Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School

Unnatural Selection

William McKeith is a very well-known Sydney educator, former Head of PLC Croydon and Armidale, and since retiring from there, Principal of Inner Sydney Montessori. His views are widely respected. His article last week in the Herald challenged the proposal put forward recently, for primary schools run on the selective school model i.e. children determined to be gifted and talented to be streamed into selective primary schools from an early age: 

The concept of selective primary schools, populated with young children chosen and separated on the basis of measured academic performance and ability, is ugly and quite scary.

His commentary gave good reasons for his views: how do you genuinely measure outstanding gifts at a young age when children develop at such diverse rates? Why should we be separating students so early when inclusion and understanding of difference is a fundamental aspect of education and growing up? The readers’ comments after the article also raised some key issues about curriculum and the need for a broader understanding of what schooling is for.

The article brought back memories! I have a confession to make, and that is I went to a selective school for the last two years of primary, Artarmon Public School’s OC class, which in those days was simply called the Opportunity class. What a different world it was then! Every child in NSW sat a test on one day of the year and invitation to the class was based on that: no coaching, no preparation, no stress. And the other confession I have to make is that those two years were without doubt the happiest of my entire school life. 

Why? We heard stories and legends from the great cultural traditions of the world, learned to play the recorder, we sang every day, we learned to paint and draw, we did a class play each year, we went on camps and hiked, we went to hear orchestras play, and most importantly, we had the same teacher for two years who I loved dearly. I still remember Miss Reagan when all my other primary teachers have faded into oblivion. Sound familiar? Yes it was the nearest I ever had to a Steiner education. It was the model of gifted education that was in place in those distant, ancient times: a model of enrichment, and of the creative arts inspiring primary education. 

When I first came across Glenaeon, and based on my own childhood experience, I actually thought it was a school for gifted children. But it was even better: all children were given this enriched curriculum, not just a select few. All children had stories, and music, and art, and Nature, and a loving teacher who travelled with the class through the primary years.

The model today is very different: one of acceleration, of competitive testing, of ranking. Is this the best we can offer children? William McKeith’s conclusion is clear:

Schooling is much more than achievement on some NAPLAN test or international measure of achievement. All of our children deserve the very best in academic, social and physical development.

I couldn’t agree more, and Glenaeon strives to do just that!