. Tommy gained five grade A band one awards at Higher.

Edinburgh Evening News newspaper.

Friday, October 16, 2009

press release Cambridge Primary Review

16th October, 2009

Cambridge Primary Review – response from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, the association for Steiner education in the UK & Ireland, welcomes the findings of Robin Alexanders Cambridge Primary Review. In our view, Professor Alexander has examined the evidence rigorously. His conclusions will not be a surprise to educators in most of continental Europe, nor to many unheard voices here who believe that in the long term, children benefit from a later starting age for formal learning.

Steiner schools provide an educational environment where the young child's innate curiosity & ability to learn can be strengthened through play and through a range of experiences: linguistic, mathematical, practical, social, spatial & physical. Our approach has a long and well respected track record that shows that high quality, but non-academic, early years education lays the foundations for good social & academic skills & for life-long learning.

We are convinced that a later start to formal learning allows children to experience the joy of learning without unhealthy stress or the risk of early burn-out.

Professor Alexander has reached his conclusions out of a deep concern for the well-being of all children & after lengthy consultation & detailed analysis. His report deserves the title 'independent' & for the sake of our future and we hope that his findings are taken seriously.

Children Start School Too Young

From The Times
October 16 2009
Children start school too young — wait till they are 6, experts say

John OLeary

Formal schooling should be delayed until children reach 6, according to the biggest review of primary education for more than 40 years.
The Cambridge Primary Review, published today, says that five-year-olds should continue with the play-based curriculum used in nursery schools. Trying to teach literacy and numeracy at such an early age is 'counterproductive' and can put children off school, according to the committee that produced the report.
Professor Robin Alexander, the report’s editor, called for a debate about whether to raise the age of compulsory schooling, which has been set at 5 since 1870. But the review was more concerned about the style of learning offered in state schools.
Successive governments’ insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling went against the grain of international evidence, he said. Children who started school at the age of 6 or 7 often overtook English pupils in tests of reading before the start of secondary education.

Most continental countries start school later than in Britain, preparing children for formal classes through extended nursery education. The review proposes a similar model for England, continuing the current Foundation Stage for an extra year and following it with a single stage of primary education taking children to the age of 11.

The suggestion was not supported by the Government or the Opposition.
Dame Gillian Pugh, who chaired the review’s advisory committee, said: “If you introduce a child to too formal a curriculum before they are ready, you are not taking into account where children are in terms of their learning and their capacity to develop.”

A separate review, by Sir Jim Rose, that was commissioned and accepted by the Government, called for four-year-olds to go straight into primary reception classes. But Sir Jim recommended that parents be able to defer their child’s entry to school by up to a year if they felt they were not ready.
Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, who undertook a more limited review of primary teaching for the previous Conservative Government with both Professor Alexander and Sir Jim, said he feared a later start would lead to lower standards: “It is reasonable when children arrive at school for the emphasis to be on socialisation, but I see no reason to postpone the start of formal learning.”
John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, described the proposal as an “innovative idea” that deserved support: “We have seen problems with early admission to reception classes. It is an absolutely crucial stage of a child’s development and I think there is merit in extending the Foundation Stage.” The 600-page report, entitled Children, their World, their Education, says that many practitioners believe that the principles shaping pre-school education should govern children’s experience of primary school at least until the age of 6, if not 7. The Welsh Assembly has already extended the Foundation Stage to the age of 7.
Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that it would be a backward step not to make sure children were learning as well as playing through the Foundation Stage and beyond. “It is vital to get children playing and learning from an early age.”
Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and based at the University of Cambridge, the review took six years and drew on 4,000 pieces of evidence. It depicts primary schools struggling with interference from the Government and its agencies, but remaining “fundamentally in good heart” .
Professor Alexander said: “There is room for improvement but, after 20 years of pretty continuous change and reform, how could it be otherwise?” The introduction of more specialist teachers would help schools cope with the modern curriculum, he said.

Professor Alexander described the “crisis of childhood” as a media obsession and said it was evident mainly among those from poor backgrounds, who were farther behind their peers than those in comparable countries.
The review accuses the Government of abandoning the convention that it did not dictate how children were taught, and imposing a “state theory of learning” through its literacy and numeracy strategies. Such policies’ “Stalinist overtones” had produced an air of pessimism and powerlessness in the teaching profession. Existing tests at the end of primary school should be scrapped, the review says, and replaced by assessment of the whole curriculum, rather than just English, mathematics and science.

