Bid for state-funded new 'Steiner school' in the South Hams
Parents and teachers are involved in a new drive to open a Government-funded 'Steiner school' in Devon.
Supporters are putting together a bid to open a school in the South Hams which would implement the teaching method that focuses on the "whole child".
The group has launched a survey to find out how many families would be interested in a state-funded Steiner "free school" in the area.
They are gathering signatures from South Devon residents who back the plan, and intend to bring their proposal before the Government at the end of the month.
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They are hoping for funding under the free schools scheme, intended to create all-ability schools that improve education for children in a particular community.
The Steiner Academy South Hams would follow the state-funded Steiner academies now open in Frome, as well as the approved Exeter Steiner Academy due to open next year.
The teaching approach is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who founded his first school in Germany in 1919. There are now nearly 900 around the world, including 23 in Britain – only one of which is state-funded.
Parent and teacher Manuela Murray said the group wanted to obtain 1,000 signatures to support its plans. She said: "A common misconception is that Steiner schools are all play, yet the curriculum is structured and rigorous, particularly as the child matures.
"Experience shows that Steiner pupils produce exam results well above the national average, with pupils progressing to the usual range of universities and other tertiary education programmes."
Joe Carey, an Ashburton father who attended a private Steiner school in Stroud, called for "more options".
Mr Carey said he would like the opportunity to send his two boys to the "child-centred, nurturing environment" of Steiner Schools.
But some parents have become disenchanted with the Steiner approach to education. Melanie Byng and husband Dr Richard Byng, senior clinical academic at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth, signed a letter earlier this year warning of "grave threats" to science education posed by a Steiner free school bid in Exeter. Mrs Byng withdrew her son as she became dismayed by his lack of academic progress.
The open letter compiled by the British Humanist Association was also signed by Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, and science writer Simon Singh, from Wellington, Somerset.
Diana Hinds, a writer for The Times, said Steiner schools "offer more rounded education – an education for the whole person".
Following a visit to a Steiner school in Bruton, Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "It is clear to me that the children benefit from a very nurturing environment, and while the education is based on alternative principles, they also end up with an impressive record of literacy and numeracy. This is just the kind of environment and parental interaction that we should be encouraging."
The existing South Devon Steiner School, at Dartington, is an independent co-educational school.