Around 25 people attended the Upper School community meeting last week on Thursday 14 March to hear Karen Brice-Geard and Jan Swann give an overview of the New Zealand Certificate of Steiner Education. Throughout the meeting Karen took questions as they arose.
Origins of the certificate
Karen began by outlining her background and involvement in creation of the NZ Certificate of Steiner Education. Karen has 30 years of experience within Steiner Schools, originally as a eurythmy teacher and then as an upper school teacher and head teacher at the Wellington Steiner School, New Zealand. Karen began her talk by explaining why the certificate was originally developed in New Zealand; to create a secondary school qualification which would encompass and validate the work undertaken by Steiner school pupils without needing to validate them using state qualifications. Over a period of around 18 months they devised a framework that would allow a broad qualification to deliver and endorse the Steiner curriculum, and having submitted their proposal in 2009 it was endorsed and added to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority framework.
Karen explained that there are currently 4 new Zealand schools working with the certificate and that the qualification was beginning to develop in an international way, with schools outside of New Zealand also choosing to use it. There are currently 4 UK schools using this certificate, and a further 2 schools in Australia and 3 schools in Austria. Karen mentioned that discussions were currently underway with more schools in Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, India and Spain considering taking on the qualification in. It was clear that the motivations for establishing the qualification in New Zealand are shared by schools in many other countries and that the certificate has real potential for becoming an internationally used qualification. With this in mind Karen explained that the aim was to make the certificate as robust as possible and that there were important aspects of quality assurance built in to the way in which the certificate was organised and governed by the Steiner Education Development Trust (SEDT) in New Zealand.
It was noted that the mechanism which allows the qualification to be offered internationally is the Lisbon convention, which by law requires pupils from signatory countries to be considered if they apply to universities within countries who are part of the convention. Karen reassured those present that the Lisbon Convention was not affected by Brexit. Karen went on to outline some of the key features of the certificate.
3 Certificates , 3 Levels
Upper School teaching begins in Class 9 and the certificate involves assessment in Class 10, 11 and 12, in 3 staged levels presented below. On completing each level pupils are awarded a certificate. In order to begin studying for each successive level, pupils are required to have successfully gained the level below. It was noted that pupils studying Certificate of Steiner Education would reach GCSE standard in Class 11 which was one year later than in state schools. However, by the end of Class 12 they would reach Level 3 which was at A-level standard.
The certificate uses a points based system and all subjects are weighted equally. Pupils are required to gain a minimum of 50 points at each level and higher point scores allow differentiation for higher achieving pupils . Further information about the level descriptors for the certificate are provided here. At each level, points are gained from studying core subjects (minimum 18 points) and elective subjects (minimum 32 points) which allow pupils to develop breadth and depth in their understanding and their achievements. For example, in Class 12 (Level 3) pupils are required to complete 4 compulsory courses: in the humanities; the sciences; and the arts; and an independent research project. In addition at least 4 elective subjects are required, and pupils can also choose to study more than 4 if they wish. It was emphasized that the range of elective subjects would depend on the particular features and strengths of the curriculum at each school.
Pupils are assessed throughout the qualification and their scores are recorded centrally by the certificate programme on a database that allows the results for all schools and all pupils offering the certificate to be moderated and monitored by the SEDT. This is an important part of demonstrating that the qualification is robust and consistent.
On completion of assessment at each level, pupils receive a certificate which acts as a transcript with details of their performance in core and elective subjects. Examples of these certificates were shown and presented information that gave a useful profile of the strengths and interests of pupils. In addition to the point score at each level, pupils can be awarded ‘achieved’, ‘highly commended’ or ‘distinction’ for each certificate, depending on their performance across the range of scores they gained at that level. For example if at the end of Class 3 a pupil had received 30 points at merit, their certificate would be endorsed as ‘Highly Commended’. If they had gained 30 points assigned at ‘Excellence’ their certificate would be endorsed ‘with Distinction’. Karen highlighted that in order to gain entrance to university in competitive subjects including medicine or engineering, a distinction would be required at Level 3 at the end of Class 12.
Moderation and assessment
Schools delivering the certificate were required to plan and submit their learning objectives and assessments. Any assessment result had to be justified with evidence and this could include a range of examples including tests and exams, recordings of performances or dialogues, photographs, essays or project work. Teachers were required to actively moderate the results within their school before forwarding on the scores and evidence to the certificate office in New Zealand who would moderate and externally assess across all participating schools. It was noted that teachers sometimes found moderation challenging but that the certificate team would provide schools with feedback and support the first time they went through this process at each level including pre-assessment moderation for schools offering Level 3 for the first time. The goal was to ensure fairness, validity and consistency for all those taking part in the certificate.
Karen explained that schools were encouraged to spread their assessments across the year in order to avoid intense examination periods. There was scope for teachers to contribute naturally occurring evidence (for example arising from classroom observation) as part of the assessment process providing this was part of a framework of assessment at the school and was clearly and consistently documented.
Suggested next steps for GSS
Karen made several suggestions for work that would be needed if GSS is to adopt the certificate in time for Class 9 beginning in autumn 2020 and beyond, including:
Working with SEDT to ensure that GSS meets their requirements for use of the certificate.
Arranging for former or current pupils from other UK schools to visit GSS and talk about their experience of studying the certificate.
Reaching out to local colleges and employers in order to find out how they would perceive pupils who graduated with the certificate.
Planning a distinct upper school curriculum at GSS and associated staffing requirements. The possibility of arranging memoranda of understanding with other schools was suggested as a way to exchange GSS expertise with that of other schools in order to expand the range of teaching available in the upper school.
For the school to note that career support for upper school pupils would be an important aspect to prepare for.
Our thanks to Karen and Jan for giving this talk and for meeting with Trudy Coutinho and Mirna Pettengell to discuss other aspects of the certificate prior to their talk that day. The Upper School working group will continue to discuss these issues as work continues with developments in this area at GSS.