We recently received an e-mail forwarded from the newly-created Save Steiner Schools Campaign in the UK. A new law coming into effect in the UK will effectively make it illegal for kindergartens and pre-schools not to teach children aged 4 and 5 to read and write! What is more, this threatened ending of the right of Steiner schools (generally known as Waldorf schools in the US) to practice a key aspect of their educational methodology (delayed literacy and numeracy) is being put into place within a context of what the British government calls "choice for parents" - talk about Orwellian use of the English language (choice = taking away choice)!
I am afraid to say that some people will be left with a very bitter feeling of "told you so". The Steiner/Waldorf movement in the UK has, for a number of years, pursued a policy of accommodation to the government - for example, translating Waldorf practices into the language of the government's educational "standards". This has, in part, been pursued in the hope of gaining government funding, allowing students to attend Waldorf schools regardless of their families' means. This is, indeed, one of the ideals of Waldorf education (that it is for all children). However, the danger of such a strategy is to the even more essential ideal: educational freedom.
In both the UK and the US we have seen a relentless encroaching by the national and federal governments on educational freedom - exemplified by the "national curriculum" in the UK and "No Child Left Behind" in the US. I haven't been following it but I believe the UK government has also been taking steps to limit the educational freedom of homeschoolers. [* See Comments for a clarification of this - thanks, Fatima!]
Donna and I feel very strongly in doing all we can to protect educational freedom from the predations of the centralized political state. That is why we signed the 'We Stand For Homeschooling' resolution a few years ago and fully support the Association of Waldorf Schools of N. America in their decision not to allow public schools and charter schools (which are, in reality, public schools) to be members of AWSNA. And, incidentally, it is also one reason among many that both of us favor this man in his bid to become President of the United States!
So, the UK schools are hoping for a legal exemption from the state when it comes to meeting the requirements of the latest educational dictat. And we for sure hope they are able to obtain it. It will be very interesting to see what happens if they don't. I cannot believe that the Steiner/Waldorf schools will start teaching kindergarten children to read and write...
The e-mail we received follows.
Save Steiner Schools Campaign
Campaigning for an opt-out of Early Years Foundation Stage
November 7th, 2007
This website has been created by parents to provide a focus for campaigning to stop the UK government forcing all Steiner Waldorf and other kindergartens and nurseries to implement the Early Years Foundation Stage requirements.
Most of the framework is both positive and uncontentious. The problem is that some of the development goals and assessment run contrary to existing forms of education that thousands of people in the UK and many more in Europe have been championing for decades.
Mandatory reading, writing and numeracy at age 4-5
The new legal requirements introduced by the Childcare Act 2006 will come into force from September 2008 and threaten to disrupt established educational methods such as the Steiner Waldorf curriculum that are based on childrens’ natural development processes in an environment that is not formally assessing them.
Steiner Waldorf kindergartens do not teach literacy at all at age 4-5 as this is covered very well in the initial years in the main school at a time (beyond age 6) at which it is believed to be more appropriate for children to learn it. Therefore this change will completely alter the landscape of Steiner Waldorf education principles in the UK. Many European countries have excellent literacy rates and yet do not have mandatory education until ages 6 or even 7 years.
The EYFS is part of a ten year strategy called "Choice for parents, the best start for children", even though as it stands EYFS is set to remove choice for parents and represents a different start for children, one which some experts do not believe is the best.
Mandatory assessment at 5 years old
The EYFS includes contains 117 different points against which kindergarten and nursery teachers will have to assess every single child in their care. This report will be given to local authorities and parents when each child is 5 years old. This assessment is a legal requirement, and the implementation of it is subject to OFSTED inspections and/or Local Education Authority inspection.
If you are unhappy with the increasing pressure on young children to learn reading, writing and arithmetic at such young ages and the encroaching mandatory assessment that may affect the quality of their education, please join our campaign and take action.