(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 152-153, Note the Copyright!)
Anthroposophy was brought to New Zealand in the second decade of the twentieth century by Emma Richmond. Her daughter, Rachel Crompton-Smith, a teacher, then started the small St George’s School together with her husband Bernard Crompton-Smith at Havelock North in 1917. The school was co-educational, which was most unusual at the time. Although not a Waldorf School in the true sense, Rachel Crompton-Smith was guided by her increas ing knowledge of the education. A second pioneer of Waldorf Education was Hedwig Julie Weiss. Born in Basle in 1892, she had heard Rudolf Steiner lecture many times before arriving in New Zealand as a governess. In 1939 she founded a kindergarten based on Waldorf principles at Lower Hutt near Wellington. Later in life she founded and then taught at Hohepa in Napier, to this day New Zealand’s only curative education establishment for children with special needs.
International student groups
Queenswood, an existing school building near Hastings, was purchased in 1950 with the intention of founding New Zealand’s first Waldorf School. Until the 1970s the school consisted of two kindergarten groups and seven classes. Only then did the upper school also become established. At that time the first teacher training was also inaugurated, today’s Taruna College in Havelock North. Students from all over the world, and lately particularly from neighbouring Asian countries, come here to prepare for their new tasks. Parallel with the expansion of the Waldorf School movement in Europe, schools were founded in New Zealand towards the end of the 1970s in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and later in Dunedin, Tauranga and Hamilton. In the year 2000 there were 10 schools, 4 with an upper school. There are kindergartens linked with all the schools but also in many other smaller towns.
Different types of state assistance and subsidies
In the early years the schools were financed by fees, donations and fund-raising efforts. Teachers were on minimum salaries and parents also made personal sacrifices. State assistance and subsidies to independent schools were introduced in the 1950s and 1960s to help finance buildings and reduce fees, but establishing an upper school still brought great financial burdens for a school community. When the Labour government stopped all support for independent schools matters became critical. But this abolition of state aid for independent schools was very controversial, so the Private Schools Integration Act 1975 was passed with the intention of integrating these within the state system while respecting their specific character.
After thorough discussion amongst themselves and with the authorities, the first two Waldorf Schools decided to join the integration system in 1989, and the remaining schools soon followed. Thereafter teachers’ salaries and running costs were paid by the state. But repairs to buildings, insurance and the salaries of some specialists such as eurythmy and kindergarten teachers still had to be financed out of donations.
The kindergartens receive nothing for 4-year-olds as they are of pre-school age and ought to be paid for by the Early Education Department. Children aged 5 are regarded as schoolchildren for whom the state pays, but this causes considerable problems for Waldorf Schools where schooling proper does not begin until the age of 6. After much discussion a special arrangement has been installed which permits children at Waldorf Kindergartens aged from 3 to 6 to be financed by the state. Although the integration has brought many advantages it is important to stay alert to possible watering-down influences that might affect the curriculum and social structure of the school communities.
To university with a Waldorf School-leaving report
That Waldorf Education is accepted in New Zealand can be seen from the fact that the universities are prepared to enrol students from the Hastings school who have completed a “Class 12 project” and been evaluated by their teachers as ready for university.
One of the main problems remains the availability of trained Waldorf teachers. Young schools are particularly affected, and new schools cannot be founded. Upper schools are also affected, and meeting the needs of upper school students is a lively topic of debate.
Over the years the schools have endeavoured to integrate aspects of Maori culture in their curriculum and social life.
Distance-training for teachers
Two universities have expressed an interest in collaborating with the Taruna Teacher Preparation course. Negotiations with one are under way to develop distance-training papers on Waldorf Education. Interest in the Waldorf movement is growing steadily with more and more young parents looking for an alternative education for their children. Developmental possibilities are very positive. However, in these fast-changing times Waldorf Education must remain creative and adapt to the needs of pupils in preparing for a life full of challenges in an increasingly globally-oriented world.
Hans van Florenstein Mulder
Waldorf teacher. Founder of a farm and seminar on biodynamic agriculture.