Occasionally, The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
has run interesting accounts of Waldorf or Steiner schooling.
Here are some samples.

November, 2012

BBC South West
Report on Frome Steiner Academy

----- R.R. transcription -----

[BBC correspondent Samantha Smith]:

“First tonight: For years, private Steiner schools have been popular with parents prepared to pay the fees. But now, amid much debate, a state-funded Steiner school has opened in the south west [of England]. It’s the first time public money has been used to set one up, and that’s angered some critics who say parents aren’t being told enough about the controversial philosophy that underpins them. I’ve been investigating."

[Shot of a candle being lit. Mother and child chanting]:

“Fire gnomes,

Fire gnomes,

Bring us warmth...”

[Samantha Smith (as chant continues in background)]:

“Rowan and his mum Alice are giving thanks for an afternoon snack. Their song to the fire gnomes is based on the writings of Rudolf Steiner, a man who said natural forces like fire and wind were animated by spirits like fire gnomes, which can’t be seen.

“Steiner’s spiritual influence has inspired some but been ridiculed by others. For Alice, the fire gnomes are no more harmful than the tooth fairy.”

[Alice X, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“It’s all about bringing a sense of wonder about things. It’s a lovely little story. And we talk about fire gnomes when we go out and have a fire outside. And it just brings another level of magic to it, really.”

[We see parents and children, including Alice and Rowan, walking toward the new Steiner school. Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“It’s September, and Rowan’s first day at school. He’s one of 130 pupils at the brand-new, state-funded Steiner Academy in the Somerset town of Frome.”

[Alice X, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“We started becoming aware of Steiner as you do when you’re sort of looking for alternatives, and when he was quite small. And I think that children need to learn how they fit into the world, first. And that’s the most important thing. And formal learning really follows on from that, I think, and I hope Rowan can take that level of learning and take that out into the world.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“A passionate group of parents has managed to get the school to this point in spite of vociferous objections. The head teacher, Trevor Mepham, has been in Steiner education all his working life.”

[We see Trevor Mepham standing at the door of the new Steiner school. He addresses the gathered parents and students]:

“Good morning, everybody. This is going to be very brief. There’s a lot to do, but firstly... [He holds his hand high, then clenches it as if catching something.] That's a special moment. That’s the moment when we have opened and woken up a new school, our school here.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“It’s the first time public money has been used to set up a Steiner school, and that’s angered skeptics who are questioning the philosophy behind it.”

[Richy Thompson, of the British Humanist Association, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“The government shouldn’t waste state funds on schools that teach nonsense, I mean that is a waste of the public’s money, the taxpayer’s money, and these schools are also legitimized by the fact that they are now gaining state funding.”

[We see Trevor Mepham again, still at the school door]:

“Not only should we study the cosmos and the stars, we should also look for the stars and the cosmos within us.” [The crowd applauds.] 

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher who died in 1925. He said he had a clairvoyant ability which gave him a direct insight into a spiritual world. And it is this ‘spiritual science,’ or Anthroposophy, which forms the basis of Steiner education.

“Children [at Steiner schools] aren’t taught to write until they are seven. Research has suggested that a delayed start to reading does improve exam results, but Steiner was concerned that reading too early might damage a child’s path towards reincarnation.”

[Trevor Mepham, speaking to an interviewer, presumably Samantha Smith]:

“He did have some ideas on reincarnation, yes. I wouldn’t say he believed in it, but he put those ideas out there as indications, as questions, and as areas of research for people to explore themselves. I mean, he’s not the first person to have done this, and he’s not the only person to have done it. I think it’s a fairly broadly held notion all over the world, actually, the concept of reincarnation.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to Mepham]:

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

[Trevor Mepham, replying]:

“I am open to it as a possibility, yeah.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“One of the most controversial aspects of Steiner’s philosophy is that he said reincarnation was related to race. He said skin color was an indication of a person’s stage of spiritual development, with black — ‘Schwarz’ — people being the least developed, and white — ‘Weiss’ — people the most. [The screen shows a racist diagram from a collection of Steiner’s lectures.] 

"For some local people, a school inspired by the ideas of a man who held such views is unacceptable.”

[John Boxall, of the “No Frome Steiner” campaign, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“Steiner basically believes that the highest level of human evolution is the white Aryan, and in particular within that white Aryan group, it’s those of Nordic and German descent, which is exactly the sort of idea that the Nazis were pushing in the 1930s and 40s.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“It’s only a tiny part of Steiner’s work, but it is one which has concerned newly qualified Steiner teacher Daisy Powell.”

[Daisy Powell, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“Steiner didn’t actually write very much about race, but there is a fraction of his work that could be construed as promoting the idea of kind of hierarchical evolution through the races, which is obviously a very controversial and deplorable idea.”

[Trevor Mepham, speaking to Samantha Smith]:

“I do acknowledge that some of the things that were said in the 1920s do not sound quite right today...”

[Samantha Smith interjecting, as Trevor Mepham continues speaking]:

“They might not have sounded right in the 1920s, either.”

[Trevor Mepham, still speaking]:

“, in the 21st century, and what I am saying is that fundamentally Rudolf Steiner was not a racist and these schools do not promote anything like that.”

[Samantha Smith]:

“But you accept that some of his views could be interpreted as racist?"

[Trevor Mepham]:

“Um, I think I would accept that some of his views, in today’s climate, using today’s language, could be viewed as that.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“Daisy Powell is positive about the benefits of Steiner education, but she is worried about the potential for Anthroposophy to become a belief system.”

[Daisy Powell, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“I think what can happen with Steiner practitioners is that they might put some of his ideas into practice, find that they work, very well, and prove to be true, and then you come to accept  everything that Steiner says as being infallible, which is a dangerous way to approach things.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“Steiner schools insist they don’t represent a particular philosophy, but critics aren’t convinced. They say parents often don’t realize that some teachers may believe wholeheartedly in Steiner's reincarnation theories.”