It describes politicians’ exclusive focus on ensuring that children can read, write and add up as narrower than that in Victorian elementary schools.Among the changes recommended by the review are longer training for graduates intending to teach in primary schools which, it says, should take two years not one, and a review of special educational needs. Long summer holidays might also be reduced.
Professor Alexander said that the review was intended to inform long-term planning, not “pre-election pointscoring”. The main parties nevertheless seized on the findings.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “We agree that the wave of bureaucracy over the past decade has been deeply damaging and we must trust teachers more. We also agree that we need more specialist training for primary teachers.” However, the Conservatives would not support a delay in the start of formal schooling.
Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said: “It’s disappointing that a review which purports to be so comprehensive is not up to speed on changes in primaries. The world has moved on since this review was started.”
Mr Coaker added: “We’re putting in place fundamental reforms following Sir Jim Rose’s primary review, to make the curriculum less prescriptive. A school starting age of 6 would be completely counterproductive — we want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Two schools win right to ditch early years curriculum

from Times Online Friday October 2nd 2009

(Richard Pohle)
Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent

Children at Steiner schools do not use electronic technology until they are seven

Two schools have won the right to opt out of the controversial early years “nappy” curriculum after ministers dropped a commitment that no pre-school child would be exempt.
After their successful appeals, the two Steiner schools will no longer be required to meet the Government’s targets, including making children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation or start to use phonics.
The two schools, which are the first to be allowed to opt out, argued that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) clashed with the Steiner philosophy, which does not believe that children benefit from the formal teaching of subjects such as English language until they are 7.
They also do not introduce “electronic gadgetry” until children reach that age

When ministers first published the curriculum, which contains 69 different measures for the progress and development of under-5s, they made clear that childminders and all nurseries and schools, state and private, would have to implement it.

The assessment criteria includes being able to dress and undress, sounding out letters, children writing their own name, and using some electronic equipment.
Victory for the two schools, the Wynstones School in Gloucestershire and North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey, means that the 40 or so other Steiner schools seeking an opt-out are likely to be given the go-ahead.
Their success has also stiffened the resolve of the many preparatory schools who oppose the curriculum.

John Tranmer, chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that it would back any of its 600 members who wanted to opt out.
“We are keen to support any member in asserting their independence, their right to determine what is best for children in their care. If that involves disapplication from EYFS they will have our backing,” he said.

Critics say such a prescriptive set of measurements is not suitable for young children because they develop at such different rates. Most unpopular is the expectation that children should be able to write a sentence with punctuation by the time they reach 5.

Professor Richard House, spokesman for the Open EYE campaign against the curriculum, said that he hoped the victory would open the floodgates for others to opt out.
“When schools share the views of these Steiner schools about literacy and numeracy for such young children it will be hard for the Government to treat them differently,” he said.
“We hope it will also help form a more general legal challenge against the Government’s decision to set compulsory goals for children below the compulsory age of education.”
He admitted that the Government had made the appeal process so difficult that a school would have to be very determined to see it through.

Schools must win the backing of more than half their parents, warn them that funding might be cut and state why they are incapable of meeting each of the targets before they can even get leave to apply.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Edinburgh Pupils Excellent Chemistry result

AN EDINBURGH school pupil is celebrating after achieving the highest possible mark in her GCSE chemistry exam. Olga Alapiki, 17, from Merchiston, who is a pupil at the Edinburgh Rudolf Steiner School, scored 400 out of a possible 400, gaining an A* grade, in the examination she sat in June. The AQA examination board congratulated Olga on the result, describing it as a "very notable achievement".

Source: The Scotsman
Location: Edinburgh
Related Topics: Teaching

Sunday, September 13, 2009

'Nappy curriculum' suffers setback as two schools allowed to opt out

The "nappy curriculum" of strict learning targets for under-fives risks being undermined after some schools were allowed to opt out of it.

By Martin Beckford, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Telegraph
Published: 6:00PM BST 13 Sep 2009

The kindergartens, which follow a philosophy of not beginning many elements of formal education until children reach seven, will no longer have to make sure pupils can meet the Government's strict reading and writing targets.
Experts say the decision to allow some exemptions from the Early Years Foundation Stage for Steiner schools will make it difficult for civil servants to refuse requests from other nurseries.

The more providers who are allowed to opt out of some of the 69 goals, the harder it will be for the Government to follow the educational development of pre-school children.

Dr Richard House, of the Open EYE Campaign, said: "The EYFS's existing shortcomings are largely due to the Government's single-minded intransigence in insisting that key, controversial aspects of the framework be compulsory and essentially non-negotiable, instead of being empowering professional guidelines.

"However, what was previously only a hypothetical possibility of exemption from some of the EYFS learning requirements has now become a welcome reality.

"On equity grounds alone, therefore, it will in future be very difficult, if not impossible, for the DCSF to refuse exemption applications from other, non-Steiner settings who also have principled philosophical or pedagogical objections to the EYFS literacy, numeracy, ICT and other requirements - whether it be from nurseries, childminders, or from parents themselves."

The Early Years Foundation Stage, known as the "nappy curriculum", was introduced last September as a way to track the progress of children before they turn five.

Every childminder and nursery school teacher, both state-funded and private, is required to monitor all of their pupils' reading, writing, counting and problem-solving schools.

They must assess children on whether they can write in sentences, use punctuation and operate television remote controls.

