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First Steiner Free School opened despite opposition from most of local population, schools, Council and NHS Trust

Steiner Academy Frome, the first Steiner Free School and second state-funded Steiner school, was opposed in consultations prior to opening by most of the local population, as well as by local schools, by the Council and by the NHS Trust. However, the school still opened in September 2012, with a second Steiner Free School (in Exeter) following suit last month and a third (in Bristol) due to open next year. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has voiced opposition to the state funding of Steiner schools, has expressed concern at the lack of democracy in the decision-making process.

Reasons for BHA opposition to state funded Steiner schools include that the curriculum is largely pseudoscientific in nature; that existing Steiner schools (including the Steiner Academy which opened in 2008) give alternative medicine such as homeopathy to children; and that the Steiner movement has been hostile to vaccinations.

The widespread local opposition has come to light as a result of the Government publishing the impact assessments of all Free Schools that opened last year. In Steiner Academy Frome’s impact assessment it is detailed that in response to a consultation as to whether or not the school should gain state funding, 68 people said yes while 84 said no. Half of respondents opposed the school for the reason that it was a Steiner school. A second consultation was subsequently held, returning 28 people in support and 17 against.

Meanwhile, Somerset Council, the local authority, also wrote to the Department for Education (DfE) to ‘express their reservations over the proposed school’ due to the fact that there was not a need for additional places – with ‘senior leaders from local schools… also voicing their opposition’. However, the DfE decided to ignore these concerns due to ‘the importance of parental choice and of bringing a diversity of education into the area, when at the moment the only Steiner option nearby is a fee paying independent school… Steiner Academy Frome will have a separate ethos from schools in the area and offers something different to the faith schools, of which there are several in the primary and middle phases. It has a distinct philosophy which means parents will bring their children to the school from a wider catchment area than the Somerset average’.

Finally, NHS Somerset also voiced ‘their reservations over the proposed school.’ It was ‘concerned about the possible effect that a number of unimmunised children in one area could have. They are of the opinion that a Steiner school would attract children of families where immunisation is not the norm, but there is no concrete evidence to suggest that this will be the case.’ This conclusion was reached despite the fact that the Steiner Academy Hereford, the only existing state-funded Steiner school, has opted out of providing the HPV vaccine, and the Health Protection Agency regards Steiner schools as unvaccinated communities – as a consequence of widespread local opposition.

BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘Steiner Academy Frome was opposed across the board by the local population, local Council, local schools and local NHS Trust, and yet the Government decided to overrule them all and open the school anyway. It is shocking that the first Steiner Free School, and second Steiner state school, was approved in spite of such widespread, well-reasoned opposition. The Government is very clear that it is not acceptable to teach creationism because it is pseudoscience, and yet is perfectly happy to fund Steiner schools that don’t teach a rigorous, scientifically sound curriculum and that give homeopathy to schoolchildren. We are seriously concerned about the impact state funded Steiner schools will have on the quality of education and care that pupils receive and urge the Government to review their policy of admitting these schools into the state system.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

Read the previous BHA news item, ‘State-funded Steiner schools teach science from book sceptical of evolution, give homeopathy to students’: https://humanism.org.uk/2012/09/14/news-1115/

Watch BBC Inside Out South West’s documentary from last year on Steiner Academy Frome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpiRYqZvAAc

The first state-funded Steiner school, Steiner Academy Hereford, was also opposed by the local populace and Council: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/mar/10/schools.uk2

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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