It is a teaching system in which children do not start formal lessons until they are six and begin the day with an activity such as dancing around a chair to free the mind. Now supporters of the Steiner movement are hoping to bring a state-financed academy to an inner-city area to solve the problems of disenfranchised youth.
Those behind the scheme say the Steiner school philosophy, child-centred and anti-exam, would benefit bored inner-city youngsters who have been put off schooling by the rigidity of the national curriculum.
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship already has one Steiner academy offering free education to children aged three to 16, a 320-place school in Hereford which has to turn away applicants in their droves. Buoyed by its success, Christopher Clouder, its UK and Ireland chief executive, said: "We would love to set one up in a city or urban environment. We are trying to take things forward but they are at a very, very tentative stage."
They are looking for a potential site before discussing the idea with ministers. David Blunkett, Estelle Morris and David Miliband have all supported Steiner schools. Last month, the Hereford Waldorf school became one of the Government's flagship academies for the first time. Its principal, Trevor Mepham, said discussions were being held with Cambridgeshire to set up a Steiner-based state school in the county. And the University of Plymouth, which offers degree-level training to would-be Steiner teachers, is considering sponsoring an academy.
The schools are based on the philosophy of the Austrian intellectual Rudolf Steiner. Children do not start formal schooling until six. Till then, rather than prepare for their first SATs national curriculum tests at seven, they typically play with simple wooden toys instead of bright plastic ones to allow their imaginations to develop. After physical activity in the morning comes the main lesson, which lasts two hours and follows a topic for three or four weeks. Class teachers stay with pupils and move up with them for their first eight years of schooling.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families welcomed the "good start" made by the Hereford Academy.