Frequently Asked Questions
Questions submitted prior to the Open Forum 2012 are now available here- Open Forum Questions 2012
Below are responses to from the SWSF to Frequently Asked Questions about Steiner Education
Literacy and Age-appropriate Learning
When do pupils begin formal learning? : Pupils start formal learning, i.e. writing, reading and numeracy in class one at the age of six, the norm in many European countries and an approach supported by a significant body of research. Cognitive skills can be introduced with relative ease if children have first had the opportunity to develop speech, co-ordination and their relationship to themselves, others and the world around them during the pre-school years and in Kindergarten.
Why do you start by teaching upper case letters in class one?
Upper case letters have more characteristic forms, they are less confusing and easier for the children to distinguish and remember. Also, because historically the lower case letters evolved from the Roman Capitals, when the time comes to introduce lower case, one can show the children how this evolution took place, giving them a real understanding of the relationships between the two forms of the letters. (with thanks to Alison Gebert)
The Class Teacher Period
What if a child does not get on with their class teacher? (given that the teacher may be with the child for a number of years.) :
The teacher’s professional responsibility is heightened when children are in their charge for a number of years. Problems cannot be ‘passed down the line’ but have to be addressed. The teacher and children come to know and understand each other in a deep way, respecting both strengths and weaknesses. The children feel themselves to be known, the teacher feels more accountable and the working together between teacher and parents becomes more meaningful.
Transferring to and from other schools
How do children adjust when they transfer to one of our schools?:
The standards in Steiner schools are high and the breadth of subjects covered by the Steiner curriculum is extensive and it can take time to adjust to this, although most settle very quickly. It is not uncommon to observe new children waking up to the possibility of actually enjoying school and learning for the very first time.
Is science teaching is at odds with current scientific beliefs?
The science subjects begin with the close observation and direct experience of physical phenomena, rather than with a description of prevailing theories and models. An open mind as to causes and first principles is encouraged. Conclusions and concepts are then derived from the observations and finally the theories that explain the whole are introduced. This approach reflects the way that science has developed historically.
Do Steiner schools teach religion? :
In most schools there is a regular religious education lesson in which the aim is to cultivate a moral mood towards the world and our fellow human beings. In the younger classes a sense of wonder, respect and reverence is central. In the older classes the focus is on the phenomena of idealism, striving and the over-coming of adversity. Story material from all sources, including a broad range of folk and religious traditions, together with the biographies of inspiring individuals is used.
Is the Steiner Academy a faith school?:
Our schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational. They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive and aims to foster a recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Steiner schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Parents from a broad spectrum of religious, spiritual and philosophical backgrounds send their children to Steiner schools.
Temperaments and labelling
Are pupils labelled according to their temperaments?:
Labelling of any kind can be at odds with good educational practice, although a variety of ways of categorizing child and adult behaviour are used in education and psychology generally (multiple intelligence, Enneagrams, `gifted and talented`). Steiner described how a knowledge of four temperamental types can make the teacher’s work more effective, especially in the class teacher years (age 6 – 14). It offers a way of working with each child’s individual and distinctive style in a collective, classroom context and gives the teacher an additional means of understanding each child.
How do we know that pupils are making progress?
The teacher stays with one group of pupils for up to eight years in the lower school and his or her knowledge of the child is therefore very extensive. An emphasis on formative and on-going assessment reduces the dependence on, and the anxiety related to, testing. Teachers and parents work closely together in order to build a picture of the child that helps everyone to understand and support that child’s development. Parents receive a detailed written report at the end of each school year.
Continuous assessment is integral to the teaching method. This works well in a system whereby one teacher remains with the same group of children over a period of years. This allows the teacher to get to know each pupil extremely well and reduces the dependency on performance data from tests to get a snapshot of pupils’ progress in learning.
Steiner education is anti-immunisation/vaccination.
The decision to immunise or not is a matter of parental choice. Opposition to immunisation generally or to any national strategies forms no part of our educational approach.
Also of use:
`Steiner education is elitist and racist.’
Steiner Education is opposed to all forms of discrimination against any person or group of people on the grounds of race, gender, faith, disability, age and sexual orientation and is committed to promoting equality of opportunity and reflecting the diversity of the children, staff and parents served by Steiner schools.
Even though Steiner’s ideas are based on a profound respect for the equality, individuality and shared humanity of all people, regardless of race or ethnic origin, his works do contain a number of statements on race that are inappropriate in a modern context.
