school

A teacher on the type of school leaving students "two to three years behind grade level".

Steiner education, also known as the Waldorf School, isn’t a new educational pedagogy. But it is one which has increased in popularity over the past decade with a rise in enrolments, as well as additional schools being developed or expanded due to high demand.

Although rising in popularity partly due to its alternative educational structure, a secondary school teacher of nearly 30 years, Margaret Keable, tells Mamamia that she believes the structure “inherently flawed.”

Originating from the ideas of Austrian-born scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, who lectured throughout Europe in the 1800-1900s, the first school based on the Steiner pedagogy was opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. It has since spread to over 60 countries throughout the world.

Watch: Things teachers never say. Post continues after video. 

The first Australian Steiner school was opened in Sydney, in 1957. There are now over 40 Steiner schools and kindergartens in Australia.

According to Steiner Education Australia (SEA), “Steiner education provides enjoyable and relevant learning through deep engagement and creative endeavour, to develop ethical, capable individuals who can contribute to society with initiative and purpose.”

Focusing on a “holistic style” of education, Steiner schools use a different curriculum framework than government, private or other independent schools, called The Australian Steiner Curriculum Framework. Some of this framework, according to the SEA website, focuses on student directed creative play, intuition, artistic expression and arts-based learning.

Keable believes it is these particular curriculum focuses that are “inadequately preparing children for future educational experiences in non-Steiner based facilities” including secondary schooling or tertiary study if they wish to pursue that pathway.

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“I taught for nearly thirty years and through that time, we had many Steiner primary educated students who came to the government school I was teaching at,” Keable tells Mamamia. “Across the board they were behind their peer group academically.”

“The biggest issues these children faced was the fact that their literacy and numeracy levels were behind the majority of their peers, often quite substantially. They would often need special programmes to assist them in catching up and this often wasn’t an easy task for them.”

According to a report by Margaret Sachs, a parent whose child attended a Steiner school in the US, the gap between her daughter’s language skills and that of her peers was exceptionally wide.

“Her new teacher told me she was two or three years behind grade level. Later in the year, she corrected that estimate and said that my daughter had been more than three years behind grade level… Our daughter’s essays were incomprehensible,” Sachs says.

“She had made brave attempts to write words, guessing at the letters involved, but not succeeding in spelling a single word correctly. The other children’s work was the result of four years of public education. Our daughter’s was the result of four years of Waldorf [Steiner] ‘education’.”

According to SEA, in Victoria only three of the ten Steiner schools offer education all the way through to Year 12. In NSW from the 18 Steiner Schools, there are only six that offer schooling through to Year 12 meaning these students will have to attend either another independent, private or government school for the remainder of the education.

“The later they transition, the harder it seems to be. For some students who move schools later in their secondary school years, they have the added pressure of moving at the most crucial time of their schooling.”

Steiner Schools have been widely criticised for only teaching a very narrow and contained curriculum, often giving attention to what the individual student is interested in and not focusing on other key skills and learning areas, including reading.

“The curriculum emphasises creative subjects which are undoubtedly very important, especially for future career opportunities but unfortunately other focuses which also are equally as important seem to be not given this same attention.

“This is clearly evident when teaching children who have been educated at a Steiner facility.”

Keable urges parents to spend time researching the school, its curriculum, the fundamental beliefs and values, as well as opportunities it offers before choosing where to send your children.

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“Although sometimes alternative institutions seem as if they will offer your child something significant, they can also be quite detrimental.”

Has your child been to a Steiner school? What was their experience like? Tell us in the comments section below.

Steiner Education Australia in response have stated:

The Australian Steiner Curriculum is recognised by ACARA as meeting the requirements of the Australian Curriculum, which includes providing for students to achieve standards described in Australian Curriculum documents. It is broadly based, culturally inclusive and integrated, providing a rich balance of academic, arts and practical life skills along with a key focus on social/emotional development of the child.

Now, more than ever before, Steiner education is recognised and respected for its approach in developing flexible thinking in students and an ability to collaborate and thrive in a 21st Century world. Gonski 2.0 highlighted the need for a contemporary education to emphasise critical and creative thinking, social skills and problem solving – delivering a deep sense of purpose, connectivity and agency to enact change. These are the hallmarks of a Steiner education.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: two goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram

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