Development of alternative education communities

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Non-traditional schooling or alternative schooling always refers to the alternative private and public pedagogical approaches, which are available to students and parents. Such programs including actual schools, programs in schools, and single classrooms, commenced evolving in the course of the 1960s and developed from isolated innovations within the existing local communities into educational reforms entailing many students. By 2000, it was projected that more than 15% of the students enrolled in the UK public education were in attendance of public schools that they liked (Aldrich, Dean, & Gordon, 2013, p.27). Since the late 1500s, various schooling alternatives have been available for the nontraditional communities for those who could not afford them or those perceptions had a specific educational approach. This is despite public education within the UK featuring unusual uniformity (Sliwka, 2008, p.83). Apart from technical or vocational schools as well as a few select programs curtailed for talented and at-risk students, about all the school districts were characterized by traditionally assigned families to the institutions based on geographic boundaries (Carnie, 2003, p.970). The idea of alternative education evolved to become a mainstream approach in almost all communities within the US and throughout the world. Nontraditional communities within the education sector have been able to successfully define their educational journeys through various methods. This paper traces the development of education using a research-based case study of Steiner Schools in England.

Brief History

The public schooling system was initiated during the 1830s to offer a culturally unifying educational experience for all the children. Despite this, some groups, the nontraditional communities, have refused to participate in the traditional system. The history of nontraditional; education is a great story of individualists and social reformers, romantics as well as religious believers. In spite of the differences they have, they share a robust interest in the social, emotional, and intellectual development of young people. The public education system have described the way, in the course of the period between 1837 and in the wake of the 20th century, a specifically narrow schooling model became robustly enacted as public education’s “one best system” (Aldrich et al, 2013, p.38). This model relied on the premise that the purpose of schooling was to overcome personal uniqueness as well as cultural diversity to develop a loyal citizenry. Many communities are attracted to alternative educational programs and schools because the social efficiency agenda helps in the appropriate development of learners. This implies that alternative education rejects the rigid policies and principles of the public or traditional educational system (Woods, 2009, p.123). The focus on human nature’s innate development became the main philosophical foundation for numerous alternative movements within the sector. This has impacted progressive educators and ensuing libertarian thinkers’ generations. Alternative education developed into a more widespread social movement during the 1960s. Today, alternative education programs and schools are well-developed and are instrumental in nurturing as well as developing some of the best talent pools in the market.


Since the first nontraditional public schools were established during the late 1960s, the underlying characteristics, as well as definitions of schools of choice, have remained comparatively unchanged. The main characteristics are voluntary participation, a curriculum that is customized, and a safe-learning environment. Voluntary participation entails parents, teachers, and students voluntarily participating within a school they like. Small school size entails schools of choice seeking to personalize and humanize learning through the creation of small educational options (Woods et al, 2005, p.75). Regarding customized curricula, schools of choice provide nontraditional communities with opportunities to engage in highly focused curricula with enhancements that are highly valued. Safe learning environments entail nontraditional communities feeling emotionally and physically safe to learn and participate (Gidley, 2007, p.131). These critical characteristics can be found within magnets, charter schools, and magnets. The main types of alternative schools are optional or alternative schools, technical magnet or career-themed schools, open enrollment programs, charter schools, residential alternatives, home schools, internet programs and courses, and area learning centers (Kraftl, 2013, p.48). Each of the schools and programs is represented through well-established working models. They act as the benchmarks of good practice within nontraditional schooling.

Case Study

Steiner schools in England provide an alternative approach to the conventional education used by many nations. All these schools are independent and hence do not get state funding. The educational programs in the school are founded on Steiner’s educational philosophy and have a specific perception of the components of achievement, learning as well as educational development (Kraftl, 2006, p.492). The main defining feature is the attention to rituals, symbols, rhythm, and ceremony as well as the close attention given to all individuals as community members and individuals (Gidley, 2007, p.1240). The investigation of the Steiner yields an overview of the development of Steiner school education as a nontraditional institution and provides the foundation for exploration of similarities as well as differences between the maintained and Steiner school education.


