Montessori schools: Where learning is child's play

The Montessori ethos transformed one tough primary – and many more are following suit

Montessori has come full circle. The education philosophy, developed by Maria Montessori 101 years ago to teach poor children in Rome, has been common in the past in well-heeled parts of London. Now, it's back in the hands of the people.

The method, which emphasises learning through play, teaching through observing and the use of wooden equipment and neutral colours, has been adopted for three- to seven year-olds at three state primary schools. Another, Spitalgate Primary in Grantham, has just secured £10,000 of funding from the St Nicholas Montessori charity, and at least one more school is being lined up. The plan is for 12 new Montessori state schools to be running within three to four years.

Indeed, Montessori has entered the Government's circle of trusted friends. The Department for Children, Schools and Families is paying for a booklet describing how Montessori fits in with the early-years foundation stage: apparently, this was the Government's idea. And in December, 15 teachers from the maintained sector graduated with the Montessori diploma – the first cohort to qualify.

So how did this come to pass? "All these things we've been doing for years are starting to be used in state schools. And now they're saying, 'Blimey, this is Montessori!'" says Philip Bujak, chief executive of the Montessori St Nicholas charity and the Montessori Schools Association.

The "blimey" factor is what hit Gorton Mount, the inner-city school in Manchester that first took Montessori into the state sector in 2005. After a brush with special measures, head teacher Carol Powell knew that she needed something radical. She introduced her own brand of "emotional literacy and development", which soon developed into Montessori for the youngest members of the school.

Since then, the school has charted constant progress. From special measures in 2004, the school now sits above the Manchester average for the foundation stage, although it remains below the national average. "That's joyous, because we've never been there before," says Powell. The most recent Ofsted inspection, in November, put the school at grade 2 (good) in all areas.

Powell attributes this to the Montessori ethos. "The children are much more confident, more able to concentrate because they're motivated, and playground behaviour has improved immensely. They're just more comfortable in themselves."

Other state schools have written to Bujak, expressing an interest in the philosophy. The charity then sends a specialist teacher to get an indication of the school's needs, after which the school is able to bid for funding for Montessori equipment and teacher-training.

But has Montessori, which once seemed so alien to conventional methods of education in Britain, had to meet the Government half-way in order to gain acceptance? "I think the Government is accepting our principles," says Bujak. "These schools have adjusted to us. We don't compromise on the core principles."

And what about testing? Montessori is a philosophy that tries to prevent all forms of competition and failure, while the Department for Children, Schools and Families is testing our children more than ever. Surely this is an issue over which Montessori and the Government should be at loggerheads?

Apparently not. "We observe all the time, but it's not formal testing," says Bujak. "It's individual – we don't line them up against each other." Bujak says that the children take exams and are sent home with reports. The apparent contradictions have been smoothed over by the relaxation of Key Stage 1 regulations. The emphasis is now on putting young children in for testing when they're ready.

The Gorton Mount experiment proved that Montessori could survive in a tough inner-city school. But not all of these state primaries are in special measures. Stebbing Primary School, for instance, is in an affluent village in rural Essex.

Kate Atherton, 35, has a daughter at Stebbing. She had secured a place at a local independent school but, with another daughter in the private Montessori nursery on the Stebbing site, Atherton decided to save the money and send her daughter to the maintained Stebbing Primary, which has adopted Montessori methods.

"I like the independence and the love of learning that my daughters are displaying," she says. "They're both very able to play and entertain themselves."

She admits that she feared her elder daughter would be held back at the state school. "But the free-play way of learning meant she could take herself off and keep learning on her own. The children are self-regulating, because all the equipment is out there in the classroom for them. She's certainly on a par with the girls who've been educated at the private school."

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Qualified Nursery Nurse for Bury Nu...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Full time key stage 2 teacher job at ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor