Background

The History of Galway Steiner National School goes back to 2013, when the Minister for Education earmarked a two stream school for Knocknacarra  (to accommodate a long term projected need of up to 16 classrooms beginning with a 2 stream junior infant intake) based on census data indicating a shortage of school places. After inviting interested patrons to apply, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) announced that one stream of an Educate Together National School would open in 2014 and one stream of a Steiner National School would open in 2015.

Asked about his commitment to the development of Steiner education within the Irish education system, the Minister replied:

“My Department will continue to consider the recognition of new schools including those with a Steiner ethos in accordance with demographic growth in an area, parental demand, the potential for extending diversity of provision and available resources. All schools regardless of their ethos are expected to comply with the Education Act 1998 and the rules and regulations of my Department, particularly in relation to patronage, board of management, implementation of the curriculum, admissions policy and procedures for the appointment of teaching staff” (RQ, June 2012, Dáil Èireann) and (DES, 2013).

The demand for a Steiner school and the rapid growth in interest for the school confirmed the demand. In May 2015, Galway Steiner National School appointed its principal teacher and was provided with temporary accommodation in Knocknacarra.

An Introduction to Steiner Education by Francis Edmunds

Edmunds’ introduction to Steiner education is weighty enough but every bit worth the read. It’s informative and doesn’t leave many questions you might have about Steiner education unanswered.

The early chapters are structured chronologically and bring you through the developmental years of a child’s life, from preschool up to secondary school and examinations. He doesn’t shy away from pitting Steiner education against other more conventional education systems and uses plenty of anecdotal evidence to illustrate various idiosyncrasies of the Steiner approach.

In his consideration of what he calls the over intellectualisation of children today, Edmunds says that “spontaneous child fantasy forces have begun to dry up”. The result is that “humans are unable to beset problems they are faced with”, as we have not been given the appropriate chance to let our imaginations develop freely enough to be creative. He warns against bringing a child too soon into her wakefullness or nerve senses, describing ways the child can be guided less abruptly through to their next stage of development by painting, modeling, cooking, sewing, building, nursery rhymes, action songs, eurythmy, simple fairy tales and little plays.

Regarding the developmental stage of age 7 to 14, Edmunds talks about the Steiner idea that this period of childhood is a unique gift to man. He refers to ‘feeling and heart’ learning, where teachers use ‘picture’ as opposed to bare fact. He discusses the social instinct in us and how Steiner education tries to overcome egotism and foster a sense of being sociable. The teacher doesn’t need to focus on either marks or rewards but help and guidance. This facilitates a ‘spirit of emulation’ instead of competition. A focus on success is replaced by a focus on sound results.
In a dedicated chapter, Edmunds answers questions on discipline, eurhythmy, religion, changing schools, coping in a modern society after Steiner schooling, games in Steiner schools and so on.

Overall the book presents Steiner education as a sensible and practical way to approach the education of children.

A wonderful opening of the Galway Steiner National School

On Tuesday September 1st, 2015 Galway Steiner National School proudly opened its doors to our first class of junior infant children. We are so happy to finally have a Steiner National School in Galway. It’s going to be a great year ahead.

On their first day, the children arrived to take in the new surroundings, and rest upon the carefully selected wooden tables and chairs, and crafted playthings, lovingly worked by hand over the previous months. The children settled in to enjoy free play, storytelling, beeswax shaping, games and drawing, amongst other activities. Time was spent getting to know their new fellow classmates and their teachers, Shane O’Connell and Rachel Conneely. After all the recent work and preparation in advance of term, this autumn is exciting time to see the children arrive to play and begin their journey through their early school years.

We wish to express our heartfelt thanks to all those who have so kindly given of their time, energy and enthusiasm over the years to make this dreamed of school a reality. We thank each and every one of you!

A short report on the Galway Steiner National School Public Meeting, June 5th 2015

This evening, a well attended group of parents and members of the community met with Shane O’Connell, the new principal teacher of the Galway Steiner National School. The room was packed to capacity, and following a brief history to the school, outlined by Lindsay Myers, Shane O’Connell took the floor and outlined his own background and vision for the school. His talk was followed by a questions and answers session, where parents expressed their enthusiasm of the benefits of Steiner pedagogy generally, and several details of the school were discussed in more depth.

We look forward to keeping everyone updated on the next busy two months, and be sure to get in touch if you wish to help out in any way.

Meanwhile, for those who couldn’t attend, Shane spoke on Keith Finnegan’s Galway Bay FM Radio show earlier today. The seven minute interview is well worth a listen.

Principal teacher announced for Galway Steiner National School

Shane O'Connell

Galway Steiner National School, which opens in September, 2015, under the patronage of Lifeways Ireland, has appointed Shane O’Connell as its principal teacher.

A public meeting will be held at the Clybaun Hotel on Friday June 5th, at 8pm, where parents who have enrolled their children, teachers, and all those interested in finding out more about the new school, can meet with Mr O’Connell.

Shane O’Connell is a passionate educationalist who believes that learning should happen in an integrated way, with the parents, child and teacher all working together as part of a learning community. He has a wealth of experience in teaching, special education, and school leadership, and he has worked for six years in primary schools in Cork, as well as in Africa, and more recently at the International School of Havana, Cuba.

Ever since he began his teaching career in 2002, Shane has had a long-standing interest in Steiner pedagogy, and he is delighted to be returning home to lead Galway’s first ever Steiner National School.  Shane said: “This is a unique opportunity and I am privileged to be part of this wonderful project.  An amazing effort has gone into getting the school this far along. I look forward to working together with parents, staff and children to create a truly holistic Steiner experience for the children of Galway.

Galway Steiner National School will deliver the Irish Primary Curriculum in accordance with the core of principles of Waldorf Steiner education.

Previous Events

Steiner Open Information Evening

On Wednesday, the 25th of March, 2015 at 6.30pm in Westside library, an information evening on the new Galway Steiner National School was held. Lindsay Myers began, giving an overview of the six key elements of the Steiner pedagogy, and discussed how it relates to the Irish curriculum.

March 25th, Westside Library

These key features are:

  1. An integrated curriculum- with learning happening in an integrated way (e.g. with projects) rather than in discrete subjects.
  2. The class teacher and the centrality of the relationship of the teacher and child.
  3. A child-centered approach. Steiner education looks at age appropriate learning, thinking about what a child can do based on their developmental stage, and experience of the world.
  4. Oral language, with an emphasis on storytelling, discussion, confidence in speech.
  5. The importance of the early school years- play, movement, and freedom to explore the world in art, music and nature in a non-prescriptive way.
  6. The parents as primary educators, and the special relationship they have in the school, being involved in every possible way.

She also noted that the school has confirmed a temporary location in Brooklawn House, in Galway West Business Park, Knocknacarra (behind Dunnes and B&Q). The venue is a bright and airy building and the Educate Together School are housed on the ground floor of the same building, and will share some of the outside space.

Pearse O’Sheil from Lifeways Ireland spoke next.

Pearse O'Sheil from Lifeways

He gave some context to how Steiner Education began in Ireland. The first primary school started in 1987, in East Clare [Raheen Woods and Mol an Oige in Ennistymon], by two groups of approximately 30 parents, in all. Some were seeking to do something radically different in education, and others had children that weren’t doing well in mainstream schools. Initially, in Raheen Woods, a little school started, with 12 families, who essentially started it themselves. It was very much a parent-driven initiative. Therefore, Pearse noted that this [Galway Steiner National School] is a process of moving towards something very new in Ireland, with state support. It is a big move for an education system that is slow to change. Also, this year, both schools in Co. Clare now have permanent recognition from the state.

Pearse went on to outline some important aspects of Steiner schools. Firstly, the values in a Steiner school relate to a central concern for child development. Often, traditional education is a curricular-based education rather than child-centered. Instead, Steiner asks what is a child’s experience as they grow through the years. So, being interested in children is of primary importance to a teacher, not knowing the curriculum. A good teacher is a wonderful thing to see. There are constraints in that you have to follow the curriculum, and you have to meet requirements of the state, but any curriculum is subject to interpretation.

Secondly, Pearse spoke about how teaching four year olds to read and write at such a young age is not supported by evidence. There is no formal teaching of children in this respect until they are closer in age to seven, in many countries around the world. Then they are ready. And they can do it.

Thirdly, another feature of Steiner education, mentioned by Pearse, is the use of large format blank books rather than textbooks in Steiner Schools. The rationale of what is taught is derived from understanding the children, and from recognising that at a certain point that children realise that words are made up of certain sounds. When they awaken to that reality-  that is when reading and writing should be taught. So Steiner is a developmental approach that uses the curriculum to meet those needs. Steiner education should be active, and real – doing real things that have real meaning for children- making, baking, and creating. Play is the most child appropriate activity. Informal learning. Children live in the world as a continuum. The children learn from the heart in primary education, not the head. In the affect. “What was it like in Norway in the middle ages” – it’s not information in a dry form, but information in an experience.

