Steiner Waldorf schools win victory on EYFS exemptions

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Steiner kindergartens have been successful in achieving exemptions from those aspects of the Early Learning Goals in the EYFS that do not fit with the Steiner educational philosophy and ethos. The ruling applies to all Steiner settings.

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A joint application for exemptions and modifications from certain aspects of the EYFS was made by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, the umbrella organisation that represents Steiner schools and early childhood settings in the UK.

The SWSF was asked by the settings to make the case for opting out of some of the ELGs and the entire literacy educational programme on the basis that aspects of the EYFS run counter to Steiner's 'established principles', meaning that Steiner kindergartens cannot meet the EYFS requirements, without compromising their ethos and practice.

This week, letters have been sent out from the Department for Education to all Steiner settings that applied to confirm that the Secretary of State has approved their applications.

The ruling is not time limited and will apply for as long as the setting follows the established Steiner principles, and once applied does not run out until there is a change to statutory regulations.

Full exemption has been granted from the literacy ELGs - reading and writing - on the grounds that it is an established principle in the Steiner early years curriculum that young children are not taught to read and write before rising seven.

Full exemption has also been granted from the assessment requirements of the EYFS, so that Steiner settings will not have to complete the EYFS Profile and send the results to the local authority.

The case was also made for modifications to ELGs for communication and language, physical development, mathematics, understanding the world, and expressive arts and design, and these were also granted. (See chart below for an example of one such modification request.)

The application process for exemptions had several stages. First, kindergartens contacted their local authority to ensure their early education funding was safe, should they be granted the exemptions; they notified parents so that they could agree to the application - there was unanimous support from all parents; they then contacted the local authority to tell them the parents' decision; and finally, the application was sent to the Department for Education.

The few Steiner settings that have not applied will have to make their application through the SWSF.

Janni Nicol, SWSF early childhood representative, said that the kindergartens wanted to make the 'established principles' case for exemptions, rather than that used by independent schools, to emphasise that Steiner schools are for all parents, and that parents choose Steiner education because of the educational philosophy, not because it is private education.

The majority of Steiner kindergartens receive the nursery education funding for three- and four-year-olds, in order to support the families that attend. Only a few are fully parent-funded by choice.

In some cases, kindergartens that do not receive early education funding for three- and four-year-olds also made an application for exemption from the assessment regulations, including the EYFS Profile. These were also granted.

Some local authorities agreed that their funded settings could also apply for exemptions from the assessment regulations, including submitting the EYFS Profile.

Ms Nicol said, 'We were surprised that more LAs did not agree to this exemption. The children in Steiner kindergartens are not formally taught to read and write in the kindergarten, therefore this would result in poor overall score data collected by the LA from the Profile, which means that their overall data score is lowered.'

Two kindergartens in Leeds are among those that are exempt from the Profile. Beechtree Steiner Kindergartens have 40 children on their books and are open from 8.45am - 5pm on four days a week, and from 8.45am - 1.30pm on Fridays.

Most children attend at least three mornings a week, with the 15 hours spread flexibly.

Francesca Meynell, education co-ordinator for the Beechtree Steiner Initiative, said she was delighted that the exemptions had been granted and that the application process had been much simpler doing it as a group through the SWSF.

Leeds City Council has also allowed the kindergartens to keep their three- and four-year-old funding, as well as be exempt from completing the Profile at the end of the EYFS.

'They're happy to continue to fund us for the three- and four-year-olds,' said Ms Meynell. One concern that parents had was that if it (applying for exemptions) compromised funding, a lot of our parents wouldn't be able to access Steiner. We have parents from all over the city and different backgrounds. If the funding had been withdrawn it would have threatened the continuation of the setting.'

 

COMMENT ON THE VALUE OF EXEMPTIONS

By Janni Nicol

The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship early childhood representative

Protecting and nurturing childhood as a foundation for the future development of individuals and humanity as a whole is the basis for Steiner education, which has been established for almost 100 years worldwide. The developmental approach acknowledges the physical, soul and spiritual qualities of each individual child.

Children (birth to rising 7) are not formally taught literacy or numeracy, nor are ICT or electronic gadgetry used. Instead they are supported by highly trained practitioners who provide a strong rhythm and enabling environment which enhances their experiences, engenders empathy and social resilience, and nurtures creativity, physical development and imaginative thinking.

The introduction of the statutory nature of the EYFS had a strong impact on Steiner settings, as the intention of the Learning and Development (L&D) requirements, as Sarah Teather was so fond of saying, is to 'get children ready for school'. The emphasis on formal literacy and mathematics is completely at odds with the aims of Steiner education. Of course the foundation skills are laid, but through an environment rich in hands-on activity and play and where language and communication are enabled through a rich oral tradition and schooling for life through practical activities.

The Exemptions route provided for independent schools, allowing freedom from the L&D and Assessment regulations would have been preferable for our settings. The 'Statutory Guidance on the Delivery of Free Early Education ...', however, requires that LA Partner Agreements expect the settings to follow the full EYFS. Most Steiner families need to access the free entitlement as they cannot afford to pay privately. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), as the umbrella organisation for all Steiner schools and kindergartens, was asked to enter discussions regarding exemptions on 'established principles' instead.

The DfE has been helpful in articulating the specific pinch points where we could not compromise our principles. The exemptions process was followed by the schools and settings, and the Secretary of State has agreed to the modifications and exemptions requested. In some cases local authorities also agreed that their funded settings could also have exemptions from the assessment regulations which include the profile submission.

The SWSF is grateful to civil servants in the DfE for their support during this process.

 

An example of one of the exemptions and modifications requested from the learning and development requirements and Early Learning Goals, which has now been granted as modified

THE LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT REQUIREMENT

Understanding the world

Technology: children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes and schools. They select and use technology for particular purposes.

EXEMPTION/MODIFICATION REQUESTED

Children recognise that a range of simple or mechanical everyday technology is used in places such as homes and schools. They select and use technology for particular purposes.

RATIONALE

The Steiner belief is that electronic technology, such as TV, computers, tape recorders or electronic toys runs counter to its aim to develop the imagination and nurture the child's cognitive capacities by physically learning through doing. Children instead use technology that provides direct experiences, enabling them to gain knowledge of how things work.

Computers are only introduced later in the Steiner curriculum on the grounds that passive activity is not healthy; it takes away time to play; there are problems associated with young children dwelling in virtual reality that can lead to confusion/distortion of values and it can lead to the over-reliance on the computer as a teaching/learning tool.

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