Steiner education thrives on every continent, in every culture and within a wide range of ethnic contexts. For example, during the period of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the only school catering for mixed races was a Steiner Waldorf school & today there are schools following Steiner philosophy of education in diverse cultures & communities, including: Israel, Egypt, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil or Hawaii, over 60 countries in all.
`Steiner education is old-fashioned.`
Educational questions that Steiner raised and to which he offered answers nearly a century ago are as pressing now as ever. So much that is being recommended by contemporary educationalists finds its reflection in Steiner schools including the place of creativity and the later introduction to formal learning.
Contemporary and popular commentators such as Daniel Goldman (Emotional Intelligence), Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligence), Sue Palmer (Toxic Childhood), Aric Sigman (Remotely Controlled) and Richard Loovs (Last Child in the Woods) offer modern perspectives on the challenges facing educators, parents and children that find parallels in the writings of Steiner.
Because the education offered in Steiner schools is directed not from outside or above but by the teachers themselves through their collaborative working, they have the opportunity to respond promptly and imaginatively to the challenges that come towards them.
Screen Entertainment and TV
What do our schools recommend about television viewing and IT?
A familiarity with all the technologies that surround us and influence our lives is an essential part of a complete education. There is growing evidence, however, that too much ‘screen time’ is detrimental to children and Steiner schools do not shy away from engaging in critical debate about the appropriate use of computers, TV and DVD. Computers are generally used by students at secondary age and not earlier. They very quickly master the necessary ICT skills and many go on to successful careers in the computer, film and TV industries.
Where do they go when they leave your school?
From SWSF website in the section `Does it Work?` http://www.steinerwaldorf.org/doesitwork.html
Steiner pupils have succeeded in a great variety of activities in their professional and personal lives: actors, engineers, scientists, academics, journalists, politicians, documentary makers, comedians, models, professional sportsmen and women, musicians (classical, rock, pop, jazz), architects included.
Beyond the headline celebrities there are countless people for whom Steiner education has played a key role in enabling them to live successful and fulfilled lives. Web-sites, brochures and DVD’s can go some way towards explaining how the education works, but the most telling testimony is that of ex-pupils themselves, of their parents who made this choice and of the people who work with Steiner educated scholars once they have taken their place in the world.
Movement, Eurythmy and Games
What is eurythmy?
Eurythmy is a form of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. It helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, spatial and aesthetic awareness and a sensitivity to others. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms
Different Learning Needs
What provision is made for pupils with different learning needs?
A child’s weaknesses in one area – whether cognitive, emotional or physical – is viewed as usually balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher’s job to try to bring the child’s whole being into balance and to offer a differentiated approach in the classroom in order to meet a wide range of abilities. Most schools employ SEN specialists to support the class and subject teachers.
Inclusion and Differentiation,
Whole class teaching is combined with individualised and differentiated learning. Imaginative engagement with the lesson material allows all learners, regardless of strengths, weaknesses and learning styles, to work at different levels within their class group
Reincarnation and Karma
Do the schools teach reincarnation and karma? :
No our schools do not teach reincarnation and karma, other than in the broad context of the study of world religions, which is part of our Religious Education curriculum. At the appropriate time the belief in reincarnation and karma held by Hindus and Buddhists, amongst others, will be discussed. Whilst the themes of renewal, rebirth and regeneration are central to all nature study and live strongly in fairy stories, folk tales and literature, an explicit exploration of reincarnation and karma belongs to adolescence, when young people can begin to make their own judgements.
Do Steiner teachers believe in reincarnation and karma?
Steiner teachers all have their own different beliefs and opinions. There is an expectation, however, that teachers in a Steiner school will engage openly with Steiner’s ideas on child development and education. Steiner saw it as the work of the educator to assist the development of the child in all its physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional aspects.
Teachers in our schools acknowledge that there is far more to the child than meets the eye. Each child is a human being with endless possibilities and it is the joy of the teacher and the parent to provide an environment where they can unwrap those gifts, sometimes with our help, and sometimes without, and go on unpacking them for the rest of their lives.
Does the SWSF respond to Waldorf critics?
It is SWSF policy not to engage with blogs and/or blogging. Whilst some bloggers are very sincere in their search for clarity and explanations and contribute to the honest scrutiny that is essential for the education to grow and develop, the `freedom without responsibility` that accompanies blogging compromises its integrity as a means of debate. Too often blogging leads to uninformed or deliberatley abusive exchanges.