A Steiner Waldorf education seeks to offer children a progressive, holistic approach to learning. Known for taking account of the whole child, Steiner Waldorf schools focus specifically on academic, physical, emotional and spiritual development through a curriculum that takes full account of the different phases of child development. Artistic activity and the growth of the imagination is seen as integral to learning.
Dr Rudolf Steiner, the founding inspiration of the worldwide movement of modern day Steiner schools, sought to develop a system of education that would promote universal human values. Although Steiner’s philosophy on education is clearly influential in Steiner schools today, schools in the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship do not promote Anthroposophy (Steiner’s ideas also founded the basis of Anthroposophy – a controversial philosophy of human wisdom and development) and do not endorse every aspect of it. Learning in Steiner schools is unhurried, with an emphasis on the creative. The flexible set of pedagogical guidelines laid down by Dr Steiner allow for whole class, mixed ability teaching and a curriculum that is taught in thematic blocks.
Kevin Avison, Senior Executive Advisor at the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, explains that these distinctive features have an impact in the classroom. “We don’t do direct teaching in the early years stage in kindergarten (age 3-6). We lay foundations for future learning. In the second phase, or Class Teacher period, it is usual for a teacher to remain with their class to age 13-14.
There is a progression from learning through doing in the Kindergarten stage, through to feeling their way into subjects from age 6 with increasing subject immersion and in-depth subject knowledge that happens as the children encounter progressively intellectually challenging sessions into the upper school phase (14-18). This is where they meet teachers who are specialists, ideally with a research attitude towards their disciplines.”
Steiner schools, like some other schools outside the mainstream, have had their share of controversy, but it seems there are several factors fuelling interest in Steiner education. Kevin explains: “It seems that there is some disarray in the direction of travel for maintained schools. It may well be that we are moving away from control from the centre in the maintained sector. We also seem to be turning back to an earlier version of education and some children and parents are being turned off and even turned away. Steiner doesn’t just operate in the independent sector either. We have state funded Steiner Academies in Hereford, Exeter, Bristol and Frome. This certainly fuels interest in the way we educate, especially as it is possible to access a Steiner school without paying fees.”
Parent of two, Emma MacPherson, specifically chose a Steiner education for her children. “I loved the integrated curriculum. In their last year of primary school they study Ancient Greece – but not just a few myths they also learn Ancient Greek, do Olympic sports in their games lesson and take part in an Olympic Games with all the other Steiner schools in the UK, and Pythagoras features in maths. They can learn in a holistic way. I also liked the respect the teachers had for the kids which engendered and modelled respectful behaviour between the kids and towards adults. Any Steiner child talks to an adult as a respectful equal.”
Teachers in Steiner schools are a mixture of Steiner-trained and mainstream-trained. It is possible to make the transition from the mainstream to Steiner teaching although there are some key differences between the two systems. As Kevin explains, “the running of a Steiner school is part of being a teacher in it. We do prefer to have teachers with Qualified Teacher Status. If necessary, teachers can access CPD to help them to teach according to Steiner principles.”
Interested in teaching in a Steiner school? Search Steiner Schools here.
Find out more…
Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship www.steinerwaldorf.org
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.