The following Article was written by Samantha Turnbull for ABC on October 7
Steiner schools are rising in popularity across Australia with three new schools built in as many years, lengthy waiting lists, and the introduction of a degree in Steiner education at a Queensland university.
Australia’s first Steiner, also known as Waldorf, school opened in 1957 at Castlecrag in Sydney.
The 1970s saw most of the country’s 43 Steiner schools built, but Steiner Education Australia CEO Tracey Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said the system was experiencing another rise in popularity.
“Many of the schools are 30 or 40 years old now, and quite well established in their communities … and three years ago we had three new schools start, and next year we have another school starting, so there’s growing interest in what we’re doing.”
The most recent schools were built at Queensland’s Moreton Bay, Victoria’s Bairnsdale and Bowral in New South Wales.
Another is planned for Agnes Waters in Queensland next year, while several state schools in South Australia and Victoria have introduced Steiner-based streams to their classrooms.
Ms Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said she believed the system’s rise in popularity was because of a combination of parents being drawn to the holistic approach of Steiner education, as well as being dismayed with many aspects of traditional, mainstream institutions.
“I think parents are really investigating what they want for their children,” she said.
“Many years ago parents just sent their children to the school down the road … because the world is changing at such a rapid rate, the old forms of schooling just aren’t working.
“We’re seeing children with mental health problems, depression, obesity problems, and parents are seeing their children unhappy at school and not engaged in their learning and so they’re seeking different ways.”
The demand has also resulted in the introduction of a Graduate Certificate and Masters in Steiner education at the University of the Sunshine Coast next year.
“Our plan is to really engage with mainstream education and work alongside our peers in education to try and actually bring impulses from Steiner education into all aspects of education,” Ms Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini said.
“We want to have good dialogue so that all children benefit from an excellent education and are engaged in their learning and are lifelong learners.
“That will bring about a better country for Australia — not narrow standardized testing and data-driven policy that is just impacting on teachers at every level.”
Byron Shire is Steiner hotspot
She said the demand for Steiner education was particularly high in the Byron Shire, in northern New South Wales.
There are currently two kindergarten to year 12 Steiner schools in the region and waiting lists that could justify the establishment of a third.
Cape Byron Steiner School principal Nerrida Johnson said there were 370 students at her school and a waiting list of more than 500.
“It’s hard to tell people that we don’t have a place for them, particularly when they’re trying to get into kindergarten and they’ve been on our list for a long time,” she said.
“We do encourage people to stay on our lists, stay in touch with us and stay involved with the school.”
Ms Johnson said expansion was not an option for her school because of land restrictions, but there may be a case for starting a new school.
“We love the fact we know each of our students, so it works well for us to be a single stream school and to have the lower number of students, but I also know there’s a lot of pressure in this shire for more,” she said.
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold — maybe at some point there might be a possibility of opening a senior campus or something like that so we can provide more opportunities for students.’
Parent explains appeal
Tanja Nelson has two children at Cape Byron Steiner and a third who has graduated.
She said she began investigating the system after being impressed by work experience students from a Steiner school who had volunteered at her graphic design business.
“Those kids were so much more capable of being independent in their roles in our business,” she said.
“They had eye contact, self-initiated projects, they were just a world apart from the other kids from state and private schools.”
“By that stage we only had a one-year-old child and we said ‘that’s a really interesting system, where are these kids coming from, why are they so different?'”
She said the best way to describe the Steiner approach was as “holistic”.
“It’s very hard to realise with one little snapshot what actually goes on, but when you watch these children move from kindergarten all the way to year 12 and you see them grow holistically,” Ms Nelson said.
“And I really mean holistically — the whole person is educated and supported.”
“There’s this backwards and forwards between the community and teachers, and this co-operative process to educating the child that makes these amazing people at the end of the journey.
“That constant communal approach to educating the child has very profound impacts for the children.
“This is something that I think parents from other schools or education systems will look at and they can see there’s something different in our kids, but not understand what it is or why it is.”