Memorandum from the Steiner Waldorf Schools
Fellowship (EY 50)
We favour a pluralistic framework for early years
education and strongly believe that early childhood is not the
time for formal schooling.
1. THE APPROPRIATE
PUBLISHED QCA EARLY
1. Whilst recognising the need to improve
standards in early years education we resist the notion that one
model suits all. Particularly for disadvantaged children in a
strongly academic environment may impede the development of language
and social skills, creativity and independent learning, and may
fail to promote assurance and self-esteemessential prerequisites
for successful learning. The Early Learning Goals contain much
that is good including a welcome section on play. However, the
heavy demands placed upon particular areas of learning are such
that in practice the time needed for deep concentrated play and
for family-type activities, which develop all the above skills,
will almost certainly be curtailed.
Funding for early learning provision is conditional
upon meeting the requirements of the Government's Early Learning
Goalsthe favoured model. Settings providing parents and
children with high quality early years education based on different
philosophical perspectives are denied funding and must generate
income, however unwillingly, through fees. In practice, this policy
means that low-income familieswho might prefer a different
approachhave no real options. In a democracy, all forms
of quality education should be accessible to all sectors of society
and choice should not be limited to those who can afford to pay.
A different curriculum may well address the needs of children,
which are not being met by the standard model.
Pluralism in education enhances quality by providing
new and innovative ideas. Diversity in approach and in provision
stems from a value base that respects and tolerates philosophical
difference. The early learning goals themselves require children
understand that people have different
needs, views, cultures and beliefs, which need to be treated with
respect(Early Learning Goals QCA publications, October
1999, page 23).
4. We were invited to be part of the QCA
working group convened to produce the guidance document to accompany
the early learning goals. Many examples from the Steiner Waldorf
approach were selected for inclusion in the document as exemplars
of quality teaching. Our approach is integrated rather than subject
based and is a combination of pupil-led and teacher-directed activities.
In our experience we find a rich, environment and a well-trained
teacher provide the child with all that she/he needs for an excellent
start without recourse to formal teaching.
5. We require our Waldorf early years groups
to be led by a group leader with a diploma in Waldorf Early Years
Education issued by a training course which is recognised by the
regulatory arm of the Waldorf Early Years Steering Group and the
Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. This training includes a full
year's monitored assistantship in a recognised Waldorf Kindergarten.
The practicum year is subject to specific criteria issued by the
training course. Students in their practicum year experience both
observation and teaching practice and are required to produce
child studies, teaching diaries, notes of teaching practice, folders
of teaching material and individual research.
6. Teaching assessment: The practicum year
is monitored and guided by the group leader, who must be both
trained and experienced, and be approved by the training course
for this role. The group leader in turn liases with the training
Ongoing assessment: all group leaders would
be expected as part of normal professional practice to have in
place a system for ongoing in-service training of assistants and
be expected themselves to attend the termly and annual national
and international conferences organised by the Steiner Schools
Additionally, all kindergartens would be expected
to meet the Guidelines and Criteria for recognition of Steiner
Waldorf Early Years Centres as set by the Steering Group. This
would be assessed by appointed representatives of the Steering
The required Waldorf Early Years Diploma is
assessed as being at Level Four on the proposed national framework
of early years qualifications.
7. We reject the pressure to start formal
schooling at an increasingly earlier age. In Europe formal schooling
is delayed until children are mature enough to cope with its demandstypically
when they are six. (Mills and Mills 1998) Putting pressure on
unready, ill-equipped children creates unnecessary difficulties
for both teachers and pupils. Many of these problems are biological;
for example, the hand of a three, four or five year old child
is still too immature to become a suitable instrument for writing.
The grip requiring the opposition between forefinger and thumb
is not developed sufficiently to manipulate a pencil efficiently.
Hand/eye co-ordination is also only partially developed. Younger
children lack the physical maturity to follow print without recourse
to the use of their fingers, as their eyes jump about the page.
Six year olds manage this task unaided. Unready children easily
acquire entrenched, negative learning dispositions, resulting
in later disaffection. Physical damage is another consequence.
Research indicates that early formal training, requiring closely
focused eye activity, can lead to myopia (Singer and Singer 1975).
8. Children need freedom of movement to
develop fine and gross motor skills and to establish good networks
of neural pathways in the brain. Many already spend long hours
immobilised in front of the television or computer.
9. Research also indicates that summer-born
children are likely to be disadvantaged by an early formal start
to education, with boys typically lagging behind girls in their
early development. (Drummond 1997 and Sharp 1998).
10. Whereas stress- inducing formal early
learning programmes do seem to be indicators of later social,
emotional, mental and physical problems (Schweinhart and Weikart
1997, Mills and Mills 1997, Mental Health Foundation 1999), research
shows no adverse effects from delaying the start of formal education.
Caroline Sharp, NFER (1998), concludes that, "there would
appear to be no compelling educational rationale for a statutory
school age of five or the practice of admitting four year olds
to school reception classes...young children at age five and under
seem to do best when they have opportunities to socialise, make
their own choices and take responsibility for their own learning."
11. The "never too early" school
of thought needs to balance a set of questionable short-term gains
against the considerable body of evidence citing the negative
implications of early schooling for the future health, happiness
and intelligence of this most vulnerable group.
Jenkinson, Oldfield, Sklan
Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship
Bright Futures: The Big Picture (1999)
The Mental Health Foundation, Overview of the issues surrounding
children's emotional development and mental health.
Drummond, MJ (1997)-Two Intake Pilot Scheme,
Hertfordshire 1996-97 Evaluation Report, University of Cambridge,
Institute of Education, "Bringing them in earlier doesn't
make them older."
Mills, C and Mills, D (1997) Britain's Early
Moore, RS and Moore, DN (1975) Better Late
than Early, New York.
Sharp, C (1998) Age of Starting School and
The Early Years Curriculum: National Foundation for Educational
Schweinhart, LJ and Weikart, DP (1997) Lasting
Differences: The High Scope Pre-school Curriculum comparison
Study through to age 23. High/Scope Press.