Waldorf education in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland

By Kevin Avison, July 2016

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) was founded 1953 with 7 members: Elmfield (Stourbridge), Michael Hall (Forest Row), Michael House (Ilkeston), Leeds (later closed), Edinburgh, The New School (Kings Langley, now Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley) and Wynstones (near Gloucester).

Current members of the SWSF: 35 schools, of which 13 are Associate members (Early childhood/kindergartens are fully integrated members with these). Four of the above mentioned schools are academies or “free schools” (Steiner Academy Hereford as a full member and the academies in Frome (Somerset), Exeter and Bristol as associate members). Apart from these, there are 14 independent early childhood centres and 9 initiatives working to start schools or kindergartens.

National requirements: These vary according to the part of the UK and type of school. The following notes gives an impression of these in the briefest of summaries. In all cases but that of the Republic of Ireland,, “independent schools” are private (not-for-profit) institutions funded only by contributions from parents, fund-raising and donations, while publically funded schools are specifically forbidden to make any charges for providing education, but can fund-raise for extras:

  • Three schools in the Republic of Ireland that are publically-funded, “National (Primary) Schools”, offer the Irish National Curriculum through a Waldorf lens. National and secondary school there can require contributions from parents for running and other costs. Traditionally, books and all other materials are paid for by families for their children. There is no educational regulation and no form of public funding for independent schools, as these are almost unknown in the Republic. Such schools are inspected solely to ensure proper health and safety standards and that premises regulations applying to any institution for children are maintained. Children need to be prepared for the Irish Secondary system as there is only one setting for education of adolescents, Active Learning for Adolescents, ALFA, which is independent, but offers a range of vocational-style qualifications, the Irish FETAC awards
  • Our one school in Northern Ireland is inspected by the Northern Ireland Inspectorate, under the independent school regulations, which require that schools set out a curriculum, evaluate learning, show they track progress and cover the fundamental domains of knowledge relevant to the age level. Independent schools are free to maintain their own curriculum.
  • Arrangements for Scotland are similar, with schools inspected by HMIE (Education Scotland). The Scottish framework defines general standards and qualities as defined in “Education for Excellence”, which is descriptive rather than prescriptive
  • Regulations for Wales are similar to those in England, but are overseen by the Welsh National Assembly by ESTYN, their inspectorate. Independent schools are able to operate with their own curriculum within a basic regulatory framework. No SWSF school in Wales offers secondary education for the moment.
  • In England independent schools are registered with the Department for Education and inspected by an independent inspection service provider, School Inspection Service, according to the Independent School Standards. These allow schools to operate with their own curriculum provided that they cover broad fundamental domains of learning (linguistic, numerate, scientific, technological, human & social, creative & aesthetic) and demonstrate that they assess learning, track progress of pupils and meet the needs of students who require additional support. National qualifications: General Certificate(s) of Education (GCSE), usually taken at age 16 and the Advanced Level certificates (A-Level) usually age 18, are offered by most schools for entry to work, further or higher education. The same requirements apply to publically-funded “free schools” and Academies legislation in England. These however, are more constrained in terms of what they must offer at the end of the secondary stage (the so-called “EBacc” consisting of 5 defined GCSE subjects & “Progress Eight”, which adds a further three, which the school has greater power to determine.

SWSF is a registered charitable organisation and holds meetings 3 times a year. Only the 22 full members can appoint a trustee and are consequently involved in the governance of the SWSF, whilst associate members only participate in thematic, consultative and strategy-informing meetings. There is a governance review in process intended to streamline accountability and authority structures.

Staff: SWSF currently has an executive staff of 3.5 people directly responsible to the trustees. In addition, there are 11 part-time pedagogical advisors (conducting advisory visits) and 3-4 lay-inspectors, who join the professional inspectors (School Inspection Service) during formal school inspections.

Accreditation: There is an accreditation process for early childhood settings and schools, from Associate to Full Member, which takes approximately seven years. Associate schools also benefit from all the SWSF services; the difference between the two types of membership lies in the power to appoint trustees (currently only Full Members do that). There is a SWSF Quality mark awarded in recognition of full members working to maintain high standards.

Summary of SWSF work & services:

  • Advocacy for Steiner Waldorf Education in the UK and Ireland
  • Advisory Services for members
  • Assistance with school inspections
  • Administration of the relevant Steiner and Waldorf Trademarks
  • Collecting and disseminating examples of good practice and curriculum development
  • Researching initial and advanced teacher qualifications
  • Working with higher education providers to maintain options for Waldorf-orientated qualifications
  • Researching and supporting the development of Waldorf-appropriate student qualifications
  • Lead partner for ACTS project
  • Membership in ECSWE and the International Association for Steiner Waldorf Early Childhood Education (IASWECE)
  • Staff subsidises for in-service training courses organised by SWSF
  • Entries in SWSF directory and on the website.
  • Access to regular updates on Early Years and school regulations
  • Editing of SW key texts, published by Floris Books
  • Organising in-service workshops
  • Organising workshops on school management and school governance
  • Sponsor for Steiner Academy Hereford
  • Lobbying for those schools who wish to work towards State Funding

Source: ECSWE

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