[Richy Thompson, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“Be skeptical of what they tell you, because Steiner groups are very good at saying ‘we don’t teach Anthroposophy,’ but that is a complete misunderstanding of what the issues around Anthroposophy are. The issue is that the teachers are nurtured in these Anthroposophical beliefs, in things like karma and reincarnation.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“On its website, the Steiner Academy Frome says it will neither promote nor teach Anthroposophy. And, yet as a member of the Steiner Schools Fellowship, it is required to have what’s called an Anthroposophical impulse at its heart.”

[Samantha Smith, addressing Trevor Mepham]: 

“You are required, are you not, to have Anthroposophy at the heart of everything you do?”

[Trevor Mepham]:

“In the name of these schools, we follow a certain approach, we follow certain ideas...”

[Samantha Smith interjecting, as Trevor Mepham continues speaking]:

“An Anthroposophical approach.”

[Trevor Mepham, still speaking]:

“...certain ideas, and we carry certain questions...”

[Samantha Smith interjecting]:

“Founded in Anthroposophy.”

[Trevor Mepham]:

“Well, ‘Anthroposophy’ is a generic term for Steiner’s work. OK? It’s, uh...”

[Samantha Smith]:

“But you are required to put it at the heart of what you do.”

[Trevor Mepham]:

“We are required to teach, education, that the government has funded us to teach, and that is Steiner education.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“The free schools policy* has offered a lifeline to the Steiner movement, and a second Steiner free school is due to open in Exeter next year. 

“Rowan is settled in his new school, and his mum Alice remains optimistic about the Steiner approach.”

[Alice X, speaking to an unseen interviewer]:

“I really don’t know very much about the ins and outs of Anthroposophy, so at this stage I can’t say whether it would be a problem or not. I think that what I already see in Steiner education is a strong sort of spiritual background, and a sort of connecting with something wider, a sense of, you know, connection with nature and there being something bigger than us. And that is something, that is a paradigm that underlies a lot of different philosophies and different religions, and for me I think that is a quite helpful way of approaching learning, it’s quite a helpful way of approaching life.”

[Samantha Smith, speaking to the viewers]:

“The school is already oversubscribed and has ambitions to become the largest Steiner in the country. To do that, it’ll have to move to a bigger site, and its critics are already trying to block those plans. How will it all turn out? Well, only the clairvoyant could know that.”

* This is the policy of the British government to fund “free schools” — what, in the USA, are called charter schools. — R.R.

[R.R., 2016.]

BBC Newsnight

July 31, 2014

----- R.R. transcription -----

[Host Robert Peston] Newsnight has learned that parents complained to the Department for Education about racism and bullying at Steiner schools, those schools favored by less-conventional middle class families. So why has the government provided public funds for new Steiner free schools?

[Correspondent Chris Cook] Newsnight has exclusively seen two Department for Education memos which relate serious concerns about Steiner schools, memos that the British Humanist Association had to go to court to get released.

[Theme music, program title displayed: BBC Newsnight]

[Robert Peston] Steiner schools — they’ve been popular for decades among the more liberal and bohemian (some might say wacky) middle classes. [Two students are named; garbled] But Newsnight has learned that complaints were made to the Department for Education that in some of these privately funded schools teachers have said they thought bullying was part of how kids worked out their karma, and in one school there were problems with racism linked directly to the Steiner philosophy. But since the government received these complaints, it agreed to fund three new Steiner free schools. Christ Cook has the story.

[Scene of a Waldorf eurythmy class]

[Steiner parent Rachael Black] I think the Steiner pedagogy is a really interesting philosophy for many reasons, not least the fact is that it centers on the child and the child’s education holistically. They focus on the human being, and they nuture, and they are affectionate. And I think that that’s really important, to build the human being before you build an academic or a worker.

[Chris Cook] Steiner schools — sometimes called Waldorf or Steiner Waldorf schools — have a bit of a following. [Scene of young Steiner students being led in a circling dance by their teacher] There are now about 30 private Steiner schools [in the UK], and since 2008 three state ones. Another is on the way. But Newsnight has exclusively seen two Department for Education memos which relate serious concerns about Steiner schools, memos that the British Humanist Association had to go to court to get released. 

The memos, from 2010, come from the early days of the free schools program and note that the civil service had received material indicating that the Steiner curriculum is structured around the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, called Anthroposophy.

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian-born occultist who died in 1925. But his ideas, Anthroposophy, live on. It’s a spiritual doctrine that covers everything from homeopathy and biodynamic farming to the purpose of life. [Cook enters an Anthroposophical bookstore] This grand work still fills bookshops, and includes some rather particular ideas about race and reincarnation, specifically that people with darker skin are less evolved, but if they do well, if they have good karma, they can hope to be reincarnated in later lives as a higher-ranked race. [Cook opens a volume of Steiner lectures and displays a diagram ranking human races: black, yellow, and white] White Aryans, of course, are at the top. They evolved from advanced colonists from the lost continent of Atlantis. 

The controversy around Steiner schools relates to just how many of his less palatable ideas make their way into the classroom. The real question is, just how much Rudolf is there in the Steiner schools?

[Sylvie Sklan, of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship] The idea that we have incarnated through the races is a very controversial idea that is not part of our modern thinking in Steiner schools at all. In fact, I would find it quite outrageous and unacceptable, and it is not, it is not a basis upon which one would want to found any criticism of Steiner schools today, because it just does not exist, it is not what we believe.


[Chris Cook] But some of those ideas have cropped up in the private Steiner schools very recently. And some parents are worried about speaking out. 

[Anonymous parent] There was diversity training at the school, and part of it was ticking boxes of which ethnicity you were. And four of the teachers ticked all of the boxes, and the trainer asked why on earth they had done that. And they said because they had been all those races. And all those teachers were white, so obviously they see themselves as the pinnacle.

[Chris Cook] The Department for Education memos also reveal some important concerns about bullying. For example, it said that in eight of the twenty-five private Steiner schools there had been serious complaints about staff bullying pupils. There were also concerns about policies on stamping out bullying, and worries that this might be related to Rudolf Steiner’s teachings.  

