Education Quandary: 'The local Steiner school is popular, but isn't it a bit hippie? The parents are off-puttingly fervent. Should I consider it for my daughter?'

Hilary's advice

This parent is deterred by what she calls "off-puttingly fervent" parents banging on about the wonders of their Steiner school, but intrigued by the school's popularity. Some Steiner supporters do indeed carry on as if they alone know the secrets of the educational universe, and there are some very odd aspects to Rudolf Steiner's ideas on education. The system's theosophical foundations, for one, seem quaint and 19th century, and its insistence that, in art, children be introduced to one colour at a time, for example, sounds eccentric. But there are attractive things, as well.

Steiner schools allow children to develop their imagination and gain respect for the world they live in. Their emphasis on physical and craft activities, on rhythm and music, and on taking education slowly, giving their pupils time to fully digest what they are learning, are all admirable.

One Steiner school, in Herefordshire, has now become a state-funded academy. When I visited it a couple of years ago, I was deeply impressed by the pupils, who seemed to be growing up into extraordinarily thoughtful, well-balanced young people, and were no more weird than any other group of teenagers. They spent little time on computers and many did not have televisions at home, so they were obviously drawn from what this reader might consider a "hippie-ish" population. But so what? More worrying, I thought, was the idea of having the same teacher for several years, which is fine if that teacher is good, not so great if he or she isn't.

Readers' advice

I have mixed feelings about the Steiner education my son receives. While I agree that young children can be discouraged by the over-emphasis on assessment within the national curriculum, I do have concerns that the Steiner philosophy discourages parents from teaching children to read and write before the age of seven. Parents are told that to do so would inhibit the child's development and undermine the Steiner approach to education. To deny a child the core skills for learning seems ill-advised, particularly when the child wants to learn those skills.

I am also concerned that Steiner pupils tend to hail from a very narrow social demographic. As independent schools, they don't follow the national curriculum, and those "off-puttingly fervent" advocates of Steiner tend to treat important government initiatives with suspicion and disdain.

Stuart Goodfellow by email

Regarding Steiner education, I'd like to say, pursue it. Many Steiner schools hold open mornings when parents can question teachers about the curriculum and rhythm of the school and its festivals.

Anna Semlyen, York

If you wish your child to enjoy school every day, exploring their creativity, developing strong social skills, learning respect for others and for nature, and be taught by teachers who respect them, the Steiner school is for you.

Julie and Ian Neale, East Sussex

Next Week's Quandary

I am a geography teacher who has been asked to take some Year 7 and 8 maths classes. Although I have maths A-level, it was not at a very good grade and my maths is far more rusty than I would like the school to know. What would be the best way of brushing it up fast?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com, where they can be searched by topic

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