A teacher’s view
Fullfledge Ecology School Suffolk – a teacher’s view
Filed under: Uncategorized — ukanthroposophy @ 7:27 pm
This post was written by Esther Fidler, a teacher in a mainstream state school. The views she expresses here are her own and should not be taken or implied to be taken to be representative of her employers. But you can take them to be representative of mine, Mike Collins.
WOW! New School! Ecology n’ Stuff! Oh, hang on a minute…
A few weeks ago I read an article in my local paper, The East Anglian, about a proposed Free School. As a local state school teacher I was quite interested and decided to take a look at their website, which from my first impressions seemed nothing out of the ordinary. My attention was drawn to one sentence, however, ‘…our school will bring together the best practice from Steiner and state-school approaches…’ Hmmm, note to self, find out about Steiner approaches. I read of ‘joy and wonder’, ‘passion for learning and life’, ‘…honours the diversity of all the individuals within it and responds to their changing needs accordingly…’
All fairly standard school-speak, lots of good words which to the uninitiated sound really great but when you think carefully (and have a teacher’s perspective) actually tell you nothing about what really goes on at a school. Most schools create a ‘healthy, warm, safe, nurturing environment’ and all want to instil joy and wonder and a passion for learning and life. They’d be pretty poor if they didn’t, and that was my problem with Fullfledge; what it is presenting as NEW already exists in other schools. They want to teach children about sustainability – so do we, they want to teach children about gardening, cooking and being creative – so do we, they will be working with Forest Schools – WE DO IT ALREADY! Which led me to question: – what is so good and different about this school that it should remove children (and therefore funding) from the nearby state schools, and do I want my taxes spent on it?
As Rudolf Steiner features prominently on the Fullfledge Ecology School site I decided to follow my instincts and do some research, it took about five minutes on the web for me to become extremely concerned. Since you’re reading this on UK Anthroposophy you will have access to other articles which explain Steiner Waldorf Education more comprehensively than I can here. But most importantly for me, Fullfledge Ecology School states in its FAQs that ‘our curriculum arises out of Steiner’s picture of child development’ so it is vital to know exactly what that is. It seems most Steiner schools are not entirely upfront about anthroposophy, Steiner’s ‘philosophy’ (or more accurately belief system) which underpins every aspect of their pedagogy. This reticence is compounded by the fact that anthroposophy is esoteric and based on knowledge gained through Steiner’s clairvoyant abilities. Their ‘hidden knowledge’ is thus ‘need to know’. Well, I do.
The Steiner view of child development is that children are on a journey of reincarnation and we should teach them differently at different stages on that journey. Rudolf Steiner taught that up to the age of around seven, children could be harmed (in karmic terms) by learning to read and write, that they are unable to think in a reasoned way until they reach their teens. I learned that children in a Steiner school have no textbooks, no access to computers until they reach 14 (damaging to karma again) that they have the same teacher for eight years, that they have a two hour lesson daily from the age of seven, and that in the lower years the class teacher dictates work to be written by children in their books.
Now, coming from a state school I found this worrying. I have been a teacher for fifteen years. I currently teach year two, have recently been rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, in a school with outstanding attainment, progress and behaviour. I lead Science and ICT within the school and teach a creative, child-led curriculum. The children I teach are happy, lively and interested; they have a thirst for knowledge and know where to find it. Every single one of the children in my class (aged from 6-7) writes independently, reads well and loves it. They also love finding things out for themselves using the internet or a book, they can reason and question evidence, and they are most certainly not harmed by any of it – in fact I would go so far as to say that it enriches their lives. I am in no way qualified to teach these children when they are 14 and would not want to, my specialism is Key Stage one. I cannot see how any teacher can have the subject knowledge to teach from ages 7-14.
I sent the proposed Free School an email expressing my concerns and the next day had a reply, one of the founders would like to meet with me. The following weekend I met with Ewout Van-Manen with the aim of finding out how much the Steiner pedagogy was to influence his ‘Ecology’ school. I wanted to reassure myself that the school was needed in the area, that all of the staff would hold qualified teacher status, that science was being taught properly and that the school would be accountable.
We met on a farm near Woodbridge, a beautiful part of Suffolk full of lofty barn conversions and four-wheel drives, where a woodcraft day was being held to promote the Ecology School. I took my best friend for company (I don’t usually go meeting strangers in the woods), a note book and a week’s worth of reading, talking and fact finding.
Read more ……….