Here are some answers to the questions most commonly posed by prospective Parents and Guardians:
Is there value placed on Literacy and Numeracy in the early years?
Literacy and Numeracy are highly valued. They are vital foundational capabilities that enable learning across a range of subjects. In the early years, our School takes the approach that a strong foundation provides the optimal long-term results. In Kindergarten, we focus on phonemic awareness as the basis for Literacy. Phonemic awareness is an oral language skill that refers to the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds that make up a word. The ability to hear phonemes is critical and it significantly aids the children in learning how to read and write. Phonemic awareness is the necessary basis for more formal instruction using phonics (the relationship between the sounds the letters) which begins in kindergarten and is consolidated in Class One. All of our early Literacy instruction is embedded in a rich, imaginative oral language program. Our students recite nursery rhymes and poetry, perform plays and hear a range of breath-taking stories, lovingly narrated. They learn to deeply comprehend and appreciate language. Number sense as the basis for Numeracy is developed in Kindergarten daily, through instructional activities, games and hands-on practical tasks. In Class One we introduce formal mathematical operations.
The Steiner approach is developmentally appropriate and yields long-term rewards. Our students experience their learning in Literacy and Numeracy to be alive, imaginative, challenging and joyful- not dreary and stressful. They are not ‘burnt out’ and de-motivated in the early years, as often happens in high-pressure environments. Quite the opposite- they are curious, confident, inspired and very keen to learn!
How are the students assessed?
Assessment of student learning is a key responsibility of all teachers. The word ‘assessment’ comes from the Latin word ‘assidere’, meaning ‘to sit beside’. This is a helpful way to view student assessment- it is the act of teachers and students working together, in an ongoing, formative way, to gauge how student growth is progressing. This approach is individually tailored, responding to both challenges and strengths. We look at our students’ wholistic development, drawing on the benefits of rich, long-lasting relationships over the years with the teachers. We also measure student progress against the standards and outcomes of the NSW Australian Curriculum.
Do the students sit NAPLAN?
All schools in Australia are required to offer the NAPLAN tests in Years 3,5,7 and 9. As well as offering the tests, we inform Parents and Guardians about their right to withdraw their child from the tests if they philosophically object to it. In the primary years, we see that the most informative assessment feedback can be obtained from the teachers. This is because our careful formative assessment measures gather accurate information on student learning in an ongoing, timely way. The NAPLAN tests do not align with our views on optimal assessment processes for young learners. It is therefore no surprise that the NAPLAN tests are currently subject to widespread criticism from parents, teachers, school principals and politicians alike.
What are the teaching and learning standards?
All teachers at our school are fully qualified and registered to teach with The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). In addition, our teachers are required to build on their qualifications with ongoing study of Steiner education. Our learning standards are aligned with the standards and outcomes of the NSW Australian Curriculum. These apply to all NSW schools.
How are learning support needs met?
If your child has special needs, these are discussed at length during the enrolment process. Our Enrolment Policy complies with all relevant disability legislation. Support needs that have been identified are used to develop Individual Learning Plans for students. This may result in students receiving extra help individually, or in small groups. It may result in them receiving extension opportunities if they are demonstrating high academic achievement. Adjustments that are made to student learning plans are developed consultatively with Parents and Guardians. Our high school students enjoy the benefits of support at our ‘Any Time Learning Assistance Space’ (ATLAS), where they can have specific questions addressed.
Is this an arts School?
The creative arts have a central role in our pedagogy. They are are incorporated meaningfully across all subject areas – not marginalised as an ‘add-on’. It is our view that the arts creatively communicate to deep levels of our shared humanity, helping us to make meaning, to celebrate and appreciate life. Artistic experience is fulfilling and contributes to wellbeing. In the primary years, our students learn to paint, draw, knit, sew, weave and crochet, to play musical instruments, perform plays, write stories, and to sing together. We methodically build on skills in a well-designed, purposeful program well into the high school. Most visitors to our School are highly impressed by the creativity, beauty, pride and attention to detail evident in the students’ work.
Is the School religious?
We are an inclusive School and welcome families of all denominations as well as atheists, agnostics and those who are still wondering! Our School is non-denominational and does not offer instruction in any one religion. Instead, we draw upon diverse literary traditions associated with the world‘s leading religions and mythologies. We embed these in the rich narrative elements of the curriculum. This approach gives students a sense of cultural appreciation and provides understandings that they will eventually integrate into their own individual ethical framework. Our philosophy nurtures a sense of the divine at the core of each human being. We communicate this deeper dimension in a way that is respectful, non-prescriptive and open-minded. Central to our philosophy is a practice of gratitude.
What is the School’s approach to discipline?
High expectations help students grow to fulfil their potential. Although Steiner schools are commonly associated with a ‘laissez-faire’ or lax approach to behaviour, this is a false cliché which is not in keeping at all with our philosophy. We hold that firm, fair boundaries give students the security and guidance needed to uphold the values living in the School. We acknowledge that students need clear guidance in the process of learning to self-regulate their behaviour in a responsible way. We avoid using rewards and punishments to redirect them; instead, we draw upon the strength of the respectful teacher-student relationships to move towards shared aims. If serious discipline issues arise, we have a Student Discipline Policy which is applied fairly.