Steiner school education offers a non-traditional approach to mainstream education within numerous nations. These schools form part of a global community of schools that offer curriculum embedding this approach into practice. Currently, Steiner education is depicted as the largest nontraditional school movement globally. By 2005, there were 870 schools in 60 nations including South America, Egypt, Kenya, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, India, and many European nations. The first school was established in 1919 by Steiner to provide services to children of employees working at a factory in Stuttgart. Education within these schools is founded on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. It has a specific perception of what makes up learning, educational development, and achievement (Woods et al, 2005, p.13). Steiner education begins from the premise that every human being has a body, spirit, and soul. Education should be part of the process to enable the person’s spiritual core to thrive. In this regard, the human faculty range is awakened in a balanced way in accordance to the anthroposophical human development model. An integral aspect to the school’s education is the development of balanced growth. This is geared towards emotional, social, cognitive, as well as spiritual maturation.

The pedagogy of Steiner acknowledges willingness, feeling, and thinking principles. Willing refers to bodily movement and control of limbs while ‘feeling’ refers to the affective facet of the emotional senses. On the other hand, thinking refers to the cognitive element associated with rational thought. Ideally, willing dominates the pedagogy up to 7 years (Woods et al, 2005, p.15). Children aged between 7 and 14 years learn using their aesthetic senses while those above 14 years learn through the rapid awakening of senses of reason.

Commonalities and Differences


Steiner education incorporates all the acknowledged subjects of the curriculum in the United Kingdom, particularly in England. Some of the unique aspects in Steiner education are ICT introduction after children reach 13 or 14 years, teaching of science through imagination and observation, more attention to the modern international languages, the inclusion of unique subjects, and the emphasis on practical activities including crafts and handwork. Regarding the Special Educational Needs, Steiner schools offer conventional and other forms of provision which are distinct to Steiner education (Woods et al, 2005, p.17). One of the Steiner-specific strategies of SEN is curative eurythmy. This is particularly therapeutic within its impacts and is a development of the eurythmy.

Educational Philosophy

Steiner education is founded on Steiner’s philosophy called anthroposophy. This philosophy provides guidance and information to education. Anthroposophical principles are founded on a specific comprehension of child development. They act as the basis of other ideas integral to the pedagogy of Steiner schools including feeling, thinking or willing, the teacher’s role, collegial management of the school, and emphasis on childhood valuation (Woods et al, 2005, p.21). The curriculum is not premeditated to provide guidance and encouragement to young individuals into becoming anthroposophy’s adherents. Instead, Steiner education as well as the maintained sector shares the objective of allowing students to develop into adults with the ability of independent thinking and decision-making.

Nontraditional Communities

Leadership and Management

Generally, Steiner schools lack a formal hierarchy among the teachers. Teachers with an intention of developing the school’s spiritual life hold this responsibility in many of the schools. They also have responsibility for school activities and management. There is a stark difference between Steiner schools’ non-hierarchical arrangements and the conventional maintained schools’ hierarchy. On the contrary, it is significant to acknowledge that the collegial methodology of the institution is in maintaining some crucial trends within the maintained sector. They include the interest in the development of more flexible and distributed leadership styles (Woods et al, 2005, p.24).

Parental involvement and Teachers

Parents support nontraditional schools in various ways common to them and the conventional sector through means such as PTAs and fundraising. However, the anticipated commitment of parents is higher through support from the family for the school’s philosophy as well as an ethos in various ways, which are instrumental for helping maintain schools with financial constraints. An integral element of non-traditional communities is family support. At Steiner schools, one of the integral features is the significance associated with family support for the child’s education and the significance of adult learning as well as development within the broader non-traditional community (Woods et al, 2005, p.27). The school is mandated to explain its unique philosophy to parents through ways such as informative articles or evening lectures. Parents are invited to regular festivals by the schools and where they can see the work of the children.

One of the similarities with the traditional education programs is that it holds regular information evenings as well as teacher-patent consultation events. Nontraditional schools also engage parents in the management of alternative schools. This is achieved through processes such as maintenance of the buildings. One of the significant differences with the traditional education sector is the less favorable conditions and lower pay enjoyed by Steiner teachers (Woods et al, 2005, p.29). The anticipated contribution level to fundraising or for the maintenance of constructions is usually higher than within the maintained schools. Contrarily, despite this, staffing levels are better and higher, especially with the use of specialist expertise. Many of the teachers in these schools, similar to many teachers in the traditional educational community, lack the Qualified Teacher Status which is a key requirement for teaching within the maintained sector. Many have a teaching qualification provided by a teacher-training program, which the DfES would not recognize.

