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Proposed Haringey free school would offer holistic alternative to state education

As Richards, one of the parents behind the proposed The Oak School in Crouch End. Picture: Nigel Sutton As Richards, one of the parents behind the proposed The Oak School in Crouch End. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Friday, January 4, 2013
7:00 AM

Hundreds of people have registered an interest in a free school offering an “holistic” alternative to education in north London.

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The Oak School would – if it gets approval from the Department for Education (DfE) – provide a Steiner Waldorf-inspired education from four until 18, with an emphasis on the “whole person” rather than just academics.

The Haringey and Islington parents behind the school, which would ideally be based in the Crouch End area but could be built on the old Ashmount site, have already collected more than 800 signatures from interested families and are confident they will reach 1,000 before they hand their proposal into the DfE this month.

As Richards, of Ridge Road, said the group decided to set up their own free school, having been inspired by the education their children received at the North London Rudolf Steiner School, in Hornsey.

This school uses the Steiner Waldolf ethos, which provides “an unhurried and creative learning environment where children can find the joy in learning and experience the richness of childhood rather than early specialisation or academic hot-housing”.

But it only takes pupils until age seven, at which point parents either have to put their children into mainstream education or a fee-paying school.

“We think there is merit in this type of education,” said Ms Richards. “We want to make sure it gets into the wider community.”

But it is an ethos which may concern some – its “unhurried approach” means the children do not start academic work until later than they would in a local authority controlled school.

Ms Richards is quick to defend the method, however.

“There are so many misconceptions about Steiner. They do wait until children are six [to start academic teaching] - but they do that in the Netherlands. We felt there was merit in this approach. And aged seven-and-a-half, they are doing maths, English, French, German and music. It is not an un-academic approach.”

But just to make sure there are no concerns over the school’s academic merit, the parents have chosen to offer the International Baccalaureate at secondary school level – sometimes considered a more rigorous alternative to A-levels.

Ms Richards said: “St Mary Magdalene in Islington is the only local school offering the IB. It is oversubscribed and it is doing really well. We thought Haringey could benefit from that.”

The decision to set up the free school was not just based on offering an alternative to the standard education offered by local authorities in London,.

“It was more concern about secondary schools – there are some good ones, but not enough.”

What’s more, she adds, it is projected Haringey will need to find a number of extra secondary school places in the next few years. Each year, there are tales of parents forced to move out of Haringey because they cannot get their child into a good primary school. Ms Richards and the other parents hope their school will be able to absorb some of those children. They hope - if the DfE approves the school - to open in 2014 not just accepting four, five and six-year-olds, but some 11-year-olds as well.

“It is meeting that need for primary and secondary school places, but just taking a more holistic approach,” Ms Richards said.

n Find out more about the school or register interest by visiting www.theoakschool.org

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