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Follow The Steiner Lead

SNP Policy Officials shortlisted a motion to raise the school starting age to six two days before voting closed on Friday, where Delegates ranked the 54 motions on the longlist. It is hoped the priority list – if they make the Final Agenda – will bring ‘genuine debate’ at the party’s conference in October.


Steiner Waldorf schools are the only educational establishments in Scotland that do not start formal learning until children are in their seventh year, which is the norm in most European countries and around the world.


There are 26 schools and 37 early years settings that are part of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship – the UK arm of the international network; with two situated north of the border. Many parents cite the later start to formal education being an important factor in their decision to give their child a Waldorf education.


Edinburgh Steiner School began the new academic year on Thursday with 307 pupils – the highest number in our early years and school since the Assisted Places Scheme was abolished 25 years ago – showing demand is increasing for a distinctly different standpoint on education. (Read ‘Record roll at Scottish school where pupils start at six‘ I HeraldScotland, published today).


This time last week, esteemed journalist, Lesley Riddoch, wrote a wonderful piece Why does the Scottish Government have a problem with raising the school starting age? | HeraldScotland (Monday, August 29).


A letter published in the Herald on Tuesday, headed Follow The Steiner Lead, responds to Riddoch’s piece in the national press. In it, Brian Watt, who had three children in our Kindergarten, transitioning to our school at age six, said:


Evidence indicates that children who start formal education at a later point learn so much quicker because they are well and truly ready for it, and this is something I witnessed myself with our three children, who attended the Edinburgh school from the 1990s onwards.

In the school years that followed, education was centred on the “whole” person and I found first hand that the school’s philosophy in the early years led to well-rounded confident young adults with a genuine respect for others and the world around them.

(Brian Watt, Edinburgh, Follow The Steiner Lead, HeraldScotland, 30th August, 2022)


In spite of a policy change introducing a later start to schooling having the support of the Scottish Greens and the Lib Dems, Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, considers the motion unnecessary, pointing out parents already had the option to defer school by a year, as well as primary one moving further towards a play-based approach. (Education Secretary dismisses SNP conference bid to raise school age I HeraldScotland, 8th August)


However, many argue that whilst on paper, Curriculum for Excellence has a profound understanding of child development, encouraging a play-based start for children under seven, this approach can seldom be full implemented owing the notorious P1 tests.  Another former ESS parent and award-winning education filmmaker, Saskia Anley-McCallum, collaborated with Edinburgh Steiner School, and John Maine (former pupil / camera man and father to 4.5-year-old Matilda) on the short documentary, Now We Are Six in 2021, viewed over 65,000 times since its release. Now We Are Six gets to grips with the countrywide failure to turn the play-based principles of CfE’s Early Level into practise over the last decade.


I was told privately from teachers working in Scotland that CfE is virtually impossible to carry it out in mainstream primary schools. They cite parents fears around targets and safety concerns (complaints), a lack of consistent, ongoing teacher training and budget cuts squeezing out room for other activities that are critical for a healthy foundation in life. A lack of resources is also a major barrier: concrete playgrounds and classrooms set up for formal learning rather than play.

They would like to be outside more with the children offering free play but have to ensure their pupils ‘level up’ and reach government and local authority proscribed standards. They said they are gagged from speaking publicly and unable to share their concerns.”

Saskia Anley-McCallum



We will find out on Friday if Toni Giugliano’s motion 23: RAISING THE FORMAL SCHOOL-START AGE makes the Final Agenda. If so, this culture change film may make interesting homework for anyone travelling to Aberdeen for the Conference, held over 8th – 10th October.