Colin and Jo Sambrook share their story

 

Our eldest son joined Class 6 of Steiner Academy Exeter on the day it opened in 2013. Prior to this, apart from one year in a small independent Steiner school, he had attended a mainstream village primary. His class at SAE consisted of students with a wide range of previous school experiences. Some had already attended Steiner schools. Many had not. Time was spent building relationships and developing confidence. We could see our son’s self-assurance and ability to take responsibility growing. Class 6 culminated with an unforgettable, but challenging, week canoeing down the River Wye superbly supported by a team of adults who ensured measures were taken so all students could participate.

 

Due to weaknesses in the school at that time, aspects of academic learning for that class were unfortunately overlooked. Despite this, our son’s growth as a person in the nurturing environment of SAE outweighed our significant concerns. Never one to look for the limelight, by the end of Class 8 he happily accepted a major role in the class’ end of year production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Again, measures were taken so that all students could participate. By this time the staff of the school knew our son exceptionally well. Staff went above and beyond to take time to make opportunities for him to develop his interest in areas such as metalworking using a forge. Visiting France and Belgium as one of the school’s representatives on the First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme also had a hugely positive impact of his self-esteem and view of school.

These positive feelings saw him embrace the challenges of Classes 9 and 10. The class had fallen behind academically. The response of the Upper School team was superb. His academic attainment took off. The heat was on but the calm self-belief he had developed, aided by the strong relationships he had formed, enabled him to flourish under pressure in a way we had not thought would be possible. Right to the end, staff made extra time to talk to him as a person, sometimes on subjects that would relate to his studies, often on subjects that just interested him. In areas such as Art, they encouraged his independent thinking and development of his own ideas rather than pushing him down ‘safe’ routes that would guarantee grades. And guess what: he achieved the second highest possible GCSE grade for Art!

 

His passion had long been aircraft. He wanted to go on to study aeronautical engineering. He had set his heart on gaining one of just fifteen places on a course that attracted over 300 applicants. For this he needed strong GCSE grades in Maths, Science and English. The excellence of the teaching he received in Classes 9 and 10 enabled him to far exceed the grades stipulated for the course and achieve a set of GCSE results (with French and History thrown in for luck!) that were beyond our wildest dreams. Equally importantly, the calm self-assurance, practical skills and ability to work well with others, that had so long been cultivated at SAE saw him confidently complete a testing sequence of interviews, aptitude and practical tests to gain one of the coveted places on the course he really wanted to do.

 

We are delighted by how our son developed into the young man he now is at SAE. It was not all plain sailing. There were times we worried if we had made the right choice. Despite the school’s difficulties, we most definitely had. We are sure he would not have achieved what he has achieved in any other school in Exeter.

 

 

Another graduate's parent tells their story

 

My eldest child is 17 and has been Steiner educated throughout her schooling. Beginning in a parent toddler group we as a family were inspired to really be present with our child, to sing to her throughout the day and to create a home environment that was calm, without plastic and instead was full of natural objects for natural play. I was inspired by the Steiner ethos to create a nourishing home life of cooking and outdoor time playing and engaged in meaningful activity rather than endless distraction by the way of TV or computer activities. Trusting in a deeper learning journey that comes from discovering snails under rocks and making up poems to them rather than hot housing the neural pathways with flash cards!

 

My daughter had the most thorough early years education with her class teacher learning the more formal academic subjects initially through rigorous catching and throwing circle time every morning, that incorporated Maths and English into the body rather than just into the head. All the lessons she received were experiential so thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, developmentally appropriate and actually the stuff that continually widens a child's eyes rather than seems like a chore. I can honestly say that she absolutely loved learning and loved all the subjects equally and still does to this day. I love the way topics are taught based on how the child is  developmentally. When my daughter was age 7 her play was very much about building dens and damming streams so the main lesson topic was native Americans. This is not just textbook work but also encompasses art, gardening, growing a three sisters garden and exploring how companion planting was used by native Americans, drama and story and even bought into maths and music. By age 10 as the child's awareness has grown more sophisticated they are exploring ancient India, Persia and Greece. Again this is embodied fully across the subjects with an inter-school Olympics where the style of the Grecians is actually lived and experienced so that it is more than just learning facts but is actually about a deeper learning journey about ourselves as part of the human story. The history of humanity mirroring our inner growth as a human being from child to adolescent and adult. By the time my daughter had explored so much of the history of the world through myth, legend poetry and drama she was fully intact emotionally by age 16 to actually be able to handle learning about fascism, the Cold War and Adolph Hitler without the kind of dissociation I witnessed in my mainstream educated step son, who was given such topics at a very early age and was actually traumatised by them. Especially as they were randomly dished out next to another random study of something else! In the steiner curriculum nothing is random, everything happens with huge context and connectedness and in relationship to the child's inner life and with all the other subject lessons.

 

By the time my daughter was sitting her GCSE exams she was clearly a very self motivated and engaged student able to really grapple with deep discussion, push herself to perfect her work meticulously, begin to find her own sense of purpose and direction as well as navigate with clarity her way through the balancing of study and embodiment, technology and actual physical engagement with the world and sense of how to enter into adulthood at this time in history with purpose and hope. She knows how to learn. 

I am a therapist by profession and value mental health and well being over academic achievement by way of tests. My daughter achieved high grades across the board because she was taught in this tried and tested manner. She was taught with the miracle of life as the lens through which to discover number patterns, human history. Scientific miracle and all though an exquisite attention to beauty, both in visual art and presentation but also in use of word craft and embodiment.  My daughter is now studying passionately her A levels in drama, graphics and illustration and film. She has a theatre and film agent and has already attended auditions at top theatres in London and continually gets asked to send showreels for film jobs all over the world. Of course this is impressive in itself but actually what really is a measure of her years at a Steiner school is for me, the ease with which she handles all of this. She has not been educated to jump through hoops and be bathed in stress but rather to relish the adventure, give it her all because it’s a magical unfolding journey on which she never loses hope or wonder. She is 17 and can still giggle and play with her younger siblings as well as hold conversations with adults, elders and people everywhere without shying away and I watch her look them all in the eye yet with an easy relaxed manner. She has been treated with respect and nourished rather than talked down to and shouted at or bullied into complying. This is very apparent and is what she has learned to expect and is what she then receives in the world. Steiner education has given her a high expectation of what is nourishing, has depth and is wholesome, in this way steiner education has made her very discerning. Sending my children to a Steiner school had been one of the things I'm most proud of as a parent.


My younger twins are transforming in front of my very eyes. Everywhere we go people comment on their loving, happy, wide-eyed countenance. They are 10 and they climb trees, play in the stream, write poetry, sing, dance and dream without a computer game in sight! There has never been a time where we needed children educated in this way as much as we do now. Children who know how to light a fire, grow food and share their feelings eloquently and work together and who are resourced by remaining curious and interested in everything. Steiner education gives me hope for their future.

 

I have huge gratitude for the teachers that have touched my children's lives with such integrity and highest standards of practise and know that for Maya they are now her lifelong friends that she stays in touch with and who always enquire about her. 

 

Lower school parents share their stories here