Nontraditional Students

The increasing population of nontraditional students highlights that the existing enrollment trends have significantly evolved. As the population continues to increase, the nontraditional community has created better ways of engaging students and enables more to get connected to the campus. The current trend entails the separation of students into traditional and nontraditional categories (Gidley, 2007, p.120). There is a significant difference in the way these student groups examine higher education. Regarding academics, nontraditional students tend to enjoy homework and classes more, but find it challenging to balance various life roles. Traditional learners have been found to worry more about the performance of their school, but have fewer responsibilities in life, thus allowing them to enact more energy and effort into education. From a social perspective, programs offered by institutions greatly affect traditional students while the many responsibilities at home limit the involvement of nontraditional students.

Nontraditional communities, especially, students have the ability to provide for their food and clothing. However, what is required mostly is a way to engage their communities and develop emotional sustenance along with leadership skills through nontraditional education. There are five major services that have enabled many colleges and universities to provide the support that allows nontraditional communities to succeed in their journey (Gidley, 2007, p.121). First, flexible class schedules, including hybrid, evening, and online classes, have been crucial for the success of nontraditional communities. Degree programs, which have morning and afternoon sessions, have enabled nontraditional students from looking for their own successful brands. The increase in the number of professors who acknowledge that students also have adult responsibilities has also been critical in the success of this community. The second key service is the evening childcare offered to students who are in need of evening classes. The availability of evening degree programs in many universities has provided information on the significance of evening childcare. With higher learning institutions meeting this need, students are expected to continue succeeding in their educational ventures.

The third key service is counseling which has helped students and the nontraditional communities periodically. There are various campus-counseling centers, which have enabled nontraditional students to stay in school despite having many daunting responsibilities. This is because it is quite challenging to balance school, family, and school. In this regard, the existence of professionals providing support as well as resources to make the balance easier is crucial (Gidley, 2007, p.122). Nontraditional student networks have also enabled these students to succeed. Nontraditional network communities enable students to engage with each other and get insights regarding the best ways that can be used for surviving at college. Many nontraditional students, occasionally, feel uncomfortable socializing with the younger learners (Gidley, 2007, p.126). The network provided by learning centers provides students with a safe place to engage and remain relaxed. Finally, peer mentors have been important guides in enabling nontraditional students to become successful. Nontraditional students have sought for advice from mentors. Despite the success of nontraditional communities in the education sector, these communities still grapple with various challenges. Four major challenges associated with nontraditional communities in education are balancing financial communities, enrolling first, technological difficulties, and confidence. Finances remain one of the main challenges faced by nontraditional students when they attend school. It entails the need for enough funds and economic instability within the students’ personal lives. Regarding enrolling first, many of the nontraditional students often find themselves being the first generation within their families with an opportunity of attending college. Consequently, these students are not familiar with the existing internal processes. Thirdly, many students may arrive at college or school without the needed equipment and lacking the capacity to access the internet while at home. This makes them face learning challenges in instances where all communication is conducted using the student email system. Finally, lack of confidence or low self-esteem impedes the students from achieving success. There is a need to tackle these challenges in order to enable nontraditional communities to attain academic success.


Nontraditional communities within the education sector have been able to define their educational journeys over time. These communities face various challenges while trying to attain success. Despite these challenges, the nontraditional community, particularly students have been able to adopt various strategies to become flexible to the changing higher education. This paper has examined the development of education through the lens of Steiner schools in England. It has been established that nontraditional communities have been successful in defining their educational journeys and will continue witnessing success because of the increasing internet connectivity. With this in mind, there is a need to provide more support to these institutions and communities in order to have a balanced educational sector that meets the needs of its population.

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  2. Carnie, F. 2003. Alternative approaches to education: A guide for parents and teachers. Psychology Press, London.
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  4. Kraftl, P. 2006. Building an idea: the material construction of an ideal childhood. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 31(4), pp.488-504.
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  6. Sliwka, A. 2008. The contribution of alternative education. Innovating to learn, learning to innovate, 93.
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  8. Woods, G.J. ed., 2009. Alternative education for the 21st century. Palgrave Macmillan.
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