The memos report the complaint that one parent witnessed a physical attack on their son where a teacher failed to intervene, and the teacher subsequently justified this approach by claiming that the children were “working out their karma.”

But that certainly is not the approach everywhere.

[Rachael Black] There was an incident where my child was attacked in class, and it was terribly traumatic for everybody involved. The school, however, were incredible in dealing with it. The teacher in the classroom and the assistants were both very nurturing, very caring, and my daughter has flourished and grown after the event. The school management team pounced on the problem very, very quickly.

[Scene of a teacher playing flute for a class of young children] 

[Chris Cook] Since the memos were written, three new state Steiner schools have been opened or approved to open. That’s not uncontroversial, given the nature of Steiner’s work. The DfE memos note that it obviously wouldn’t approve anything where racism or bullying were issues. Tonight, they added that it can and it would close schools — even private ones — where they were. But that doesn’t close the question of whether this Austrian mystic’s ideas are actually worth public money. 

[Robert Peston, sitting at a table with two guests ] Here to discuss Steiner schools are Francis Russell, whose child was a pupil at Greenwich Steiner School, and Andrew Copson, the chief executive at the British Humanist Association. 

Andrew, if I could start with you, I think the evidence seems to suggest that kids learn at these schools and that they’re pretty happy. Why on earth are you making such a fuss about them?

[Andrew Copson] Well, the reason we tried to get the documents that the DfE has finally had to release is precisely because we feared what they turned out to actually contain. Eight out of the twenty-five of the independent Steiner schools that exist had serious cases of bullying of pupils by staff, which is a completely massive proportion compared with other schools. And there was a culture of secrecy concerning teacher training materials within Steiner teacher training schemes that said they should prevent other people from seeing their lesson plans, make sure their lesson plans were lost, and that was obviously because of the controversial nature of the material. The quasi-religious, pseudoscientific, mystical belief system that is Anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner’s work, was linked directly to incidents of racism and bullying within those schools as well. So that is why we are concerned, we’re concerned if any sort of ideological belief system takes the place of real education in state schools.

[Robert Peston] Francis, the evidence that in some schools bullying was not just tolerated but in some sense is thought that it was a good thing, as a way of identifying, you know, [Francis interjects: “No”] what sort of kid, what sort of person these kids would grow up to be. Doesn’t that immensely worry you as a parent of a kid at one of these schools?

[Francis Russell] OK. This is total rubbish, what you’re talking about now. I am a parent who had a child in the school, but I’ve also been involved in setting up and running this particular school over the last six years, and been involved with it for ten, and been involved in the movement. The allegations that were raised in this report were never tested, this was just some parents who had written to the Department for Education, and they were being raised in the report as issues of how do we manage if parents come up and say these kind of things with the media. There’s absolutely no proof at all…

[Robert Peston starts to speak; Francis Russell continues] I’m sorry, can I just continue for a moment? [Peston: “Sorry.”] What you’re describing does not happen in Steiner schools. That would never happen in our school, it would never happen in any of the schools I know anything about.

[Robert Peston] But why does the handbook talk about kids being, you know, either victims or bullies, and you needing to sort of test which category they go into? Why do these handbooks say these things?

[Francis Russell] No, I’m not clear about this handbook at all. What I can tell you is what our policy says and what policies in all the schools say. Remember, they are all inspected, and they all have to abide by the independent school rules. And what they say is that bullying is not tolerated. But within Steiner schools, as within many schools, we try to get children to learn to deal with conflict that is going on. But they are not left to do that on their own, they do it with the guidance of the adults, the teachers and parents involved. I’m sorry, but all this stuff about the pseudo-spiritualism and everything — that is all to do with Steiner’s views on Anthroposophy, which are not taught in schools. It is there for some adults to use as a way of guiding their lives, if they choose to do so. It just does not form any part of a modern Steiner school.

[Robert Peston] But nonetheless he is the driving force intellectually behind it, and you know there is in his philosophy there is this stuff that I think most people would consider racist and bonkers about the Aryans being a super race and all that.

[Francis Russell] Absolutely, of course it's racist and bonk…

[Robert Peston] But don’t you worry about being associated with a school founded on such ideas?

[Francis Russell] Rudolf Steiner had a lot of good ideas about educational provision, which have been taken and developed and progressed, and that is what form a part of…

[Robert Peston] Is there any role for public money in schools which are based on this kind of philosophy, Andrew?

[Andrew Copson] Well, I obviously don’t think so, I think because any state-funded schools should be built on proper educational practice and theory, and Steiner education theory isn’t. And…

[Francis Russell] I’m sorry…

[Russell and Copson talk over each other briefly.]

[Andrew Copson] Can I just say something, because you spoke for a long time and made claims about what was in these documents, which aren’t true. An attempt to dismiss these documents as if they contain just the allegations of individual parents will completely fail because they actually quote teacher training manuals for Steiner pedagogy which say many of the things that have just been said, both in the report and now, about some children being destined by their karma to be victims and some to be bullied, and all…

[Robert Peston to Francis Russell] Do you think public money should go into these schools?

[Francis Russell] Absolutely…

[Robert Peston] You presumably paid.

[Francis Russell] I had to pay. But there are many parents who cannot afford to pay and who would like the kind of education that you get in Steiner schools, which is about really educating the whole child in a very imaginative and artistic way, and if you looked at the school inspection reports, they are telling parents how good these schools are and how good they are at producing British young people with strong self-esteem, academically able, and well-prepared to go on and be good citizens in life…

[Andrew Copson] I…

[Robert Peston] I’m afraid we are going to have to leave it there. But, anyway, thank you very much. I think it was a jolly interesting discussion.

