Keep developing. Initial findings of the WEIDE study

December 2016

A comprehensive survey of Waldorf parents was undertaken for the first time in 2015; 117 schools and 3,685 parents participated. The results have now been released and an academic publication is planned for 2017. We asked professors Steffen Koolmann and Lars Petersen from Alanus University, who carried out the study together with Petra Ehler, about the most important findings.

Erziehungskunst | What result surprised you the most?

Steffen Koolmann | The greatest surprise for me was that Waldorf schools are socially open establishments also with regard to the composition of their parents. Thus for example 90 percent of Waldorf parents did not themselves attend a Waldorf school – and a good 44 percent of pupils did not previously attend a Waldorf kindergarten. If in this context we additionally look at the number of pupils who changed to the Waldorf school from a state school (almost a third), then a picture arises of a socially very mixed group of parents.

Lars Petersen | I was impressed by the willingness to cooperate among Waldorf parents which was reflected not only in a high response rate and data quality but also in terms of content in comprehensive and constructive responses to the open-ended questions. At the same time the answers expressed a great diversity of attitudes and a wealth of contributions of parents to “their” Waldorf school which I, as an “outsider” did not expect in this form.

EK | Was the preconception that Waldorf pupils come from wealthy homes confirmed?

LP | No, this preconception has been clearly disproved on the basis of the net household income we found. In comparison to the German average, some households with Waldorf parents even have a lower income depending on composition and size.

EK | From what income groups and professions do Waldorf parents mainly come?

LP | Surprisingly the income distribution is very similar to the cross-section of the population although an above-average number of Waldorf parents are in professions requiring a high level of qualification. That this does not generally also translate into a higher income level may be due to the fact that these are largely professions whose “wage” consists not just of money but also provides rewards of an intangible in nature.

EK | Are there differences between north and south or east and west?

LP | With regard to net household income there are clear differences between west and east. In contrast, the differences between north and south are not significant.

EK | What is the main motivation for parents to send their children to a Waldorf school?

LP | The most important requirement of a good school is seen by Waldorf parents as stress-free learning, a pleasant atmosphere between people, as well as a holistic educational aspiration; that is, learning with “head, heart and hands”. Those who have changed from state schools also expressly value this particular form of education with its different emphasis.

In contrast, a performance orientation and the targeted support of high-performing pupils are down at the bottom in terms of their stated importance. It is also interesting, however, that parents expressly consider the possibility of obtaining a state-recognised school-leaving qualification as being important, whereas the provision of a Waldorf qualification after class 12 is of relatively minor importance.

EK | What is the educational background of the parents?

LP | Waldorf parents have above-average educational attainment in comparison to the cross-section of the population. The high proportion of parents with a degree or at least a higher education entrance qualification is significant. Incidentally, only every tenth one attended a Waldorf school themselves.

EK | Is there a unifying code of values among parents?

LP | That would certainly be putting it too strongly. Waldorf parents are not a “sworn community” but form a wide spectrum of attitudes and opinions, which also includes, by the way, that almost one third of Waldorf parents have a neutral or, indeed critical attitude towards anthroposophy. But the impressive majority of Waldorf parents (over 70 percent) who – in the sense of a division common in sociology – have made post-materialistic values their own is nevertheless striking in comparison to those (fewer than two percent) with materialistic values.

EK | How do Waldorf parents view performance?

SK | In the current stage of analysis the answers from the parents do not yet show any clear view of performance. But we can certainly already say something about their expectations which arise from their motives. Accordingly they consider it very important, for example, that the school offers a state-recognised school leaving qualification (83.5 percent), that the school enables stress-free learning (84.1 percent) and that the teachers are good role models for the pupils (72.1 percent).

EK | Do the parents feel themselves to be involved in shaping “their” school?

SK | Something over half of parents feel themselves to be involved in shaping “their” school – that was their response to the specific question. We conclude from this that parent participation has positive connotations in Waldorf schools. This conclusion is also derived from the fact that a mere six percent of parents would find it better if there were no parent participation in “their” school.

EK | How many pupils come from elsewhere – what does this say?

SK | Almost a third of all parents at Waldorf schools have at least one school child that previously attended a state school. This shows that Waldorf schools are open establishments and are very willing to take pupils from state schools if there is the desire for a change and the corresponding capacities exist.

EK | What is the relationship of parents with anthroposophy?

SK | Parents definitely have a differentiated approach to anthroposophy. Almost 12 percent say that they are involved in the field of anthroposophy or practise it in a concrete way, and a good 56 percent have a positively affirmative attitude towards it; about 26 percent have an indifferent or neutral attitude towards it and about five percent see it critically or sceptically. But it is also clear in this context that I don’t have to be an anthroposophist to be a parent at a Waldorf school.

EK | How do parents judge the developmental potential of Waldorf schools?

SK | In response to the question “How do you view this? Is your Waldorf school well prepared for the future?” the majority of parents (62.5 percent) answered “more likely yes”, 14.4 percent “definitely yes”; a sceptical view is taken by 20.1 percent (“more likely no”) and three percent of parents definitively see no developmental potential. In other words, the need for further and innovative work is seen at Waldorf schools with a view to their future development; important information for the Waldorf school movement from the study.

EK | What are the greatest criticisms from the parents?

SK | Parents express very subtle and constructive criticism in the open-ended questions. For example 53 percent of parents see the regular evaluation of teaching in need of – partly great – improvement, about 44 percent feel the same about the constructive handling of criticism by the teachers, 40.5 percent regard the openness of teachers towards new things in the same way, and 36 percent the information flow in educational matters.

Mathias Maurer asked the questions.


No comments

Add comment

* - required field