Rebrokered free schools won't keep Steiner ethos, says new trust

An academy trust selected to take over three failing Steiner schools is preparing to move them away from the Steiner Waldorf ethos that underpins them.

It was announced in June that the Avanti Schools Trust had been selected to run three state Steiner academies in the south west – Bristol (pictured), Exeter and Frome – after all three were placed in special measures by Ofsted.

We have made it clear from the beginning, they will first and foremost be Avanti schools. This is not Avanti joining the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, this is Steiner schools joining Avanti

The schools follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, which focus on the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of pupils, with an emphasis on art and imagination. Pupils at Steiner schools also do not begin formal education until the age of six.

When the transfer to Avanti was announced, the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, the umbrella body for Steiner schools, said the schools would remain Steiner under the new trust, and “carry forward our philosophy of Waldorf education, which sits at the heart of our ethos”.

However, with the transfer due to be completed in the coming weeks, Avanti has insisted it never intended to keep the schools Steiner.

Avanti is running a curriculum review to determine what influence – if any – the Waldorf principles which underpin Steiner education will have. It is due to be completed in March.

The trust is also changing the names of the schools to remove any reference to Steiner, and is reviewing a previous suggestion that the new names carry the tagline “inspired by Waldorf principles”. This will be decided after the curriculum review is complete. Avanti said reference to “Steiner Waldorf origins” will appear on the websites of each school.

In a statement on the Avanti website, it said the trust “values aspects of the of the educational insights of Waldorf education”.

“The aim of the planned curriculum review is to investigate how the curriculum in the three re-brokered schools can be aligned with aspects of Waldorf principles which are in synergy with the ‘Avanti Way’.”

Avanti currently runs seven Hindu schools which provide yoga and mindfulness lessons. The “Avanti Way” underpins the school’s focus on character formation and spiritual insight.

A spokesperson for Avanti told Schools Week: “We have made it clear from the beginning, they will first and foremost be Avanti schools. This is not Avanti joining the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, this is Steiner schools joining Avanti.”

Avanti is also facing complaints from parents and pupils about plans to change the age range of two of the schools from all-through next year.

More than 100 parents and pupils held a protest outside Department for Education offices in Bristol yesterday over proposals to make Steiner Academy Bristol a primary school and Steiner Academy Frome a 3 to 13 middle school. Both currently teach pupils up to age 16.

Photo: Clementine Wilson

The spokesperson said Avanti was having to make the change due to concerns about low pupil numbers, a lack of need for places and concerns the two-form entry model was not “financially sustainable”.

Avanti also said an agreement that exempts all key stage 1 pupils from testing at Steiner schools will no longer be in place once they join the trust.

Fran Russell, executive director at the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, said the academies “could not have delivered a complete Steiner Waldorf experience” because Avanti had failed to ensure pupils won’t receive formal education before they are six.

“We are hopeful the upcoming curriculum review will identify the advantages of retaining more elements of Steiner Waldorf education in the schools.”

All three of the Steiner academies were placed in special measures by Ofsted after inspections in October and November 2018.

Snap inspections of nine state and private Steiner schools at the end of last year found six were “inadequate” and three “requires improvement”. Ofsted was given power to inspect all Steiner schools after chief inspector Amanda Spielman warned in January of “deeply concerning” failures.