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Edinburgh kindergarten supports parents legal right to defer entry to P1

Flagship Edinburgh kindergarten for under 7s supports parents legal right to defer entry to P1, closing today.

The Steiner Waldorf Movement's educational approach is once again at the forefront of educational discussion as the first school in Scotland to offer a kindergarten stage for pupils under 7.

Many parents at this school use their legal right to defer their child’s entry into P1, giving them more time in a Kindergarten environment.

"My term-long teaching placements in P1, P2 and P3 across Edinburgh primary schools were revealing”, says Class 1 teacher, Mrs Lisa Gordon. “All 3 schools claimed "play-based" education, but had only a 'nod' toward play, with 10-minute 'carousel' play-times in crowded, chaotic rooms with plastic toys (many broken). Daily outdoor play-time was minimal. Class sizes were large (usually without assistants) and environments extremely loud.

An enormous screen in the classroom delivers much of the daily content that the teacher has planned. I was told that there was no time for children to have any daily sharing time.”

Today is the final day families can submit an application to The City of Edinburgh Council to Defer entry to P1, which required the written support by the Head of the child’s nursery. For decades, specialist Steiner Kindergarten leaders have helped families with 4-year-olds whose birthdays fall between mid-August – December in this opaque application process, supporting give the child more time before they begin their school career. Whilst the Council’s approval rate was once one of the lowest in Scotland, it seems to have approved almost all (97%) applications in 2020/21.

Uniquely, for 82 years the parent-funded school in Merchiston has run a curriculum that embraces a later start to formal learning; recognising play as being the true work of childhood. Importantly, pupils here transition from the preschool to the school at six or seven. There is no entrance exam or national standardised testing at P1 age through to the start of National 5 exams at age 14.

This holistic approach is now widely recognised for nourishing the wellbeing of the child by leading voices in the education and children’s sectors, including neuroscientists, teachers, play specialists, the former Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, and an extensive list of children’s charities, including Upstart Scotland, whose campaign for a statutory Kindergarten stage for all under 7s in Scotland reached the parliamentary debating floor this month and has the backing of the Scottish Green Party.

Whilst Steiner Kindergartens can be found in some 70 countries throughout the world, it is the only school in Scotland offering a Steiner Waldorf approach to education in early childhood. With tuition fees of up to £8,500 for the Seedlings Playgroup and Kindergartens, it was not an option open to every family in Scotland. However, applications from families with young children have increased in recent weeks after it announced in February it will be offering free nursery places from the Autumn Term.

Edinburgh Council has for decades partnered with private nurseries to help meet its statutory duty to secure a preschool education place for all 3-4 year-olds, and almost a quarter of 2-year-olds. These children are currently entitled to around 16 hours a week ELC, delivered as a £5.31/hour grant if not taken up in a local authority nursery. This will increase to 30 hours a week next academic year. Importantly, parents will not be asked to ‘top up’ this grant.

It is the first parent-funded school in Edinburgh and the Lothians to commit to the Government’s near-doubling of funded Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) hours, from 600 to 1,140 hours in August.

Marking the 30th anniversary of offering parents the opportunity of a Steiner Waldorf preschool education under this policy, the decision by the School’s Board of Trustees to continue with the extended hours comes after several years of fundraising within the School community and many months of consultation into its sustainability for a small school with a roll of 360 pupils aged 2 - 18 years old.

Supported by the philanthropy of parents, former pupils and teachers, the school successfully converted a C-listed coach house into curriculum space, winning an international architectural accolade for its ‘community build’ in the Educational Buildings category. The further target of £100k needed to conserve the adjacent coachhouse and create a large playgroup space was exceeded just before the pandemic closed school gates. A year on, builders are able to break ground with the campus development project.

Growth in pupil numbers will support the School in its ambition for access to a Steiner education to not depend solely on the ability to pay fees.

Michael Palmer, Chair of the Board of Trustees:

“We know that not all families who wish to join the school community have equal means to be able to do so. Today it is widely recognised that the first seven years of life are of the utmost importance for the development of the healthy adult. Offering 1,140 hours ELC-funded places to eligible young children in Scotland is just one of the ways we endeavour to widen access, providing an inclusive educational experience for the children.”

The Steiner Waldorf Movement is the largest and fastest growing independent education network in the world, now with 1,200 schools and 2,000 Kindergartens worldwide. The cornerstone of the distinctive curriculum is the international Main Lesson Programme, delivering over 100 subject blocks from astronomy to embryology to metal work over a pupil’s school career. The breadth of education is something which CfE is striving to achieve.

Early Years education has a high profile in Steiner Waldorf schools, offering an important alternative to mainstream Preschool–P2 education. The School welcomes applications from children over six for their Classes 1-12, which shares a campus with the preschool. Before then, the youngest pupils learn in an environment where the teaching of English, Maths, the Sciences, is integrated rather than subject-based: through cooking vegetable soup with ingredients from the garden, watercolour painting, woodwork, building a bonfire; where every day is a waterproofs day, immersed in the seasons.

Early Years practitioners here follow the internationally-recognized Steiner Waldorf curriculum. A central aim of this approach is to develop, harmonise and unite the faculties of thought, feeling, and physical literacy in the child, based on principles of child development, so that the foundations may be laid for mental adaptability, initiative and moral strength in their future school career.

They offer a Seedlings playgroup for children aged 2+. Pupils can move on to Kindergarten at around 3.5 years old until rising 7. A bursary scheme is open to all children after they are no longer eligible for the early learning and childcare grant.


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