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Overview:  Steiner Waldorf aims to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment in harmony with different phases of a child’s development.

Steiner Waldorf Schools

Philosophy: Children should enjoy learning for its own sake, not merely to pass exams. Gives equal attention to children’s physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural and spiritual needs.

Background: In 1919, Austrian philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner, whose ideas founded the basis of Anthroposophy, began a school in Stuttgart for children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory. This inspired a worldwide movement of schools.

How common are they: Today 1000, schools and 2,000 early years centres in over 60 countries now use this holistic approach, making it the fastest growing independent education system in the world. Their curriculum is unique with younger children taught 'through the teacher and not via text books'. Some have joined the UK state system, becoming ‘free’ schools.

What can we expect: Play, storytelling, drawing, and nature are fundamentals for younger children, with the three R’s reserved principally for the post-7 brigade, yet foreign languages are taught from an early age. Children are often immersed in a subject over a prolonged period.

Parents: Generally, want their children to have a creative and unpressured childhood. Lots of Steiner pupils send their children to a Steiner school and many return, to teach or volunteer.

Staffing: No head, instead a chairperson of the College of Teachers is appointed annually, to avoid hierarchy. Some parents may find the lack of direct accountability disturbing.

Curriculum: Early years, up to 7, consists of free play, arts and crafts, singing and dancing. Formal schooling starts at 7, when children begin to learn to write and then to read what they have written. Schooling is structured round the cross-curricular Main Lesson. Music, drama, art and eurythmy – a Steiner form of movement – are all important parts of the day, as are practical skills such as gardening and baking.

Exams: Most UK Steiner schools teach a limited range of GCSEs and A levels. There are no external targets or tests until mock GCSEs.

Example of Steiner School - Michael Hall

Overview: A gentle school which aims to keep children from rushing into adulthood before they’re ready and parents value for ‘creating innovators’.

Philosophy: A You might find a compost bucket resting on a photocopier, yet this school is a beacon of professionalism among UK Steiner schools and the children who emerge are confident, articulate, international, open-minded and grounded. Lucky them.

Background: Michael Hall, founded in 1925, is the longest established of the 35 UK Steiner schools to offer national curriculum exams.

What to expect: The site and school do feel magical and slightly removed from reality – gloriously green. Mnemonic power of free-ranging discussions and holistic links cannot be underestimated – walking from Forest Row to the seaside during geography main lesson, through a landscape showing signs of smelting, charcoal burning and shipbuilding.

Parents: Some families see it as a refuge from mainstream education. One parent complained that all are taught at the pace of the slowest pupil while another delighted that her bilingual children get to expand their language skulls creatively. Most throw themselves into organising advent fairs, redecorating classrooms, helping with the gardening. Steiner schooling tends to be a way of life for the whole family.

Staffing: No head, instead a senior management team. Growing percentages of the staff come from mainstream private or state schools. Skills of the teacher used to be a bit of a lottery, less so nowadays with tighter appraisals and continuous training; new teachers also have mentors.

Curriculum: Children taught to write before they read; they learn manually and are encouraged to do so before they understand. Never just sitting at a desk, instead alternating with the left and the right side of the brain. ‘Quality rather than quantity,’ say teachers.

Exams: Exams certainly not the be-all-and-end-all but does teach a limited ranged of GCSEs and A levels.

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Further reading:

Home education

Montessori schools

Forest schools

The 'alternative' alternatives

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles


  • Montessori schools

    Overview: Creativity and exploration – this ethos puts children firmly at the centre of society. Philosophy:  Based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. Background: Pioneered by Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female doctor in 1907 to educate the poor in Italy. To the uninitiated, Montessori methods may seem like a free-for-all. Homework, testing and exams are seldom found. Montessori found that children learn best by doing ‘The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. A child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to…

  • Forest schools

    Forest schools aren’t actual physical schools. Instead, they refer to regular outdoor sessions, mostly at nursery or primary school level, in natural environments to enable children to develop confidence through hands-on learning.


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