Fourthly, teaching in a Steiner school is like being an artist, according to Pearse. The presentation of material is an artistic activity. The arts are a key component [of Steiner pedagogy]. Schooling has a tendency to narrow down. You need to work to keep the space open for freedom, expression, and creativity. The language of that space for children where they can retain their autonomy is the arts. These artistic elements should permeate the school. The main lesson – of one hour and a half duration- is done through the weaving of the material by the teacher, including music, story, movement. It means that the children’s experience is taken into account. The children are addressed in themselves in how the lessons are put together artistically.

Finally, Pearse spoke generally about learning with heart. Pearse noted that we are born into the world as learners. The importance of informal learning needs to recognised by educators. The curriculum, teachers and school need to be alive. Also, the practice of the same teacher staying with the same children for a number of years- where adopted is a tremendous benefit, to really know the children. A school is a place of learning and teaching, but also a place for care. Teachers have to care. And that speaks to who the teacher is a human being, not who they are as a professional. These are human relationships. You need to facilitate not instruct. Children want to learn.

Pearse quoted an interview with the educator Paulo Freire: “If you ask me Paulo, what is in being in the world, that calls your own attention to you? I would say to you that I am a curious being.”

That is the natural orientation of human beings, according to Pearse. We, teachers and parents, facilitate that curiosity, so they remain curious. Even in our spiritual lives- we are here to learn. We don’t need to be externally motivated to learn, or have fear to learn.

Felted Easter Crafts

Irish Steiner Education Conference-November 2014

Conference_Banner

Date: Saturday Nov 15, 2014
Time 9.15am -5.15pm
Venue: Rooms G010 and G011 in The Hardiman Building, NUI Galway

Conference Schedule:
9.15 – 9.45    Registration

9.45 – 10.00   Welcome Address – Dr. Lindsay Myers

10.00 -11.00 ‘Steiner Education: A Holistic Response to the Developing Needs of the Growing Child’ – Pearse O’ Shiel

11.00 -11.30 Coffee Break

11.30 – 12. 30 ‘Introduction to the Steiner National-School Curriculum’ – Eileen Lydon

12.30 -1.30 Lunch

1.30 – 3.00 Workshops (2 parallel sessions – CHOOSE ONE)

  • ‘The Art of Teaching Literacy: The Steiner Waldorf Approach to Writing and Reading’ – Jonathan Angus ‘
  • Drama at the Heart: Activating Learning’ – Nell Smyth

3.15 – 4.45 Workshops (2 parallel sessions – CHOOSE ONE)

  • ‘The Art of Teaching Literacy: The Steiner Waldorf Approach to Introducing Writing and Reading’ – Jonathan Angus
  • ‘Drama at the Heart: Activating Learning’ – Nell Smyth

4.45 – 5. 30 Q and A with the Panel (Eileen, Pearse, Jonathan and Nell)

Detailed Information on Workshops:
Jonathan Angus – The Art of Teaching Literacy: The Steiner Waldorf Approach to Introducing Reading and Writing
What are the hallmarks of a pre-literate experience of the world? Why is a strong foundation in orality important for later learning? How can we get the timing right, teaching writing and reading such a way as to satisfy children’s developmental needs and harness their innate interests? In this workshop we will consider the theory and practice of helping children to make the first leap into literacy. Through a process of cultural reconstruction, we will find supports to help answer the above questions. By engaging in movement, recitation and drawing exercises, we will reconnect with the experience of starting off on a lifelong journey of written language.

Nell Smyth – Drama at the Heart: activating learning
This workshop will work with two great stories, The Brendan Voyage and Monsieur Prony’s Plot to illustrate how different learning styles can be met and orchestrated for vibrant learning in the classroom. Integrating the threefold approach of thinking, feeling and willing we will work with games, movement, observation and play to bring alive key themes and activities for the 8/9 year old and the 14/15 year old.

Official Confimation from Minister of Education on Knocknacarra Steiner School

The Galway Steiner National School has received official confirmation from the Department of Education and Skills, on the 5th of February 2015, that the school will open in September in Knocknacarra, Galway.

Read more reactions to this, in the news:

STATEMENT BY DEREK NOLAN TD Labour Party, Galway West
Thursday, 5 February 2015
SEPTEMBER 2015 CONFIRMED FOR NEW STEINER SCHOOL IN KNOCKNACARRA –

Galway West TD Derek Nolan has welcomed official confirmation from the Minister for Education this morning that a new school in Knocknacarra is to be established in September this year.

