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Steiner School Certificate: opening the way to tertiary education

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 | By Tom Raines

Balancing the needs of the Steiner Waldorf curriculum with the requirements of a state-run examination regime for school leavers is not always easy. Yet in New Zealand, Waldorf schools are close to achieving a landmark breakthrough, as Tom Raines explains.

AUCKLAND (NNA) - Steiner schools the world over face the challenge in the upper school of how to remain true to the aims and practices of the Waldorf curriculum and yet at the same time enable students to enter tertiary education with acceptable entry qualifications.

Many schools have opted to compromise their teaching in order to avail students by way of national curriculum examination courses of the opportunity to gain entry to colleges and universities.

Occasionally individual schools have been able to negotiate with local tertiary education establishments different entry criteria for their students. But to achieve this on a national scale for all Steiner Waldorf schools in any given country has been out of reach so far. This may be about to change.

In New Zealand a special opportunity is on the threshold of becoming a reality. Steiner Waldorf schools there have been trying to find a way to protect their curriculum and at the same time enable their students to have a straightforward passage into tertiary education.

Nearly three decades ago, the Federation of Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools in NZ was set up  “to facilitate exchange of information, to promote the education and safeguard its integrity and to be the body that would represent Waldorf Education in the legal realm when interfacing with organisations such as the Ministry of Education and the Crown. As such, the Federation represents the interests of Steiner schools that are part of the state system along with independent schools. In New Zealand over 3,000 children attend Steiner schools or early childhood centres,” the organisation says on its website.

The Federation has patiently striven to develop a Steiner School Certificate (SSC) that would facilitate entry to tertiary education in New Zealand.

Then, in a groundbreaking move late last year, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), a government agency, formally approved the new Steiner School Certificates. This means that the Steiner School Certificates have become part of (and will appear on) the New Zealand Qualifications Framework (NZQF), which contains a list of all quality assured qualifications in New Zealand.

“This is a significant and important development for the Steiner/Waldorf movement in NZ,” the Federation said in a statement. Its importance could not be overestimated for the future of Steiner schools in New Zealand, “especially in the light of the current ideological trends in our education system,” the statement added.

“The certificates will provide a protective framework around the Waldorf curriculum and provide a state-recognised pathway for Steiner school pupils through to tertiary education. We would like to acknowledge and sincerely thank Donna Skoropada for her outstanding work in achieving this recognition and to the Federation’s Qualifications Committee, Karen Brice-Geard (chair) Dee Whitby, Desmond Pemerika, Mark McGavock and David Stephenson for their support and contribution in this endeavour,” the Federation said.

“Quality assurance means that the government agency (NZQA) is confident that the processes and personnel that the Federation (as the ‘quality assurance body’) has put in place to manage and make decisions regarding the administration and awarding of the certificates are robust, consistent, maintain a national standard, and that assessment for all students who are enrolled in the certificates will be fair and valid, and reflect the same level as other qualifications,” the statement concluded.

Students in Steiner schools will be assessed internally and externally for the SSC. In classes 10 and 11, all assessment is internal, and only in class 12 does it become external.

Assessment of course work through such things as projects, portfolios, practical tasks and tests, will make up the internal portion managed by the schools.

For the external components, the Federation will contract suitably qualified persons for external assessments, who will set and mark papers in English, maths and science subjects only. These external exams will then count for up to 40 percent of the total marks in these subjects in class 12, though students who are not being formally assessed in these subjects at this level may not have any externals at all.

Examples of subjects not externally assessed are the arts and crafts (including eurythmy and Bothmer gym), social sciences and second languages.

NZQA recognition is the first of two hurdles that the Federation is having to negotiate to finally succeed in gaining full recognition and acceptance for the SSC.

The second one is with the universities themselves who are autonomous from the government and are meeting in the near future to confirm or otherwise their acceptance of the government’s granting the SSC accreditation on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework.

The signs are positive. Should the answer be yes, then subject to periodic review (standard practice and probably every five years) any student achieving the SSC can step forward with other appropriately qualified students from any other state school for available university places.

This has a ramification for the rest of the world, because if universities in New Zealand accept this qualification, other worldwide universities can follow suit. The Federation of Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools in NZ would welcome contact from other national Steiner school organisations to see what is involved in the SSC.

One of a number of factors that may have helped this process so far is the statistic that whilst the national average for success by state schools on national curriculum exams is around 45 percent, those students from Steiner schools who have also taken the national curriculum exam have achieved around 75 percent.

New Zealand is also a multi-racial country with a strong Maori and Pacific Island population. Cross cultural understanding is a reality of life in New Zealand. Coupled with a small total population of a little under 4.5 million that, by its nature, has a more familial atmosphere, this allows decision makers to be in close touch with those “on the ground”. As a result New Zealand is a country where innovative social forms can flourish. And others around the world can benefit from what New Zealanders have developed.


This report was compiled with the help of Jane Patterson, Michael Park School, Auckland

Item: 110921-01EN Date: 21 September 2011

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