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Clash of philosophies sees pupils set to fail standards

Published: 2:02PM Saturday November 05, 2011 Source: Fairfax

Her kids are set to fail at school every year until they're about 11 years old - but mum Monica Brice couldn't care less.

Along with 151 other Wellington families, Brice is imploring Education Minister Anne Tolley not to judge her children against national standards which she says will be impossible for them to meet.

The parents of children at Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School in Lower Hutt are upset their school has to implement national standards, when the holistic philosophy of Steiner education means children do not start learning to read until they are seven.

The focus in New Zealand's eight Steiner schools is on growing the child's mind, soul and body. Judged against state education standards, pupils would fail until they are about 11, when their reading and writing levels will typically match an average child's.

"It's completely against the philosophy of our curriculum," Brice said.

"We would have to tell our children that they're not doing well, which would be terrible for their self-esteem and it doesn't help the parents. It's putting them in a box, when we're all individuals."

Learning should not just be about intellectual development, but about meeting physical and spiritual needs, parent Catharina Fisher said.

"Yes, you need to be able to read and write and do maths, but there's a tremendous amount more that you have to do to get by in life."

However, the state-integrated schools have their operational costs met by the taxpayer, which means they must comply.

Nationwide 55 schools are still breaking the law by not including national standards targets in their charters.

The controversial policy benchmarks children academically against standards in years 1 to 8.

Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School principal Karen Brice-Geard, who is on the Federation of Rudolf Steiner Schools in New Zealand, confirmed she was negotiating with the Education Ministry.

"We are trying to find a way that we can be compliant and retain our special character."

Tolley said the schools chose to receive government funding rather than be private.

National standards were not optional, and the school could explain to parents not to expect children to meet the standards straight away.

"Children don't pass or fail national standards - they are benchmarks for continuous assessment throughout the year, so we can identify those students who need extra help."

The Education Review Office has started to publish percentages of pupils achieving national standards as part of school reviews, a move labelled misleading by the New Zealand Educational Institute this week because of the differences in the way that schools have implemented the standards.

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