Studies have yet to show much benefit from technology in schools, leading some to wonder whether the offline life is better for children.
It’s late morning and the children in Maria Woolley’s class at the Iona school in Nottingham are busy kneading dough. The dough is made from flour they saw ground at the local windmill using grains harvested from a nearby farm they had visited. During the morning lesson the children have sung songs, recited poetry and done rhythmic clapping and stomping.
There is no uniform here, and no headteacher – the school is run by staff and friends – and, unlike the vast majority of primary schools these days, here the students don’t work on tablets or computers. At the front of the class is an old-fashioned blackboard.
The methods at the school, which are based on the controversial teachings of Austrian 19th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner, may be different from those employed in mainstream state schools, but the Iona was recently declared outstanding by the School Inspection Service – the independent equivalent of Ofsted. The report noted that “pupils do not use computers or the internet when in school but staff have ensured that they have learned about internet safety”. It went on: “Teaching is inspirational and highly effective … teachers are very well trained and highly skilled.”
Any school would be grateful to be described in such glowing terms but the staff here are particularly proud that they achieved their outstanding status without technology. In addition to the ban on computers in school, parents are discouraged from letting their children watch television, play computer games or use smartphones at home.
The Iona school was set up in 1985 by Richard Moore, who had worked for 10 years as a state primary teacher. “Mainstream education was becoming prescriptive even then,” he says, “so what appealed to me about Steiner was that it stressed that the work of children was play.” Today the school – one of 33 schools that follow the Steiner curriculum – has 87 children aged between three and 12 and costs £5,402 a year.