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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.

What are they? First founded in 1919 by philosopher and scientist Dr Rudolf Steiner, these schools aim to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment, organised round Steiner’s theories on the different stages of child development. There are some 29 in the UK, four of these funded by the state. Early years concentrate on play and hands-on activities, with formal learning reserved for the 7+ brigade. No computers or other technology before adolescence. NB Make sure you are clued up on the Steiner philosophy of Anthroposophy before signing up.

What to expect: An emphasis on creativity, with plenty of painting, music and movement, drama, knitting and gardening. Balance between practical and academic disciplines is the aim. Everyone learns woodwork as well as to knit and sew, moving perhaps from a case for their flute to their own shirt. Every day includes eurhythmy, a form of movement similar to tai chi. Key subjects are taught in main lessons: a two-hour slot each morning looking at the same topic over three or four weeks, with cross-pollination between subjects. No exams till mock GCSEs.

Staffing: No headteacher but a College of Teachers, with a chair appointed annually to avoid a hierarchy. Parents can find the lack of direct accountability frustrating, especially when faced with staff changes and/or the management of high-spirited children. A variety of teacher training routes, mostly part time and many on-the-job, Financial management can be less slick than at mainstream independents.

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’..

Academic: Early years children ‘encouraged to find their own level of creative play and imitate the adults with plenty of repetition and ritual.’ Education ‘never just sitting at a desk, instead alternating with the left and the right side of the brain, encouraging both intellect (singing times tables) and body (crochet and knitting) nimbleness.’ ‘Free-ranging discussions and holistic links – walking from Forest Row to the seaside during geography main lesson, through landscape showing signs of smelting, charcoal burning and shipbuilding.’ Exams ‘not the be all and end all’ but teaches GCSEs and a relatively traditional range of A levels.

Options: ‘Balance between practical and academic disciplines is the aim…Pupils don’t choose drama over sport or art or vice versa, everything is a whole class activity which bonds them socially.’ Olympic games for 11 year olds, ‘earth stewardship apprenticeship camp’ bookends GCSE years.

Background: School sitefeels magical and slightly removed from reality – gloriously green’. ‘Pupils build climbing frames, edge a path and help to maintain the garden.’ ‘Hippy stereotypes abound – yet this school is a beacon of professionalism among UK Steiner schools.’

Parents: ‘The New Age-ers (instinctively want their children to have as much of a childhood as possible before being forced into tests and bombarded by materialism), the Anthropops (done a lot of reading on the Waldorf Steiner philosophy) and the cosmopolitans (moved from a country where their children attended a Steiner school or kindergarten).’ Pupils ‘think they can spot other Steiner pupils at 50 paces, ‘a bit rainbow hippy, a bit knitted’. Families all tend to be ‘tremendously involved in the education process’.

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Further reading:

Home education

Montessori schools

Forest schools

The 'alternative' alternatives

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  • Montessori schools

    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 be.’…

  • 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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