Other research into the Steiner/Waldorf model of education reveals that it is Piagetian in its structure, with a clear sense of child developmental stages. In the early years children are encouraged to learn through play and the teacher encourages a multi-sensory approach to exploring the world with frequent trips to explore the world outside the classroom.
There's an inherent problem. The multi-sensory approach, child centrism and free-form lessons are fine. In fact, good.
It comes down to whether or not you accept Piaget. To remind non-specialists, Jean Piaget was a Swiss educational psychologist who worked largely between the thirties and the seventies. His description of child development has become dominant in the UK.
His approach is, to an extent, taxonomic. He believed that child development occurred in definable stages, that all children went through the same stages and that the movement between stages was driven by mental development and maturation. He defined those stages, and in order to establish their correctness did investigative work on a series of identical twins (who would be assumed to have the same inherent mental capacity, but who would have had different experiences). That leads to the first problem. He cheated. His methods were obscure, limited in scale and in some cases required complete fabrication. My own concern about Piaget, other than his theory does not conform to real-world experience, is that is too mechanistical, requires little understanding of the actual social processes of learning.
It is the basis of the Englsih National Curriculum, the drive behind phonics and so on.
My own personal view leans towards the theories of Lev Vygotsky http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Vygotsky
(Russia, earlier than Piaget). He has been very influential, he is the main theoretical rival to Piaget and yet in extensive library at the DfE there is not one text or article authored by him...
In simple terms there are two key concepts to Vygotsky. Firstly, all learning happens in a social context. The child learns by observing, by experiencing the reactions and actions of the people around, by interaction with others.
The second concerns the nature of learning, and here you need to understand the Zone of Proximal Development.
Imagine your learning process - in any activity - to be a short journey. You are standing in your comfort zone, a place you know, and ahead of you is the unknown. Significant people to you may already be in that zone, they have knowledge, skills or understanding that you do not yet have. That area into which you can move in which you increase your KSU is your Zone. You may enter it alone, or more likely guided by a person for whom that area new to you is already in their comfort zone.
The key point is that children reach different ZPDs at different times. In one sense, as we can't offer 100% individual tuition, that seems like a call for streaming, which in some senses it is. But it is also a call for recognition that there must be careful assessment of children and accreditation of their prior learning and individual 'scaffolding' within mixed settings.
This is at odds with Piagetism, and Steinerism to an extent.
However, Steiner, by adhering to Piaget and also requiring individualised teaching is rather having his cake and eating it. It is something of a contradiction. In fact I suspect that Steiner teachers are actually instinctive Vygotskians (most decent teachers are).
So, I'm worried at the increase in Steiner schools, especially if the mystical fantasy world intrudes. But any school which breaks away from the Piagetian straitjacket of the National Curriculum, the Phonics Programme and the Numeracy Hour is OK by me.
Roehampton University - a well regarded teacher training institute - has a Steiner base (I did my Masters there under a supervisor, Peter Jackson, who researched Steiner in some depth). It really shows as a concern for child-centred and 'liberal' education.
Essentially, I'm all up for this:
Waldorf elementary education allows for individual variations in the pace of learning, based upon the expectation that a child will grasp a concept or achieve a skill when he or she is ready. Cooperation takes priority over competition. This approach also extends to physical education; competitive team sports are introduced in upper grades. (Wiki)
But not so happy about this:
Waldorf teachers use the concept of the four temperaments to help interpret, understand and relate to the behaviour and personalities of children under their tutelage. The temperaments, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic, and sanguine, are thought to express four basic personality types, each possessing its own fundamental way of regarding and interacting with the world.
Though I suppose that could be a 19th century mystical expression of an analogy to Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, plus a bit about Emotional Intelligence/Literacy.
Enough, though, it's just coming up to dawn, and qualifying is coming up...
But to finally answer your question, I think Gove would allow Wiccan copper-burners to run schools if they could come up with the cash. He is too ignorant of educational matters to judge. He does, however, have an instinct towards unnecessary control, rigid methodology and a restricted concept of the nature of education as the mere accumulation of facts (he is as old fashioned and blinkered as it is possible to get) so if he understood what he was seeing a visit to a Steiner school would expand his mind explosively. I hope.