In this article, Daisy Forster, a second year Liberal Arts student, relays her experience as a pupil within a Steiner School. In the first article of the new Features series: ‘Ordinary People; Extraordinary Stories’, Daisy presents the many benefits of an education focused on creativity, self-expression and personal value, as opposed to merely academic success.
Whilst other countries in Europe and the USA already using teacher-assessed learning were able to escape the A-Level exams crisis, the UK was thrown into a classist mess of standardised assessment when the pandemic hit and exams were cancelled.
But, the chaos that followed was only the result of a system that was already broken.
As much as we may believe otherwise, there is very little we can tell about someone’s hard work and intelligence from merely their exam grades. The idea that two years of learning and progress can all be summed up in a couple of exams, with rarely any other context, seems completely nonsensical.
Our current system of standardised assessment is not only terrible for students’ mental health, it also gives employers and universities no real indication as to the kind of individuals that they are taking on.
This year’s results day has only highlighted, further, how urgently this country needs an assessment reform, and how necessary a move toward more holistic styles of examination and teaching really is.
Steiner children are famously allowed to climb trees in the playground and don’t wear school uniforms. All teaching is done on blackboards and children don’t have access to computers until they are 13
There is nothing I both love and hate more than being asked: ‘What’s a Steiner School?’
It usually opens the doors to a much longer conversation, in which the other person sits in complete astonishment and confusion as I explain my secondary school experience.
Almost unrecognisable to those who went through the National Curriculum, Steiner schools are a chain of independent schools across the world that preach learning through nature and creativity and fiercely oppose academically focused education.
I spent Year Ten and Eleven with only 50% of my time dedicated to GCSEs. The rest was filled with pursuits such as: crafts; music and compulsory choir practice; the mysterious art of ‘Eurythmy’ (a sort of Tai Chi-style movement… I suggest you Google it as I still don’t fully understand what it is or what its purpose was); and gardening, amidst many other things.
Steiner children are famously allowed to climb trees in the playground and don’t wear school uniforms. All teaching is done on blackboards and children don’t have access to computers until they are 13.
Each morning was 2-3 hours of ‘Main Lesson’, the topic of which would rotate every 3-4 weeks. In one block, we’d spend a month putting a play together, which included making and finding the set and costumes ourselves as well as acting. Things like history, geography and science would also fit into these rotations.
50% of my GCSE Art cohort received an A* grade, significantly higher than the national average
In the ‘lower’ (or primary) section of the school, children don’t learn to read until they are about seven, and their activities are based far more so around nature and exploring.
Other than the occasional outbreak of Whooping Cough and Scarlet Fever due to the abundance of anti-vax parents, it seems like a recipe for a very happy childhood.
There is no doubt that the British approach to education is stifling creative and independent thinking.
In comparison, 50% of my GCSE Art cohort received an A* grade, significantly higher than the national average.
Arts funding in schools is diminishing rapidly and I fear that this will only worsen as a result of the pandemic. Exams and qualifications are becoming more and more about memorising facts and learning a set template for how to answer essay questions.
There was a huge difference in the amount of pressure students within my Steiner school placed on themselves to achieve top grades in comparison to friends of mine learning in state schools
While the achievement in other academic or ‘core’ subjects was not quite so high, it was still impressive when so much time was spent elsewhere.
The Steiner ethos would put this down to the lack of emphasis put on academic learning. If you look after a child’s well-being, their learning will benefit.
As a result, there was a huge difference in the amount of pressure students within my Steiner school placed on themselves to achieve top grades in comparison to friends of mine learning in state schools.
To many of my Steiner school friends, I seemed overly obsessed and paranoid with my academic performance, but that was how my previous education had taught me to be.
I can only attribute this mindset to the fact that Steiner school students are not measured on their numerical achievements alone; there are so many other lessons at the school that make them feel worthy.
In the three years I spent in a Steiner School, I received the only education I have ever had about Britain’s role in the slave trade
Still, many of them were very successful in the standardised exams that they took, perhaps because of this lack of pressure.
Furthermore, it isn’t just the creative void left by the National Curriculum that Steiner education has filled, but a much more topical one, too.
In the three years I spent in a Steiner School, I received the only education I have ever had about Britain’s role in the slave trade. In my 12 years in state education, including A-Level history, slavery was not mentioned once.
When schools are given more freedom to decide their own curriculum, they can provide a more well-rounded collection of knowledge, free from government bias. There is no way that Britain can beat racism until our children are taught the truth about our history.
I will probably never use my pottery bookbinding skills again. But, as a humanities student, I’ll probably never use the physics formulas that I learnt for my GCSEs again, either.
Education isn’t about providing children with a set of facts that they will use for their whole life, it’s about developing skills that stimulate all parts of their mind to help them become well rounded individuals.
An economy cannot function with a workforce who all think in the same way; it is diversity that makes great things happen
A move away from exams will help prevent children and young people being valued – and valuing themselves – on the three letters that they receive on results day.
The education that I received was by no means perfect. However, our education system is heading towards another extreme which will only produce a generation of young adults with identical skill sets and an identical approach to working.
An economy cannot function with a workforce who all think in the same way; it is diversity that makes great things happen.
Education has to be more individual than it is. It has to cater for all different kinds of learners, in order to produce all different kinds of workers, in order to create dynamic companies.
The reality is, not many are lucky enough to be able to send their children to a Steiner School when a state school isn’t working out, like my parents did.
The National Curriculum have lost sight of creativity and the importance of exploration when raising children. Academia isn’t for everyone, but the system has fallen out of balance.
In order to produce more happy and successful children, we must reintroduce creativity into education.
Featured image courtesy of author. In article images courtesy of Sophia von Wedel Tuckley, Poppy Dale and Hannah Drechsel.
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