Briefings produced in 2010 by civil servants in the Department for Education (DfE) on the principle of whether or not Steiner schools should gain state funding through the Free Schools programme express serious concern about issues such as racism, systemic bullying, academic rigour, secrecy and whether or not the schools would be able to pass Ofsted inspections, the British Humanist Association (BHA) can today reveal. The two documents were obtained by the BHA after it won a case at the Information Tribunal last month, following on from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request the BHA submitted over two years ago. The BHA has challenged the subsequent decision to offer Steiner schools state funding.
The BHA has long-standing concerns about Steiner schools including pseudoscience on the curriculum (including scepticism of evolution and vaccinations and support for homeopathy), homeopathy being given to pupils by the schools’ ‘anthroposophical doctors’, and the fact that a number of private and at least one state school has opted out of providing vaccinations. The BHA is not aware of any other state schools offering homeopathy or opting out of vaccines.
But those concerns can now be added to by those found in the briefings the DfE has been forced to release:
‘In addition to the material provided by parents, the Department’s Independent Schools team is aware of serious complaints of staff bullying pupils in 8 of the existing 25 registered independent Steiner schools. In several of the cases of bullying complaints, there is also a concern about the way the school has handled the allegations, failing to investigate accusations of bullying and physical abuse by teachers in some cases
‘In four Steiner schools, the Department has received complaints about physical abuse from teachers towards pupils, including spitting in a pupil’s face, making sexual innuendos and throwing a rounders bat at a pupil. At one school, a teacher was allowed to continue teaching for two days after a pupil reported that they had made inappropriate suggestions to them. The pupils were encouraged to visit the teacher at his home to deliver flowers and gifts and parents were asked if their sons and daughters could contribute towards a leaving gift. The school did refer the teacher to the local authority and he was arrested following an admission of guilt.’
Due to these concerns, in the first year of the Free Schools programme, officials recommended writing to all Steiner Free School proposers ‘confirming that we would need to resolve’ the issues around Ofsted specifically before any application could be accepted. However, beyond that, ‘it is important to state that when deciding whether to approve a Free School proposal, the Secretary of State will judge each case on its merits. Taking the same approach with Steiner would mean that we do not use the material provided by the parents about specific cases in particular schools as the basis for our approach to all Steiner schools. We should discuss any concerns with the Steiner Fellowship and give them an opportunity to address them.’ The rest of the response consequently focuses on the ‘lines to take’ ‘in the event that Ministers do approve Steiner Free School proposals’.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘Some of the issues that officials identified in 2010 with respect to independent Steiner schools are extremely serious and systemic. They include accusations of racism and a third being subject to serious complaints of staff bullying of pupils. Coupled with the issues we have seen with the Steiner Academy Hereford teaching pseudoscience, providing homeopathy for pupils and opting out of offering vaccinations, we do not think that Steiner schools should be state-funded. We urge the Government to review this decision.’
For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson, Education Campaigns Officer, at email@example.com or on 020 7324 3072.
Read the DfE’s two briefings: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/FOI-EA20140017-Accessible.pdf – note that only some of the first briefing has been released as most of it was not related to Steiner schools.
Read the BHA’s statement upon winning the Information Tribunal case: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/25/bha-victory-information-tribunal-government-ordered-disclose-steiner-school-documents/
Read the Information Tribunal’s decision: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i1318/Department%20for%20Education%20EA.2014.0017%20(25.06.14).pdf
Currently there are three state funded Steiner schools, with a fourth on the way. The first, Steiner Academy Hereford, is a sponsored Academy which opened in 2008. The second, Steiner Academy Frome, is the first Steiner Free School and opened in 2012. Steiner Academy Exeter opened in 2013, with Steiner Academy Bristol due to open in 2014. About half a dozen groups are applying to open Steiner Free Schools from 2015.
Read the BHA’s detailed briefing on Steiner schools: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/BHA-BRIEFING-concerns-about-the-state-funding-of-Steiner-schools.pdf
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.