Deputy Nolan said “This new school, which will be under the patronage of Lifeways Limited Ireland (Steiner), is being established due to the continuing increase in primary pupils in Galway.

“To meet this growing population, it is vital that we build the infrastructure necessary to ensure that there is a school place for every child in Galway and across the country. Galway is one of four areas in Ireland that remains an area of a high rate of primary going children.

““The choice of Lifeways Limited Ireland as patron was a positive and progressive choice for the area. This charity operates the innovative Steiner schools for which many parents have expressed an interest and it further strengthens the choice and plurality in the area.

“Educational choice is vital for parents. There was a huge need for another non-denominational school in the area to complement the existing Educate Together school and Catholic schools. It is important that the needs of all children in the area are met.

“This announcement today is part of seven new primary schools to be established in 2015 and 2016. The seven new schools between them will cater for almost 3,000 students and will support 240 direct jobs and 48 indirect jobs.

“I am thrilled for the Galway Steiner School, with whom I have worked over the past number of years. Their dedication to the establishment of this new school was second to none.

“A lot of work has been done in preparing for this school but this final confirmation is welcome and I look forward to seeing its doors open in September.

Official Department of Education and Skills Press Release:

05 February, 2015 – Minister O’Sullivan announces seven new primary schools to be established in next two years

The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, TD, today announced that seven new primary schools are to be established in the next two years.

Announcing the new schools, the Minister said: “My Department is predicting a continuing increase in primary school pupils up until at least 2019 in parts of the country”.

“To meet the continuing growing population of our primary school going children, we will have to establish seven new primary schools as well as extending a number of existing schools.”

Of the seven new schools, four will open in 2015 with the other three opening in 2016.

Cork, Dublin, Galway and Wicklow remain areas of a high rate of primary school going children and this is where the new schools will be located.

There will be one school in Cork, four in Dublin, one in Galway and one in Wicklow.

The basic construction costs for the seven new schools will broadly be in the region of €24m.  This level of investment by the State will support some 240 direct jobs and 48 indirect jobs.

Patronage for two of the schools starting in 2015 has already been decided under a previous patronage determination process. A patronage determination process will shortly be run for the other two schools starting in 2015. A patronage determination process for the 2016 schools will be carried out later this year.

These seven new schools will be in addition to 20 new primary schools that opened since 2011. The seven new schools between them they will cater for almost 3,000 pupils when fully developed.

The schools will be established in line with the arrangements and criteria announced in June 2011 for patronage determination.

Minister O’Sullivan said: “The establishment of new schools provides an opportunity for patrons to apply to run the schools. The criteria to be used in deciding on patronage of the new schools place a particular emphasis on parental demand for plurality and diversity of patronage.  Parental preferences should be at the centre of considerations about the type of school to be recognised. The patronage arrangements in place provide that patron bodies proposing schools at either primary or second level will be asked to provide evidence of demand.”

Minister O’Sullivan continued: “This approach emphasises my commitment to ensure the implementation of the commitments in the Programme for Government on moving towards a more pluralist system of patronage at primary level. “It also builds on the work of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.”

The Department will be contacting patrons shortly to commence the patronage determination

– See more at: http://www.education.ie/en/Press-Events/Press-Releases/2015-Press-Releases/PR15-02-05.html

Irish Times piece:

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/new-primary-schools-for-dublin-cork-galway-and-wicklow-1.2092582

Steiner Education – a new direction within the Irish State System’

An excellent talk on ‘Steiner Education – a new direction within the Irish State System’, was given by Una Ni Ghairbhith (principal of Mol an Oige Steiner School in Co. Clare), in the Westside Library on Saturday the 24th of January 2015 at 3pm.

Many thanks to Úna for an inspirational overview of how the school has evolved. It was fantastic to hear about her experience in establishing their current Steiner school of 135 students, now in its ninth successful year. The importance of the heart, and relationship-centered education in primary school was a prominent theme, along with a holistic curriculum, active, artistic learning, oral storytelling, parental involvement and the Steiner approach in early school years.

The event was well attended by over 30 parents, with a lively questions and answers session with parents keen to hear more about her personal experiences. The session ended with an outline of plans around the Knocknacarra school, opening in September.

We hope to see attendees at the upcoming events which promise to be equally engaging! The next talk is on the 24th of February (see https://www.facebook.com/events/761552530593231/)