(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 72-75, Note the Copyright!)
At the moment of writing, Waldorf Schools in Britain are facing new challenges. As the educational and cultural climate has undergone a transformation in the last decade, so Waldorf Education has come more and more to the forefront of educational practice and thinking. Its achievement has begun to attract enthusiastic interest and respect among politicians, fellow educationalists and the media and, through them, also the general public.
What was until recently a well-kept secret is now part of the public domain and a participant in the current educational discourse. If an alternative and coherent point of view is needed to counter any particular orthodoxy or statement, then the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship is called on to comment, and our discussions with the government and officials are invariably at the highest level. Such radical changes in the approach to the schools, that is also leading towards some form of governmental financial support for England and probably Scotland as well, has to be accompanied with similar rethinking and revaluation within the schools themselves. It also involves a new social engagement and a transformation of the ways that have supported the schools, in a somewhat unreceptive environment, for the last 75 years.
An educational practice and theory that is based on philosophical principles and spiritual insight has been viewed as somewhat foreign up to now. Having two university-based teacher education seminars, participating in and contributing to mainstream conferences and finding teachers and academics outside our circles who have similar concerns and insight, all this has contributed to alleviating that prejudice.
Now, as a greater international consciousness is coming about, which exemplifies a greater preparedness to learn from the example of others among educational practitioners and policy makers, and a dawning recognition of the value of diversity, it is clear that fundamental and welcome changes are in prospect.
Waldorf Schools enter the debate on education policy
Currently the Waldorf Schools, together with the Fellowship, are working on quality care, the mentoring and advising of colleagues, extending and strengthening teacher training provision, building up ongoing teacher development, research into the curriculum and methodology, encouraging greater parental involvement, finding alternatives to standard examination practices, extending the international dimension, promoting innovative and age-appropriate ways of working with the under-threes, creating relevant and inspiring upper school programmes and improving management processes. The aim is to meet the needs of ever more children and to work across a wider educational and social spectrum, including the problem areas of inner cities. Until now the schools have led an impoverished life, by public standards for schools, and this has led to problems in finding new teachers and also meant that financial sacrifices were asked of teachers and parents alike. In the long term, this has become unsustainable and adversely affects the potential for Waldorf Education to flourish and contribute to educational life in general. Many parents are demanding Waldorf Schools for their children up and down the country, but the cost, expertise and finding the teaching staff for starting such a school, or even a kindergarten, is usually beyond them.
Taking their proper place in society
The first generation of schools, started with Rudolf Steiner’s active encouragement in the early 1920s, when he gave his educational courses in England, were helped enormously in that many of the initial teachers came from fairly wealthy families and were able to donate their own funds to their schools in order to establish them and provide worthy premises. Steiner pointed out from the outset that for Waldorf Schools to take their rightful place they should be big, modern, well-established, truly comprehensive and neither a fashionable, well-endowed boarding school nor situated in a completely poverty-stricken environment1 - quite a challenge in a very pragmatically orientated society.
The initial six schools, founded between 1925 and 1949, were joined by a new generation of schools and colleagues from the 1970s onwards. These were founded with sincerely held principles that fee paying by parents, which was the only way such schools could exist in the absence of any government support at all, militated against providing broad access for all children. These schools were able to survive in this idealistic way for some 20 years, but now nearly all of them have adopted a middle path of combining set fees with a contribution system that balances the differing income of parents with the need of the schools to survive.
Now we are facing our third generation of schools and they are being started by parents themselves, rather than enthusiastic and dedicated teachers as in earlier years, and this will undoubtedly also provide interesting lessons and stimulation for renewal for the rest of the movement as a whole.
Imagination, courage and responsibility are called for
One important aspect, which accords with the wide-ranging cultural transformations being experienced, is the need to think and work in more transparent, accountable and multi-cultural terms. The tendency of English to become the world’s lingua franca has provided a rich and varied teaching body and a stream of pupils from an extensive range of backgrounds that has added to the already extant cultural diversity of these islands.
A tangible and often remarked asset has been the warmth and care provided by our schools in their relationship with pupils and parents alike. Keeping this sense of community is a priority as new funding models come into place. Already five early-years settings have obtained funding for their four-year-olds. Initial fears that this would lead to an unacceptable compromise have, as yet, proved unfounded. On the contrary, by being engaged in the larger debate, we have palpably influenced the whole concept of early education provision in the country and have found many supportive and influential allies. This is the new task in front of us, which will require courage and a sense of wider responsibility. We can expect that what we have sought to achieve in the past will now appear in many new forms. This goes hand in hand with the recognition that it is the task of Waldorf Education to work on behalf of childhood in general. We will certainly need the power of imagination as never before.
“We are not working for ourselves; we know perfectly well that all we can do is but to create the beginning of a condition of things which will one day bring peace and happiness and freedom and a fuller life for those who come after us.” (Kier Hardie, 1856-1915. First leader of the Labour Party.)
1 Reported by Joy Mansfield who personally took down one of the lectures Rudolf Steiner gave at Ilkley in August 1923.
The first Camphill establishment was founded in Scotland in 1939, over 60 years ago. Its precursors were a group of pioneers who founded Sunfield, a curative home, at Clent in the English Midlands during the 1930s. Curative education here has its spiritual roots in the work of Karl König MD (1902-1966) who had taken up the cause of children with special needs both in Vienna and at Dornach, Switzerland. He never met Rudolf Steiner but got to know anthroposophical medicine through Ita Wegman MD. For a while he had acted as a school physician in Switzerland, Germany and Austria before his Jewish background made it necessary for him to emigrate.
The work in Camphill establishments with adults and children who have learning difficulties cannot be separated from the style of community living practised there. House-parents, co-workers, voluntary helpers and their children live in extended families with the children and adults in need of special help. Their community life also embraces the matter of salaries and wages. All those who live in a community share responsibility for income and expenditure without taking specific salaries.
The number of Camphill establishments for children and adults, and later also training centres, began to grow steadily after the end of the Second World War so that by 2001 there are some 50 such settings in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and these in turn are part of a worldwide movement.
In addition to Camphill there are also many other curative establishments working on the basis of anthroposophy. With their pioneering work both these and the Camphill set-ups have contributed to improving the living and learning conditions of all those who have learning difficulties while also alleviating the burden of their suffering families.
In the second half of the twentieth century anthroposophical medicine began to develop as an extension of traditional medicine, and at the turn of the century both medical movement and the curative movement have begun to collaborate more closely not only as regards study opportunities but also regarding research results.
As everywhere in the civilized world, the lot of people with learning difficulties and their families has changed dramatically also in Britain. Legislation is now in place that guarantees education for children and living accommodation and work for adults. There are now countless parent groups, self-help groups, associations and societies for every kind of illness. These groups articulate their concerns and have a thorough knowledge of their rights.
In an ideal society
Does Britain now have an ideal and socially just society? Most think not yet, but looking back over 60 years of development there is much to be pleased about. Much more help is available and the government has much to offer the disabled. On the other hand rules and regulations, laws and inspections have increased too. But this applies to many professions and is something we have to live with.
Organizer of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, the European Council for Waldorf Education and the Alliance for Childhood in Great Britain.
Work in Camphill establishments in Great Britain and the USA since 1955. Adviser to new curative education establishments.