The miracle of Hereford. First publicly funded Waldorf school in England has reason to celebrate

By Walter Hiller, January 2012

It took many invitations before Baroness Estelle Morris, secretary of state in the British Department for Education, finally visited a Waldorf school. During her visit to the Steiner Academy in Hereford on 11 November at the completion of the new school buildings, that experience 13 years previously formed the core of her speech. Until that visit she had been convinced of the primacy of cognitive education and conceded that musical and craft subjects might, at best, perform a supporting function.

Steiner Academy Hereford, the first publicly founded Waldorf Academy in th UK

Her meeting with a Waldorf upper school class which not only performed Mozart’s Requiem enthusiastically and inspirationally, which demonstrated profound knowledge of a wide range of subjects and could confidently discuss them with her in conversation, deeply shook her previous certainty. From this moment on her interest in Steiner education had been awakened and with it the intention to lend this type of education greater prominence.

For Baroness Morris, a representative of the state school system, and against the background of the fact that Waldorf schools in Britain do not receive any public funding, it required a special opportunity to reinforce her intention. An education programme had been established under the government of Tony Blair whose aim was no longer to shine a weak light into the shadows of the education sector with a small lamp; on the contrary, beacons were to be created to inject life into the conceptual competition in the educational landscape. These hoped-for beacons were henceforth to be called “academies” and be under the direct control of the ministry and no longer the local authority. The special condition for this new type of school was the involvement of a social grouping or a company which had to provide ten percent of the required investment sum. The state would provide funding for the remainder and for running costs.

This opened up a new perspective for the schools in the British Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship of not just having a school supported within this programme for the first time but also having it fully funded. The Fellowship began the search for a school which was prepared to undergo such a transformation and for a sponsor for the non-public ten percent of new building costs which were estimated at nine million pounds.

While these two conditions could be met, other issues called for a range of meetings. A school principal had to be appointed, all children from the local area had to be accepted by the new academy if they or their parents so wished, IT lessons and observance of the tests in the national curriculum had to be accepted with only a little wriggle room. Imagined and real Waldorf essentials were hotly debated, all “worldly” questions were the subject of a feasibility study.

The already existing small Waldorf school near the city of Hereford in central England, which had declared itself ready to face the challenge, had so far been accommodated directly next to a church and cemetery in buildings which had previously served agricultural and clerical purposes.

The planned new state-of-the-art build was to integrate these buildings. There are IT connections in all the rooms, hidden behind noble French oak strips, in the upper school rooms there are laptops discretely accommodated in wooden cupboards, in the hall there is an electrically operated telescopic stand for seating, numerous LED spotlights are suspended from the ceiling.

After an interminable building phase, in which rubber boots were the only appropriate footwear on the campus, the completion of the work was finally celebrated with friends and members of the school community. The joy about the beautiful, new and renovated building complex was further enhanced when the successful development of this academy persuaded the Department for Education to approve the development of a second one near the city of Bath.

Perhaps this will take the British Waldorf school movement one step closer to general public funding. The parents – now no longer having to pay the previous high school fees – expressed their gratitude by voluntarily contributing to a fund to support other Waldorf schools.

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