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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Stability and Continuity from the Beginning

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 50-53, Note the Copyright!)

Six-and-a-half years after the “Waldorf School” was founded in Stuttgart, Germany, the Waldorf Education movement also began in Switzerland with the school in Basle which opened its doors in April 1926 to 30 pupils in three classes. One year later another school opened in Zurich but it was not until 1945 that the Berne school also started. The initiatives which led to these foundations and also the local circumstances were so diverse that three very different schools emerged which had little contact with one another until the 1960s. The division that came about in the General Anthroposophical Society during the 1930s had repercussions in the school movement as well, so that a polarization arose between the Basle and Zurich schools. Unlike the schools in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands the Waldorf Schools in Switzerland were able to keep going throughout the Second World War.

A school is founded in Basle …

At the invitation of the then director of the Education Department, Rudolf Steiner gave a lecture in Basle in November 1919 on spiritual science and education which met with a great deal of interest. Various teachers then expressed a wish for an introductory course which took place in 1920. This so-called “Basle course for teachers” (R. Steiner, “The Renewal of Education”, SSF 1981) was the first in which Rudolf Steiner described his educational ideas to a public audience in 14 lectures. The Friedwart School for youngsters over 14 was founded at Dornach in the same year. 1922 saw the first consultations in a group of teachers and parents concerning the possibility of founding a school in Basle. The Association for Education on the Basis of a True Understanding of the Human Being was founded at Easter 1923. This association commissioned Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Albert Steffen (1884-1963) and Friedrich Widmer (1889-1966), one of the founding teachers, to approach the Education Department in Basle in order to enquire in person about the possibility of founding a new type of school. The enquiry was kindly received by the director of the department at the time, Dr Fritz Hauser, and the Education Council granted permission. Rudolf Steiner’s death then intervened, so that the school did not open until 1926. Many years later, at the celebration held when the school’s new building was inaugurated in 1967, council member Arnold Schneider, another director of the Education Department, described the founding process as follows:

“Our records show that the Department investigated the application very thoroughly. Concern was expressed that it was not possible to see clearly from the data submitted whether the intended curriculum would lead to the achievement of the same goal as that of the state schools. The committee therefore needed an expert opinion on the matter. So the application together with all the attendant paperwork was passed to Professor Paul Häberlein, Professor in Ordinary for Psychology, Philosophy and Pedagogy. After making a thorough study of the material this learned gentleman declared that he would not be able to supply the required expert opinion since it would not be possible to assess the success of the school until it was up and running. The Education Department agreed and there-upon granted permission. There has never been a subsequent investigation into whether the Waldorf School does in fact meet the goals of state schools. This proves that the trust given on account has meanwhile been transformed into a relationship of genuine mutual trust. Surely a plan that involves appealing to and developing young people which has proved sound for over half a century must bear within it a great deal of truth.”

The cultural atmosphere of Basle with its stamp of humanist tradition is palpable in that relationship of mutual trust between the state authorities and the Waldorf School which remains to this day and which has meant that the school has been left to develop in peace. Recognition by the state has, however, not meant that any financial support would follow. Even today only very few of the Waldorf Schools in Switzerland receive any monies from the state. It was for this reason that the Basle Waldorf School brought out a manifesto on the occasion of its 75th anniversary in which it spoke up in favour of state finance being made available to all non-state primary schools.

… and in Zurich

In a talk he gave in 1936, Conrad Englert Faye mentioned some essential points which had been important at the founding of the Zurich Waldorf School. “When a school is founded it must not get mired in private concerns but must remain independent of personal circumstances.” He said that the Zurich school should not copy in a doctrinaire way what the Waldorf School in Stuttgart stipulated. It should be shaped by the people involved and “not be bound to Rome”. A Waldorf School should, he said, involve itself in the cultural continuity of the country or place where it was founded. (C. Englert Faye: “Zur Menschenbildung. Aus der Arbeit der Rudolf-Steiner-Schule Zürich 1927-1977”, Basle 1977; (“Concerning Education, reports from the work in the Rudolf Steiner School Zurich”, German only). This gives us a taste of the strongly individualistic stamp of the Zurich Waldorf School which has had a mode of dealing with the education authorities which differed strongly from that of the Basle school.

… and in Berne

In the Canton of Berne Waldorf Education as a method came to be implemented within the state system through the impulse of Friedrich Eymann (1887-1954). In the course of his work in Berne’s state teacher training seminar he had built up a group of young teachers who worked with Waldorf methods in many village schools. This initiative led to his being suspended from his teaching post. The Independent Educational Association was founded in 1942. It exists to this day. Its work led in 1945 to the opening of the Waldorf School in Berne.


Collaboration begins

The opening of the school at Biel in 1970 marked the beginning of a period in which many Waldorf Schools and kindergartens were founded all over Switzerland. So it became increasingly important for individual schools to look beyond their immediate circle, notice the others and get to know them. Waldorf Schools now exist in all four language zones of this little country, 3 in the French, 1 in the Italian, 1 very small one in the Romansh, and the great majority in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. This language diversity alone makes for much colourful variation in the school landscape. Representatives from all the schools meet 4 times a year in the Working Group of the Swiss Waldorf Schools to discuss matters relating to the school movement as a whole. This collaboration bears the stamp of voluntary co-operation between autonomous individual schools within the anthroposophical school movement in Switzerland as a whole, which explains why Switzerland still has no umbrella organization relating to the schools.