A note added by Roger Rawlings, April 28, 2016:

It is evident that none of the three participants in the BBC discussion of July 31, 2014 was fully conversant with the contents of the manual or handbook mentioned during the discussion. (Francis Russell, in particular, said, “No, I’m not clear about this handbook at all.”) The publication alluded to is A HANDBOOK FOR WALDORF CLASS TEACHERS, by Kevin Avison. Published in revised form by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship in 2011, it is an official Waldorf/Steiner document. Here are some of the handbook’s contents:

• The handbook explicitly identifies Waldorf schools as esoteric Anthroposophical institutions. Thus, when recommending “anthroposophical exercises” for the faculty members, it speaks of “the esoteric community which is the true heart of the Waldorf school” [p. 19]. Anthroposophical exercises are generally meditations. Steiner prescribed many such exercises, at least some of which are meant to foster clairvoyance. [See, e.g., "Knowing the Worlds".]

• The “spiritual content of the curriculum” is openly acknowledged [p. 18]. 

• The relationship between Waldorf teachers and their students is described as being fundamentally spiritual. The handbook speaks, for instance, of the “meditative relationship between teacher and class (a relationship of and to spiritual beings)” [p. 20]. The relationship "of" spiritual beings occurs between humans possessing souls and spirits; the relationship "to" spiritual beings occurs between humans and the gods they reach toward.

• The handbook says that each day at a Waldorf school should begin with an "incarnating exercise, register, [and] Morning Verse" [p. 38]. In Anthroposophical belief, childhood is a time when three nonphysical bodies — the etheric body, the astral body, and the ego body or "I" — gradually incarnate. "Incarnating exercises" are meant to aid this process, so that higher parts of the human constitution become present within the physical body. The "register" is the calling of the roll. "Morning Verses" are prayers, generally written by Steiner himself. Steiner instructed Waldorf teachers to disguise such prayers by calling them “verses." [See "Prayers".]

• Classes may end with "a closing verse or grace" [p. 39]. Both the "verse" and the grace would normally be a prayer addressed, directly or indirectly, to one or more gods. Anthroposophy is polytheistic. [See "Polytheism".]

• Faculty meetings should open and close with "verses," and the agenda often should include preparations for "festivals" [pp. 46-47]. Again, the "verses" would normally be prayers; the "festivals" would usually be muted religious observances, such as celebrations of Christmas, Advent, Michaelmas, etc. [See, e.g., "Magical Arts".]

• Classroom study of religion is indicated repeatedly in the handbook [e.g., pp. 26 and 28]. 

• Reverence [p. 25] and repentance [p. 22] are identified as goals of the various undertakings prescribed for students and faculty. 

• The aim of literature studies in class two, for example, is described as “to encourage reverence for that in humanity which aspires toward the Divine” [p. 26].

• Similarly, the aim of literature studies in class three is "to prepare the child’s feeling life for a recognition of the Divine” [p. 28]. 

• Study of the lives of saints is promoted. The purpose is "to give a picture of the striving of the human being in respect to the ideal (saints)” [p. 26].

• The aim of writing lessons in class seven is "to provide some means with which to delineate the contours of the soul" [p. 35].

• The aim of anatomy lessons in class eight is "to encourage a sense of 'educated' wonder and reverence" [p. 36].

• Concerning repentance, the handbook says this: “Painful events, or ones that arouse strong emotion in other ways…[can] be placed into the lap of one’s angel before sleep, with a prayer towards the wisdom (and possibly repentance) of the following morning” [p. 22]. Anthroposophists believe that each human being has a personal Angel — a god who oversees and protects one. (We will return to this point.) Here, the handbook discusses both a meditative activity and  — significantly — a “prayer.”

• The teachers are directed to bring "the spiritual world" into the classroom. Thus, for instance, "[W]ithout active recall the teacher cannot claim to be including the spiritual world, the activity of the night, in the lesson. Recall time is the moment in the lesson when what is beginning to individualise itself in the child through their unconscious communication with the hierarchies...during sleep can express itself" [p. 42]. During "recall time," students review what they have learned previously. The "hierarchies," in Anthroposophical usage, are gods. Steiner taught that there are nine ranks of gods subdivided into three groupings called hierarchies. Steiner also taught that at night the astral body and the "I" rise into the spirit realm, where they interact with the gods, while the physical body and the etheric body lie asleep on Earth. The handbook indicates that students learn lessons in the spiritual world at night ("the activity of the night:), lessons that are then driven home during the school day ("their unconscious communication with the hierarchies...during sleep can express itself" during "recall time"). According to Anthroposophy, real thinking and learning occur in the spirit realm, not on Earth. [See, e.g., "Thinking".]

• The teachers work in service to the gods, and thereby they help improve human society. "By enabling the spiritual world to think and work positively for the good, the teacher begins to be not simply one who enjoys community, but becomes a builder of community" [p. 45]. The spiritual world can "work" here on the physical plane of existence because Anthroposophists, including Waldorf teachers, serve as conduits for the powers of the spiritual world. The ultimate aim for Anthroposophists, in their Earthly lives, is to revolutionize human society — to build a new community that conforms to Anthroposophical principles. [See, e.g., "Threefolding".]

• The teachers are urged to turn to Steiner and the gods for guidance and aid. "When nothing seems to be working...wrestling meditatively with a few paragraphs from ALLGEMEINE MENSCHENKUNDE [Steiner's STUDY OF MAN], especially when accompanied by the angels of the children...and your own work with those Beings that concern themselves most closely with education" [p. 86]. Anthroposophists believe that Angels are gods one level higher than humanity. Each Angel oversees one human being; each Angel is thus a Guardian Angel. The other "Beings" mentioned are gods of higher rank than Angels — generally Spirits of Fire (Archangels) and Spirits of Personality (Archai). Waldorf teachers attempt to work in compliance with gods who take particular interest in human education. STUDY OF MAN is the foundational treatise in which Steiner lays out the rationale for Waldorf education. The rationale is spiritual and occult. [See "Oh Humanity".]

Although defenders of Waldorf education typically argue that Rudolf Steiner’s esoteric spiritual teachings have little or no influence within the Waldorf movement today, in fact Steiner is mentioned over and over in the handbook, his esoteric teachings are taken as predicates, and Waldorf teachers are directed to study various Steiner books and lectures for the guidance they will find there. Understanding and acceptance of Anthroposophical doctrines are assumed (the teachers are addressed as, in effect, Anthroposophists). 

