Steiner Schools Chief: What My Time In Prisons Taught Me About The UK’s Education Mistakes

As the new executive director of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship, Fran Russell has an unusual background, having previously been an HM prisons inspector. Nevertheless, she believes that Steiner education has something important to contribute. Despite the controversy that has dogged the Steiner movement, including founder Rudolf Steiner’s racist views and anti-vaccination theories, Russell is committed to the relaxed approach to child development espoused by Steiner schools. However, she recognises that there must also be change. Russell has ordered a "wholesale review" to address the lack of ethnic diversity within the schools. She understands that the familial culture of the schools is its biggest weak spot, and that there is a risk of staff failing to make referrals to children’s services because of friendships with parents. Russell is keen to modernise Steiner schools and adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus lockdown, and is optimistic about the future of the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.

The team that Emma Russell led campaigned for the Children Act which provides protection for the rights of children to also extend to those in detention facilities. Their main concern was that children were being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods, in facilities where violence was rampant. Eventually, they were able to achieve this goal.

As legal director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Russell was part of a BBC Newsnight documentary that exposed the maltreatment of young offenders in a Portsmouth institution back in 2004. She considers this to be one of her greatest achievements since all systems that were supposed to protect children had failed them.

Russell believes that working in the Steiner kindergarten made her much more effective as a prisons inspector. Her time spent with families and observing children’s development, including those who had been adopted, fostered, or had behavioural difficulties, gave her a unique perspective. According to Russell, this experience made her a better inspector than if she had merely been a lawyer.

Her work on prisons reinforced her belief that the government’s priorities for early years education are flawed, placing too much emphasis on early literacy, multiplication tests, and Sats. Russell believes that emotional security should be the primary concern. However, she appears to be having trouble persuading the Department for Education to consider Steiner as a sponsor.

Although the academy trust taking over the three Steiner state academies will begin teaching literacy and numeracy at age four or five, Russell is still pushing for delaying formal instruction until age six. She is also making changes to the school structure, reducing its committee-style educational approach, and hiring new staff to learn from past mistakes.

Russell is working with universities to develop teacher training courses with Steiner modules to ensure that their teachers are qualified. Additionally, the assessment framework that she developed for Greenwich Steiner school has been praised by Ofsted and is now in use across all of its schools. Despite these changes and improvements, Russell has no intention of altering the Steiner ethos, which she believes fosters emotional security and is essential for children to learn.


  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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