But some education experts say it creates too much red tape for staff and stifles young children's ability to play and explore the world around them.

The framework runs counter to the approach of education providers such as Steiner schools, which do not start teaching the three Rs until children are seven and instead emphasise social and creative development.

Two Steiner kindergartens have now been granted exemptions from some of the requirements of the curriculum, under a lengthy appeal process overseen by the Department for Children, Schools and Families but also involving local authorities.

Two schools ahve been given exemptions so far. A further 17 are waiting to hear if they too will be granted opt-outs, and in total more than 40 are expected to do the same.

Wynstones School in Gloucester and the North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey will no longer have to follow reading and writing goals including the study of phonics, the linking of letters and sounds. The London kindergarten has also been granted exemptions from the ICT targets.

Janni Nicol, early years spokesman for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, said: "The majority of Steiner early years settings will be applying for exemption.

"The hold-up has been through local authority involvement but we are hoping that this will be sorted out and they will all have applied by the end of the first term.

"I am very pleased to see that there is an understanding of the Steiner ethos and practice."

The Schools Minister, Diana Johnson, said: "Recent surveys from important workforce stakeholders tell us that the vast majority of early years providers broadly support the EYFS. Testimony to this is that almost a year since its implementation, only 19 providers, out of over 85,000 have applied for any form of exemption or modification.

"We are delighted that providers are embracing this framework which echoes what the best have been doing for years."

Related Articles
> Schools should be allowed to drop parts of National Curriculum, say MPs
> Childminder defies 'nappy curriculum'
> Pre-school children to start work on 'nappy curriculum' of 69 education targets
> Toddlers to be taught about human rights

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hunting for a Pre School


Hunting for a pre-school, Steiner Waldorf.
Interesting and informative American blog article that looks at Steiner Waldorf kindergarten practice.
Global Mama weblog, published March 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Response from the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship to the Cambridge Primary Review Special Report on the Primary Curriculum

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship would not normally comment on Professor Robin Alexander's Cambridge Primary Review, as our schools teach the international Waldorf curriculum and are therefore not affected by changes to the National Curriculum. However, we are very interested in anything that affects the quality of childhood and we are also, since the inception in September 2008 of the Steiner Academy Hereford, part of the state education system.

Were Dickens alive to rewrite Hard Times for our own hard times today, he would undoubtedly cast Mr Gradgrind in a senior education policy role: "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"

It would take a writer of the calibre of Charles Dickens to convey a full picture of what has happened to primary education over the last twenty years or so, but Professor Alexander does his best:

"In these severely utilitarian and philistine times, it has become necessary to argue the case for creativity and the imagination on the grounds of their contribution to the economy alone... We assert the need to emphasise the intrinsic value of exciting children's imaginations."

That Professor Alexander should feel the need to remind government of these things is tragic, but he is hardly a voice in the wilderness. The report of a 10-month inquiry from the National Association of Head Teachers in 2007 said that tests and league tables are "deeply damaging" the quality of schoolchildren's lives and their education. According to the NAHT, the obsession with national assessment that has seen pupils in England become the world's most tested is putting huge pressure on children, stigmatizing them as failures and forcing teachers to narrow the curriculum.

This report was hard on the heels of another report from the influential Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which listed a series of "damaging side effects", including teachers drilling children to pass tests and the "unreasonable pressure" of continual testing.

The Cambridge Primary Review confirms these earlier findings and goes on to argue that the education of many primary school pupils has been "impoverished" because key subjects - such as dance, music, PE, history, geography and science - have been squeezed out of the curriculum. From the Steiner schools' point of view, it is good to see Professor Alexander's recognition that the aims of primary education should be grounded on evidence of children's development, in contrast to the Rose Review's alarming proposal that summer-born children should start school in the September term after their fourth birthday

Professor Alexander implies that micro-management by the DCSF and confusion between national agencies and national strategies have been deeply unhelpful. The net effect in some schools, though not in all, is that rigid concentration on the three Rs and teaching to the test for 11-year olds have taken away from pupils what should be a given - a broad and balanced curriculum.

Education doesn't have to be like this.

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.

In Steiner schools, the teacher is allowed to be a professional, trusted to take each subject of the Waldorf curriculum and recreate it anew each day. There is no divide between "the basics" (protected) and the rest of the curriculum (viewed as dispensable). Instead, education itself is seen as an art and each subject is taught in an artistic way, whether it be reading, writing, maths, history, science or languages. Teacher appraisal is done by one's colleagues, while formative and summative assessment of pupils is carried out by the teachers. Discussion on all aspects of teaching, the sharing of professional experiences, child study, curriculum development, subject research etc, take place in the weekly meetings of the College of Teachers. There is no head teacher, and "distributed leadership" is the norm.

Steiner schools believe that they have much to give to the maintained sector as well as much to learn. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship wishes to develop workable ways of exploring mutual dialogue and learning between the Steiner and maintained sectors for the benefit of all our children.