• Thus, for instance, the handbook refers to “the ether body” [p. 10] — this is the lowest of the three nonphysical bodies mentioned above; it is usually called the "etheric" body. Other distinctly Anthroposophical references in the handbook include the following: 

• “soul imitation” [p. 10] 

• “incarnating equilibrium” [p. 11] 

• “dynamic imagination” [p. 26] 

• “imaginative participation with the rhythm of the year, with [religious] festivals as a focus” [p. 27] 

• “one’s angel” [p. 22] 

• “the threefold nature of the human form” [p. 32] 

• “temperamental qualities of animal types … choleric…phlegmatic…melancholic…sanguine” [p. 32] 

• “the evolution of human consciousness” [p. 33]

• "devotion to phenomenon [sic]" [p. 34]

• "the Third Post Atlantean epoch [sic]" [p. 37]

• "the lemniscate of teacher-learner and learner-teacher [relationships]" [p. 40]

• "the destiny [i.e., karma] of individuals" [p. 44]

• The handbook indicates that roll call "helps the 'I' [the highest of our three nonphysical bodies] to be present" [p. 38].

• Eurythmy exercises are prescribed for inclusion in class work [p. 38].

• The handbook says that faculty discussions of individual students ("child study") should begin with a "Soul Calendar verse corresponding to the week of a child's birthday" and include discussion of the child's temperament and constitutional type [pp. 47-48]. The "Soul Calendar" is the book THE CALENDAR OF THE SOUL, consisting of meditations and prayers written by Steiner. The four "temperaments" recognized in Anthroposophy derive from ancient Greek medical speculations. The six "constitutional types" of children as usually discussed in Anthroposophy are cosmic, earthly, fantasy-rich, fantasy-poor, large-headed and small-headed children.

• Teachers are cautioned not to flaunt their devotion to Anthroposophy. "Anthroposophy, when it is worn as a badge, is apt to divide people who may have very different perceptions of it" [p. 45].

• The teachers' work has goals that extend considerably beyond the classroom. "While our educational work strives to be the highest possible expression of spiritual-cultural goals for our time, our meetings work into, and draw upon, the intentions of the future (q.v. TOWARDS THE SIXTH EPOCH)" [p. 46]. Waldorf educational work is meant to manifest the highest purposes of Anthroposophy ("the highest spiritual-cultural goals for our time"). The meetings referred to are Waldorf faculty meetings. These meetings, the handbook says, draw upon, and contribute to, the gods' intentions for the future. Steiner laid out his clairvoyant vision of the future in numerous Anthroposophical lectures.

A quotation from Steiner serves as the handbook's epigraph [p. 2], and teachers using the handbook are repeatedly guided to various Steiner texts for the wisdom they will find there. Each reference to a Steiner text also underscores the handbook's claim to authority; the handbook is firmly rooted in Steiner's own works. For example, 

• “Some useful background reading: [Steiner's] PRACTICAL ADVICE [FOR TEACHERS] lecture 1; KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD lecture 4; A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION lecture 9” [p. 24].

• "Some useful background reading: PRACTICAL ADVICE lectures 1, 2 and 5; SOUL ECONOMY AND WALDORF EDUCATION lecture 9; DISCUSSIONS 3 and 4; A MODERN ART OF EDUCATION lecture 8….” [p. 25].

• “Some helpful background reading: THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE - end of lecture 12; A MODERN ART lecture 9; DISCUSSIONS 4; KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD lecture 5” [p. 25].

• “DISCUSSIONS 4 (important section [on] fables); also beginning of 5 and 6; KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD lecture 4” [p. 26]

• “Background reading: TEMPLE LEGEND lecture 2; GENESIS (Munich 1910)” [p. 29].

• Consult Steiner's CALENDAR OF THE SOUL when considering the strengths and weaknesses of individual students [pp. 47-48].

• When having difficulties, meditatively consult Steiner's STUDY OF MAN [p. 86].

    Waldorf teachers are directed to perform spiritual exercises as prescribed by Steiner (exercises that Steiner said would lead to the development of clairvoyance and provide other remarkable benefits). Thus, for instance,

    • “[A] method to help consolidate strength is the reverse review exercise (Rückshau). Rudolf Steiner gave this exercise as a mean of helping to bring order in our life body [i.e., etheric body] and thus bring it refreshment” [p. 19]. 

    • “There are many reference sources for the Rückshau in Steiner’s work and elsewhere (e.g. OCCULT SCIENCE, pp. 251-252 of 1979 edition — Rudolf Steiner Press) … [T]ake a small section of the day, even an activity, and to try to picture the whole procedure in reverse [order] can be…strengthening … Painful events, or ones that arouse strong emotion in other ways, once they have been ‘freeze-framed’…can then be placed in the lap of one’s angel before sleep, with a prayer toward wisdom (and possibly repentance)….” [pp. 21-22.] "One's angel" is one's Guardian Angel. Anthroposophists direct many of their prayers to these personal gods, including prayers for guidance and wisdom. Waldorf teachers also address some prayers to their students' personal gods, the "the angels of the children" [p. 86].

    The handbook makes clear that Waldorf schools are Anthroposophical religious institutions. The schools' immediate aim is to minister to students as spiritual beings; their larger goals include revolutionizing human society and promoting human evolution in accordance with the will of the gods. Hence, the handbook is consistent with statements made by various Waldorf teachers and representatives elsewhere, such as the following:

    • "Waldorf education is a form of practical anthroposophy." — Waldorf teacher Keith Francis, THE EDUCATION OF A WALDORF TEACHER (iUniverse, 2004), p. xii. 

    • "Waldorf teachers must be anthroposophists first and teachers second." — Waldorf teacher Gilbert Childs, STEINER EDUCATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (Floris Books, 1991), p. 166.