This voluntary collaboration has led to the realization of various projects in recent years. For example a co-ordination centre has been set up, a fund for teachers who cannot work on account of age or illness has been founded and, most recently, an upper school network has been organized that allows pupils from all the member schools to choose which upper school they wish to attend. Mandate and working groups have been set up to deal with matters affecting the whole movement. The Foundation for the Promotion of Waldorf Education in Switzerland has brought valuable impulses and financial help to the school movement. For example a co-ordination centre for the education of infants and pre-school children has been set up. Or the quality assurance procedure “Ways to Quality” has been worked out which is now being implemented step by step in the individual schools.

Facing difficulties together

After the years of continuous expansion between 1970 and 1985 there has been an obvious change since 1996. Several of the 39 schools in Switzerland are facing existential problems. The number of pupils has declined by 400 overall in Switzerland, which of course has financial implications, and two schools will have to close in the summer of 2001. This new development confronts the school movement with the need to collaborate in a different way. It seems strange that in wealthy Switzerland the Waldorf Schools are facing increasing financial problems, but this is due to the fact that only a few Cantons provide subsidies for non-state schools, so that most have to be financed by the parents. Apart from these financial matters, changes in education policy are also making it necessary for Waldorf Schools to take a unified stand. Other matters that concern all the schools are education research and teacher training and further training. The latter is tackled mainly by the four seminars at Dornach, Lausanne, Berne and Zurich. Where are the teachers for future generations of pupils? How can they be found? And, above all, how can they be prepared for their work in the schools, with the parents and in their collaboration with their colleagues so that the three torches of the teaching profession - imagination, the courage to be truthful, and responsibility - will shine for them with unceasing enthusiasm?


Curative education and social therapy

With just under 50 establishments for curative education and social therapy Switzerland has a relatively dense network of anthroposophical initiatives. A clear shift of emphasis has taken place over past decades in that the number of institutions catering for adults with learning difficulties (social therapy) has increased while the number caring for and teaching children only (curative education) is on the decrease. A census in the year 2000 showed that 2,500 people with difficulties are cared for in anthroposophical institutions in Switzerland. 31 of these are concerned solely with adults, 12 cater for children, youngsters and adults, and only 2 special home schools now deal exclusively with children. Special day schools are now increasingly needed because support from specialist services and authorities is enabling more and more children to live at home and attend school daily. There are a small number of extended family situations and several institutions which care for the mentally ill or people with substance dependency problems. At some locations there are early education advice centres, but this needs to be further developed.

Collaboration made possible by the Kuratorium

Owing to Switzerland’s relatively small size it has been possible to establish good collaboration among all the specialist personnel and institutions. There are regular meetings of the different specialisms where an exchange of views and also further training can take place. The institutions for curative education and for social therapy are united in the Association for Anthroposophical Curative Education and Social Therapy, the so-called Kuratorium, which meets twice a year for a whole day. The various obligations and responsibilities have recently been worked over and recorded in writing as binding “Rules of Collaboration”.

On this basis work can be done together on contemporary questions and problems. At present these are above all the ever-increasing rules and money-saving measures on the part of the state which are putting some degree of pressure on the institutions and forcing restrictions which can very quickly affect the quality of the work. On the other hand there are specialist themes to be worked on such as how to work with older people needing care, the change in the way children and adults present nowadays, and how to deal with violence and aggression in everyday life. The latter in particular, the infringement of the integrity of those being cared for, is very topical and calls for a great deal of thought. It requires good and transparent ways of working within an institution but also the cultivation of dialogue with colleagues whose work is not based on anthroposophy.

Improving quality

One subject in recent years has been how to meet the requirement of the authorities to set up quality assurance systems in homes and schools. With his quality assurance procedure “Ways to Quality” Udo Herrmannstorfer has succeeded in establishing a procedure acceptable to the relevant authorities which takes crucial account of the anthroposophical view of working with human beings and leads to genuine quality development and improvements in everyday work. The “Confidentia” certification office which is independent of “Ways to Quality” but works along the same lines is due to be accredited by the federal authorities. This will mean that trained auditors will be able to use “Confidentia” to audit institutions all over Europe that work in accordance with “Ways to Quality” and issue certificates recognized by whichever country they are in, be they curative education or social therapy establishments, old people’s homes, training centres, schools, psychiatric institutions or out-patient social services. There are still many challenges ahead in the socio-political realm, radical changes above all in the matter of finance for the institutions and recognition of training schemes. These new questions generate uncertainty on the one hand, but on the other they provide opportunities for reappraisal, reorientation and, where intensive and constructive collaboration can be achieved, also opportunities to share in setting up the new rules.


Robert Thomas
Head of the co-ordination office for Waldorf Schools in Switzerland.

Andreas Fischer
Teacher at the Dornach curative education seminar, head of the specialist and co-ordination office of the Association for Anthroposophical Curative Education and Social Therapy in Switzerland.

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