A new educational institute focused on the Montessori teaching method has been created at Leeds Beckett University.
Officially called the International Montessori Institute, it is based at the university’s Carnegie School of Education and is scheduled to begin offering a dedicated two-year undergraduate degree on Montessori education from 2021, as a distance learning course.
It will also act as a hub for research into the Montessori approach in early years education and in time appoint a professor of Montessori education who will oversee Masters and PhD students engaging in Montessori-specific research.
Changing the perception
Leonor Stjepic, CEO of the Montessori Group, told Tes that creating the Institute and a dedicated Montessori-focused degree was a key step to help “change the perception of Montessori” as an educational method.
“Montessori was started by a doctor and scientist [Maria Montessori], [but] it seems that the perception of Montessori has drifted from something with a really strong grounding in research,” she said.
As such a key purpose of being involved in setting up the Institute with LBU was its reputation in education research.
“I think it is important for the professionalisation of early years [education], or rather the way early years should be seen as a profession, to have that academic research base,” Stjepic adds.
Meeting the need
Furthermore, she says that many schools and countries are actually using Montessori-type teaching with their pupils without necessarily realising it – and that as this trend continues there will be more demand for teachers who can work in this way.
“They may not call it Montessori [education], but they understand the principles of child-led education, that it’s the way forward, they get it…and we will be there to provide the need.”
With this in mind, the university will deliver a two-year accelerated degree that will give those attending a full-grounding in the Montessori educational method as James Archer, centre director of the International Montessori Institute, explained.
“Traditional teacher training has taken either a three-year route or one-year PGCE and if you were doing a three-year BA Hons in educational studies or childhood studies you might have a philosophy of education that focused on Montessori philosophy of education,” he said.
“But what we are proposing with our accelerated degree is a full BA Hons.”
Although still to be confirmed, the qualification is intended to be titled: BA Hons Primary Education Accelerated Degree Montessori.
Of course, the key question is whether or not there is the demand for such a specific educational qualification for an education system that perceived to be – rightly or wrongly – one of the more progressive and esoteric available.
Ms Stjepic obviously thinks there is: “We are talking to several governments, ministers of education, about this because there is a huge amount of interest in Montessori. A number of countries understand that this is what they need if they are going to compete in the new world.”
By this, she refers to the idea of Montessori being an “incredibly powerful method” for teaching skills such as “critical thinking, creativity, confidence, resilience, a love of learning” – something she believes will be needed more than ever in the pandemic-affected world.
Mr Archer is also confident the course will have a global appeal: “There is a huge international community that is very much interested in Montessori.”
This is in part why the degree will be offered as a distance learning course in order to be able to attract interested applicants from all over the world.
Research and reflection
Complementing this is the intent to deliver more research that will ground the perceived benefits of a Montessori in empirical data – in part to give it more clout with policy markers.
“We know anecdotally there are a lot of benefits [with Montessori education] but I think part of the problem we have found, particularly when talking to policymakers, is that we what we don’t have is that research that says 'we know this to be true and here is the proof' that shows why we are confident in that sort of statement.”
Of course, academic research may not necessarily deliver the outcomes the organisation would expect – or hope – but Ms Stjepic adds this is very much part of the purpose of getting involved with Leeds Beckett University.
“This will be independent research – it will be proper, rigorous, peer-reviewed so from our perspective if it doesn’t show what we think it will show that’s fine – it’s all about learning and adapting.”
She adds that this gets very much to the heart of what Maria Montessori herself believed.
“She would be the first to say this, too, because as a doctor and a teacher she developed her thinking through observation, through research and if something doesn’t work, you change it.”
She adds: “It’s rather nice we are doing this [this year] as 2020 marks 150 years since Maria Montersorri’s birth so it’s a nice way of celebrating that.”
100 years on
Read more: On New Years Day 1920 Tes – then The Times Educational Supplement – reported on its front page about the visit of Dr Maria Montessori to England, noting in its first line that, "England has not been so inhospitable to great scholars and thinkers from abroad as is supposed."
You can read a digital version of that issue from over a hundred years ago here.
Dan Worth is a senior editor at Tes