    • "[I]n a broad and universal way, the Waldorf school is essentially religious.” — Waldorf teacher Jack Petrash, UNDERSTANDING WALDORF EDUCATION  (Nova Institute, 2002), p. 134. 

    • "I think we owe it to our [students'] parents to let them know that the child is going to go through one religious experience after another [at a Waldorf school] ... [W]hen we deny that Waldorf schools are giving children religious experiences, we are denying the whole basis of Waldorf education." — Waldorf teacher Eugene Schwartz, "Waldorf Education - For Our Times Or Against Them?" (transcript of a talk given at Sunbridge College, 1999). 

    • "The reason many [Waldorf] schools exist is because of Anthroposophy, period. It's not because of the children. It's because a group of Anthroposophists have it in their minds to promote Anthroposophy in the world ... Educating children is secondary in these schools." — Former Waldorf teacher “Baandje" (waldorfcritics list, December 7, 2006). 

    • “Among the faculty, we must certainly carry within us the knowledge that we are not here for our own sakes but to carry out the divine cosmic plan. We...are actually carrying out the intentions of the gods ... [W]e are, in a certain sense, the means by which that streaming down from above will go out into the world.” — Rudolf Steiner, FACULTY MEETINGS WITH RUDOLF STEINER (Anthroposophic Press, 1998), p. 55. 

    BBC News

    Why are Steiner schools so controversial?

    Chris CookPolicy editor, BBC Newsnight
    4 August 2014

    My first encounter with Steiner education was some years ago. 

    And, as is the norm, it took the form of muddling them up with Montessori schools. 

    However, last week, Newsnight ran a report on the 30 or so private Steiner schools that showed how different they are from anything else. 

    The schools are known for being playful and hippyish. 

    But we revealed the contents of two memos from the Department for Education (DfE) on complaints about bullying in the private Steiner schools - also known as Waldorf schools or Steiner Waldorf schools - and concerns about racism. 

    The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), the umbrella body for Steiner schools, responded by saying "Our schools do not tolerate racism" and "bullying is not tolerated by our schools and all our schools have strong anti-bullying policies". 

    Some people also tweeted me to praise their Steiner education. 

    As our report made clear, the issues are not ubiquitous in Steiner schools. None of the reports concerns any of the three, open state Steiner schools. 

    But Steiner schools could be susceptible to these problems.

    Intellectual father

    That is because of the particular views of Rudolf Steiner, the intellectual father of Steiner schools. 

    The Austrian-born occultist, who died in 1925, left a vast body of work covering everything from biodynamic farming to alternative medicine.

    It is known, collectively, as "anthroposophy".

    The SWSF's guidelines from 2011 said that schools using the Steiner name were obliged to prove "an anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school". 

    Since 2013, this has been made vaguer: they now need a commitment to "the fundamental principles of Waldorf education".

    Those ideas are based in a belief in reincarnation.

    Pupils may not have been sold this creed, but Steiner was very strict that teachers were not supposed to pass them on to children - just to act on them.

    Steiner schools say they have no formal policies against vaccination

    So, for example, the Steiner curriculum's focus on a late start to learning is driven by the pace at which souls incarnate. 

    An odd rationale, but not a very worrying result. Other consequences, however, are potentially more troubling. 

    For example, Steiner himself believed illnesses in our current lives could be explained by problems in the previous ones.

    And in overcoming illnesses with a root in a previous life, individuals could gain "reinforced power" and improve their "karma".

    Vaccination, in effect, gets in the way.

    'Unvaccinated populations'

    That may help explain the Steiner school attitude to vaccination.

    The schools state that they have no formal policies and parents must choose for themselves. 

    But children in Steiner schools are less likely to get their jabs.

    The Health Protection Agency - before its recent abolition - used to note that Steiner schools ought to be considered "unvaccinated populations" for measles

    Related ideas of the benefits of overcoming adversity emerge elsewhere.

    The DfE memos report a complaint that a teacher allowed violence among children for karmic reasons, and cites teacher training resources that are sympathetic to this idea.

    This karmic belief set also has a racial element.

    As we reported last week, Steiner was, by any modern definition, a racist.

    'Hierarchy in races'

    He thought black people were distinguished by an "instinctual life", as opposed to Caucasians' "intellectual life". 

    He believed each race had a geographical location where they should live - black people in Europe were "a nuisance". 

    There was also a hierarchy in races; a soul with good karma could hope to be reincarnated into a race which is higher up in the hierarchy, Steiner argued.

    The SWSF says: "While the superficial reading of a handful of Steiner's voluminous, extensive lectures present statements that appear racist in modern terms, none of these occur in his educational writings." 

    But some of these ideas have polluted some Steiner schools.

    The SWSF was "horrified" by our report on a diversity training day at a private Steiner school, which had been triggered by a real issue around racism. 

    Four white teachers, asked to tick a box giving their ethnicity, ticked every box.

    Steiner schools have a focus on a late start to learning

    They believed that they had ascended through all the races.

    Some Steiner schools also teach about the lost continent of Atlantis - a myth that, to Steiner, explained the origins of the hierarchy of the races. 

    So what to make of all of this?

    First, I am not clear why Steiner Schools are not considered faith schools. 

    Surely anthroposophy is a religion?

    It is not totally clear whether all Steiner schools are more focused on improving children's life chances for this life or the next.

    What's in?

    Second, lots of Steiner schools, and the SWSF, believe they have got past these problems with Steiner's work.

    They have taken something from his ideas without the problematic parts. 

    Ofsted seems to think that the state Steiner schools have accomplished this.

    Perhaps the DfE ought to consider asking for clarification on what parts of Steiner's works are in and what parts are out. 

    While it is at it, it could consider monitoring other allegations often levelled at the schools, such as their promotion of homeopathy.

    You can see why Montessori schools get so annoyed when they get muddled up.

    JANUARY 29, 2020 


    The collapse of one of the oldest Steiner schools in the United Kingdom (UK) is now receiving national and, indeed, international news coverage. The British Broadcasting Corporation — the fabled BBC, the "Beeb" — has issued a report.

