‘Sleeping on it’ no 2
You know it’s a funny old world when two respected magazines simultaneously publish articles about state-funded Steiner schools, one heralding the opening of the new Steiner Academy Frome as a possible ‘seismic moment in British education history’ (The Spectator) while the other alleges that Steiner schools pedal an ‘anti-science agenda that is detrimental to progress.’ (TES) Throw last term’s Guardian piece into the mix (‘women in ponchos hug their babies and chat’), and you can begin to see why some of us may be starting to wear that ‘hunted’ look. Consistency is a valued currency in teaching, and our ‘will she, won’t she?’ relationship with the media continues to keep us guessing.
It is interesting, as ever, how much is omitted from these articles. Despite long conversations with journalists on our teaching methods, the role of anticipation and reflection as part of the learning process, the concept of ‘layers of understanding’ built over several years (not to forget the scrutiny of the children’s work and the praise for the quality of the classrooms), little of what is said quite makes it past the editor’s red pen. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. A van with Homeopathy heals and a book that claims Darwinism is ‘rooted in reductionist thinking and Victorian ethics’ is far more likely to generate sales.
Nevertheless it is frustrating, particularly when you consider the fact that the new principal at Steiner Academy Frome (a certain T Mepham esq) is riding shotgun every morning, on a bus chartered specially for the job, to mobilise 90-plus children to their temporary school site in Corsley – all in the name of childhood, and an education worthy of the name.
Thankfully, all this is carrying on several layers of consciousness above the children themselves. The talk in Class 1 at the end of the first full week, so a friendly gnome tells me, was not so much layered learning as ‘I’ve been here a whole week already, so why can’t I read and write yet?’ No pressure there then Sarah! The kindergarten teachers reckon that this year’s cohort is a particularly ‘strong group’, which is a phrase that is usually accompanied by a roll of the eyes and a slightly nervous grin; in this case, however, the faces are more ones of wonder and admiration. Watching the Class 1 children line up in their playground each morning, readying themselves for the classroom, it is exciting to imagine how this latest chapter in our school’s history will unfold.
Elsewhere around the site daily dramas are played out beneath the September sunshine: a three-class (5, 6, 7) orchestra gamely romping through ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ has been a particular highlight. To assemble the largest group of musicians we have ever had in Birch Hall, with the whole of Class 5 on violin, was one of those ideas that seemed slightly insane at the time – but the more we lived with it, the more it came alive… The sessions themselves – of which former pupil Jess Ryan-Phillips has now led two – are cheerful and positive events, and the children deserve huge credit for the way they are learning the cooperative skills necessary for group work on this scale. The greatest slice of pie goes, naturally, to Jess, who is carrying the whole circus with a big smile and a firm hand.
With just one full week behind us it feels as if we have all started with a Jess-sized smile and a Class 1-ers sense of wonder. Something in the air, perhaps? But then, with Michaelmas approaching, could it be the flapping of dragon’s wings?