Careers - Finding their feet

13th November 2009 at 00:00
As more primaries adopt the Montessori approach, practitioners will be able to work in the maintained sector as well as in its own schools. Hannah Frankel reports on a movement gaining ground

The Montessori movement is gathering momentum. It currently has 22,000 schools worldwide, including about 750 in the UK - and they are growing in number all the time.

Practitioners come from all walks of life, says Barbara Isaacs, academic director of Montessori Centre International, which provides teacher training.

Some of those who want to become practitioners will be parents who have seen the method work for their own children, some will be mainstream teachers looking for a change and others will be new to education.

"It is very close to how the early-years foundation stage works (state sector learning programme for children from birth to age five), so there is some crossover there, but it is a much more child-centred approach."

At the heart of the movement is a desire to "follow each unique child", says Ms Isaacs. Two-and-a-half to six-year-olds are given the freedom to choose the activities that interest them the most, but within firm boundaries. Instead of leading from the front, teachers observe, take notes and help them to engage in areas where they are less competent.

At Gower Montessori Nursery School in Islington, north London, that means baking, creating or taking part in open-ended activities that appeal to them - much as you would see in a family setting.

"The children happily engage without being told to," says Emma Gowers, principal. They are expected, among other things, to pour their own drinks, serve their own food, clear up spills and tie their laces.

"Practical life skills are empowering," says Ms Gowers. "They don't need parents to swoop down and blow their noses for them every time."

Many of those who want to work in a Montessori setting - as teacher or teaching assistant - take the one-year Montessori diploma, says Ms Isaacs, which is equivalent to a level 4 qualification. Others will choose part-time or distance learning.

Ashli Gillis recently completed the diploma, which included 420 hours of teaching practice. "The course is intense and stressful but by the end I was a convert," she says. "Montessori always reinforces the positive, which is attractive to me. Instead of saying 'don't run', you say 'walk'."

Although her experience was positive, she says that some of her friends found their placement schools chaotic. There are many unaccredited "Montessori" schools - choosing one that is accredited by the Montessori Evaluation and Accreditation Board ensures that required standards have been met.

Many Montessori schools are small private enterprises, so starting salaries tend to be low - #163;14,000 -#163;18,000. But four state primaries have already adopted Montessori methods at foundation stage. With more in the pipeline, teachers could teach Montessori within the maintained sector.

Others set up their own nursery, just at Ms Gowers did. She is currently principal of two sites - a nursery and primary school - both in north London.

She insists that even lunchtime supervisors have a grounding in Montessori methods. "It can be quite challenging to step back and allow pupils to do things for themselves, so every role in the school requires some training," says Ms Gowers.

"It is not a hands-on-hips, big voice kind of approach. There is a quiet, child-centred way of communicating that we find very effective."


- Full-time early-childhood courses take 36 weeks, plus 420 hours of teaching practice.

- Due to its growing status in the maintained sector, Montessori qualifications can be studied as part of a CPD programme to supplement a PGCE.

- While starting salaries are low, owning your own Montessori nursery can be highly profitable.

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