    Wynstones School — a Steiner boarding school in Gloucestershire — was established in 1937. It had been a fixture in the Steiner educational firmament. But now it has shut down after school inspectors found glaring flaws in its operations [1].

    The shuttering of Wynstones follows turmoil and closures at others UK Steiner schools [2], including one that was nearly as venerable as Wynstones. Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley, which opened in 1949, closed in March, 2019, after inspectors exposed numerous problems there [3].

    The Steiner/Waldorf movement is firmly established in several countries (especially Germany), and it has spread to nations on all continents except Antarctica. But the movement has suffered intermittent setbacks, with a number of schools forced to close and other struggling to stay in business [4]. Critics have argued that such difficulties reflect systemic flaws in the Waldorf approach. The current plight of Steiner schools in the UK may be the movement's most dire moment of truth thus far [5].

    Here are excerpts from the BBC's report on the closing of Wynstones School:

    Wynstones School

    Wynstones Steiner School 
    closed over 'widespread failures' 

    A Steiner school has closed after education watchdog Ofsted [6] found "serious and widespread failures", including children being restrained.

    Wynstones Steiner School, a boarding school in Whaddon near Gloucester [7], was rated inadequate as "significant safeguarding concerns" were found [8]...

    The independent school's trustees said "robust action" would be taken so the school can reopen [9].

    The school teaches students aged three to 19.

    The Ofsted report published in November 2018 found untrained staff "had restrained children on two occasions" [10]...

    "This poor practice leaves children and staff at risk," the report said.

    The inspectors said the school's safeguarding culture was "weak", as "leaders, managers, staff and trustees do not protect children from harm".

    "Leaders and managers have failed to ensure effective management of safeguarding matters," the report said...

    In a progress monitoring report, published by Ofsted in October 2019, it stated the trustees "maintain effective oversight of safeguarding practice" at the school, but the overall outcome stated it did not meet all of the independent school standards [11] that were checked during this inspection.

    A spokesman for the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship said a further inspection on 20-21 January identified new failures in safeguarding processes [12]....

    [1/29/2020    This article originally appeared on January 28.]

    Waldorf Watch Footnotes

    [1] See "Ongoing Steiner Crisis: 'Damned' School Closes", January 28, 2020 — scroll down.

    [2] See, e.g., "S. A. Exeter", "RSSKL", and "Inadequate".

    [3] See "Liberal school that's just too liberal: Top £10,000-a-year Steiner school is ordered to close amid child safety fears after series of damning inspections", The Daily Mail, September 3, 2017.

    [4] See, e.g., "Waldorf Growth, Waldorf Decline", June 25, 2018.

    [6] Ofsted is the UK government's Office for Standards in Education — or, to give its full name, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills. [See "Ofsted":]

    [7] Gloucester is a city in southwestern England; Whaddon is a village south of Cloucester.

    [8] "Inadequate" is the lowest assessment issued by Oftsed inspectors; it means a school has, overall, received a failing grade. Wynstones School was, apparently, rated inadequate primarily due to its failure to properly safeguard or protect its students. According to Ofsted, "safeguarding children" is defined as:

    "• protecting children from maltreatment
    "• preventing impairment of children’s health or development
    "• ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care
    "• taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes" 

    Understandably, Ofsted and the press have tended to emphasize safeguarding in their reports. Nothing is more essential than protecting children, after all. But Ofsted inspectors have also found many other problems at Steiner schools, ranging from poor teaching to dysfunctional management. [See, e.g., "Steiner School Crisis: An Effort to Reassure", January 27, 2020.]

    [9] Whether the school will actually reopen is doubtful. Steiner/Waldorf schools are typically run by devout followers of Rudolf Steiner. These committed followers vigorously resist the closure of their institutions; they almost always fight on, even when their cause seems hopeless. [See, e.g., "RSSKL".]

    [10] These two episodes were not, evidently, isolated occurrences — the inspectors found them to be part of a pattern of "serious and widespread failures."

    Ofsted is part of the UK government's Department for Education. [For an overview of the department, see]

    [12] This is serious; potentially, it may spell doom. A school that has closed under pressure — whether or not it has been officially ordered to close — may be unable to reopen. 

    When Ofsted finds problems at a school, it conducts additional inspections to evaluate progress — or lack of progress — by the school in implementing remedies. Failure to fix the problems can lead to a school being placed in "special measures" (emergency procedures meant to force improvement). If the problems still persist, the school may be officially ordered to close.

    "What exactly does ‘special measures’ mean?

    "When schools are graded inadequate, there are two possible categories they can fall into.

    "Special measures is the worst of the two, the other being ‘serious weaknesses’.

    "[Special measures] means that the school is failing to provide its pupils with an acceptable standard of education, and is not showing the capacity to make the improvements needed.

    "Serious weaknesses schools aren’t currently providing good enough education, but inspectors feel leaders have shown they know what must be done to turn things around." — Chronicle Live, January 26, 2017 [].

    Press reports have indicated that Ofsted may contemplate widespread closure of Steiner schools.

    "Ofsted warns Steiner schools could face closure 
    due to 'deep concerns' over child safety and standards

    "The Education Secretary must investigate and consider shutting down Steiner schools due to 'deep concerns' they are failing to protect children and provide a decent education, the schools watchdog has said.

    "In a letter to Damian Hinds, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, warned of common weaknesses in the schools, resulting in children receiving a poor quality of education...

    "Ms Spellman said six of the nine Steiner schools inspected by Ofsted were found to be 'inadequate', while the remaining three were deemed as 'requires improvement'.

    "And she raised questions as to whether the failures across the schools were the 'result of the underlying principles of Steiner education'...

    "She insisted the Government must 'take enforcement action to close down all inadequate Steiner schools that fail to improve rapidly'...." —, January 31, 2019 [].

    Contesting an official closure order is possible, but chances of success are slim. Efforts to circumvent an official closure order (making a clever end run, or otherwise circumventing official orders) are also unlikely to succeed. [See, e.g., "RSSK 2" and "Langley Hill".]

    — R.R.

    FEBRUARY 14, 2020 


    The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has put out a new report on the dire situation inspectors found at a Steiner school in Gloucestershire, England. Because of the BBC's reach and prestige, the collapse of that school may produce national or even international repercussions [1]. As we have been noting here for some time, a series of devastating inspection reports has plunged UK Steiner schools into a crisis that may threaten the future of the worldwide Steiner/Waldorf education movement [2].

    Here are excerpts from the BBC report, along with some explicatory footnotes:

    Wynstones Steiner school 
    in Gloucester had 'toxic' culture 

    A Steiner school had a "toxic" culture [3] with children at risk of serious harm, a report has said.

    Inspectors [4] visited Wynstones School in Gloucester last month and found "serious and widespread failures", causing it to be shut on 28 January [5].

    An Ofsted report has now outlined the findings of the inspectors, who said the 212-pupil school was inadequate [6]...

    Ofsted said leaders at the school did not address or challenge staff behaviour which was "unacceptable and places pupils at significant risk" [7].

    The education watchdog [8] said a group of "resistant" teachers blocked any attempts to change the school [9]...

    Inspectors also found parents felt intimidated raising bullying problems [10], resulting in children leaving the school.

    "The staff body is divided and those who want to change are intimidated by other staff and a body of parents who want to retain control over the school," the report said [11]...

    A trustee spokesman said: "Our steps towards change will enable the school to reopen safely and include staff training on teaching, safeguarding and first aid [12]"...

    They said they were also recruiting a new head teacher, two new senior leaders and a special needs co-ordinator [13]...

    Previously Wynstone Ltd also ran a boarding school at the same site but this closed in November [14].

    [2/13/2020     This article originally appeared on February 13.]

    Waldorf Watch Footnotes

    [1] For a previous BBC report on this school, see

    [3] Inspectors allegedly found a "toxic" tenor within the school: tense and damaging attitudes and behavior. A report in Gloucestereshire Live included this: "The [school's] principal summed up inspectors’ description of the school’s culture as ‘toxic’." [See "Apologies and Promises: Student Safety Was Secondary", February 12, 2020 — scroll down.]

    [4] The inspectors were representatives of the UK government's Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

    [5] See "Ongoing Steiner Crisis: 'Damned' School Closes", January 28, 2020.

    [6] "Inadequate" is the lowest evaluation made by Ofsted — it is a failing grade.

    [7] As at various other Steiner or Waldorf schools, inspectors found students were not adequately protected from harm (that is, Wynstones did not adequately "safeguard" the children in its care). A previous Ofsted inspection report about Wynstones included the following:

    "Inspectors say [Wynstone's] pupils are at risk because managers are not carrying out the necessary safeguarding checks and training to ensure all staff, volunteers and trustees are suitable to work with children." [See "Inspections: Win Some, Lose Some", May 11, 2019.]

    Safeguarding in undoubtedly an extremely important matter. But inspectors have also found numerous other failings at UK Steiner schools. [See, e.g., "Inadequate: Bristol, From, and..."] The current BBC report proceeds to allude to some of these failings as detected at Wynstones.

    [8] I.e., Ofsted.

    [9] Rudolf Steiner said Waldorf teachers should be true-believing, deeply devoted Anthroposophists — that is, they should be devout adherents of the faith he himself devised. [See "Here's the Answer". Also see "Anthroposophy" in The Brief Waldorf / Steiner Encyclopedia.] Such adherents, working as teachers in Steiner/Waldorf schools, often strongly oppose any measures that might deflect the schools from Steiner's esoteric vision. [Concerning Steiner/Waldorf teachers' allegiance to that vision, see, e.g., "Serving the Gods".]

    [10] I.e., they felt they could not raise such concerns and/or they felt browbeaten when they did raise these concerns. 

    Allegedly, bullying has long been a problem at Steiner or Waldorf schools. Critics say Anthroposophical belief in karma leads Steiner faculty of overlook bullying, considering it an enactment of karma. 
     [See "Karma". Also see, e.g., "Slaps" and "Complaints".] 

    Bullying may be considered a part of the issue of safeguarding, or it might be considered a separate, additional fault found at Wynstones.

    [11] A significant problem at the school, apparently, consists of divisions between various factions contending over control of the school. This evidently has resulted in harassment or bullying between members of the disparate factions (one group, open to changes at the school, has been "intimidated" by a group that wants to preserve the status quo). 

    The strife between factions is presumably largely responsible for the "toxic culture" at the school. In addition, this strife has evidently contributed to poor safeguarding practices at the school. The BBC report includes this: "Relationships between staff and parents and carers have led to a situation where children's safety is secondary to vested interests."

    [12] The school has been closed, but efforts are being made to reopen it.

    Note that the trustee's statement implies the existence of other problems that need to be addressed at the school: Teaching needs to be improved, evidently, as does the staff's first aid training.

    [13] Inspections at some other Steiner schools have found insufficient provision for students with special needs [See, e.g., "Word Getting Out About Steiner School", July 30, 2019.]. Apparently a similar issue has arisen at Wynstones, since a "special needs coordinator" is now being sought.

    [14] Reports in other media have indicated that Wynstones remained a boarding school until the entire institution was shut down in January, 2020.

    — R.R.

    Page created by Roger Rawlings

    To visit other Waldorf Watch pages 
    related to "BBC & SWSF",
    using the underlined links below:


    Christmas : Waldorf-style

    extremity : love, out of bounds

    fairy tales : their use in Waldorf schools

    gender : boys and girls

    holistic education : the "whole child"

    if only : wishing, hoping...

    more on education : quotations about education, religion, health...

    PR : efforts to "re-brand" Waldorf schools

    pseudoscience : at Waldorf schools

    Q&A : informed opinions, and others

    schools themselves : the

    spiritual syllabus : in the open

    star power : astrology Waldorf-style

    this very day : Waldorf and Steiner schools pledging allegiance

    visits : welcome?

    Waldorf priests : doing their duty

    BBC & SWSF