How does the School respond to bullying?
There is zero tolerance to bullying behaviours. They are responded to swiftly and fairly.
Students know that kindness is the ‘golden rule’ at our School. It is our experience that any student behaviour that is mean, targeted or aggressive is quickly identified and ‘nipped in the bud’ due to the strength of the relationships in the School community. If any serious instances of bullying arise, our Discipline Policy is applied.
How are wellbeing and mental health issues supported?
The quality of our relationships offers a bedrock of support. When wellbeing issues arise, these are communicated appropriately between students, Parents and Guardians and staff. Supportive plans are developed consultatively. We engage Wellbeing Officers who are available for students to book in and have a chat with. However, this is no replacement for the professional psychological services which are sometimes needed. In such cases, the School consults with parents and guardians closely to support any student in a challenging or crisis situation. We view the creative, health-giving elements of our pedagogy and the vibrancy of our community as supportive components in the management of wellbeing issues.
Is there a uniform?
Our high school students are required to wear full school uniform. This uniform provides for a variety of flexible options and can be purchased at our uniform shop. There is no uniform in the primary school, however a dress code applies.
How do the students use technology at school?
Technology for learning is used judiciously. We highly value human interaction and introduce technology into the classroom gradually in the upper primary years. A ‘Bring Your Own Laptop’ program is in place in the high school. We hold the view that technology is ‘a valuable servant and terrible master.’ The addictive nature of digital technologies is well-researched as a contributor to sedentary behaviours and mental health issues. For this reason, we limit technology in the primary years and educate for responsible usage in the upper years. Our high school students are skilled and capable users of digital technologies. In Years 9 and 10, we offer Information and Software Technology as an elective.
Are students allowed to use their phones at school?
Students are not permitted to access their mobile phones between 9 am and 3 pm. This means that they spend their break times interacting with their friends. We believe that it is vitally important for students to be physically active and sociable at school rather than using break times to engage with social media. Interestingly, student feedback is highly supportive of our approach. The students seem to know what’s good for them!
What is the school’s advice for media usage in the home?
For many good reasons, we strongly advocate screen-free leisure activities. This does not mean that you need to sign your child up for formal cello lessons (although this is a great thing to do). It can be as simple as encouraging your child to go outside, to spend time in the garden, to bake, knit, build cubbies, walk the dog, go skateboarding, bike-riding, walk along the beach etc. Real whole-body activities (as opposed to digital, sedentary activities) help develop strong, outward-focussed, less self-obsessed young people. This approach is health-giving on physical, emotional and mental levels. We also encourage our Parents and Guardians to carefully consider the appropriateness of films and other digital content that their child is exposed to. We strongly advise that they take care to avoid their child viewing violent, sexually explicit and advertising-laden content as this can negatively impact on the wellbeing of developing young minds.
Where and how do students go when they graduate?
Our Year 10 graduates have historically chosen a broad range of schools for Years 11 and 12. Two of the local high schools in our area, (Berkeley Vale High School and Tumbi High School) also finish at Year 10. The Entrance Senior Secondary College offers a Year 11 and 12 program with a broad subject selection. Other schools that have been popular with our students include Central Coast Grammar, Lakes Grammar, Hunter Performing Arts school, St Peter’s Catholic College, Newtown performing Arts School (selective), Gosford High School (academically selective), Barker College, other Steiner schools and local area schools such as Lisarow HS. Some students choose to follow a TAFE/apprenticeship pathway.
After completing our rich Year 10 program, which includes work experience, leadership opportunities and a service-learning trip to Cambodia, our students are confident, capable and excited about taking their new step in life. They often come to visit after graduating and retain fond memories of their years with us. Many of our alumni students relish the opportunity to continue their learning in tertiary institutions and they are well-equipped to thrive at university level.
Is the Central Coast Steiner School intending to expand to Years 11 and 12?
In its current form, the NSW Higher School Certificate is not a program that our school can envisage as meaningfully aligning with our Steiner philosophy. This is due to the current content-heavy, prescriptive nature of the HSC curriculum and the limitations of our resources. At this point it is not a viable option to expand to Years 11 and 12 and there are no short-term plans to do so.
Will this School prepare my child for the ‘real world’?
Absolutely. Our students are confident, resilient individuals who learn to love learning. What better preparation is there for meeting the needs of the ‘real world’? Some parents may be concerned that the ‘real’ world can be challenging and students need to be adequately prepared to meet it. This is indeed the case, and the best method for strengthening young people is to offer them a deeply nurturing environment that provides stable relationships within a healthy community.
Our students learn to strive to aim high, to diligently develop their capacities so that they can be of service to the world and capable of making a difference. This is ‘real world’ readiness.