Saturday, 14 December 2013


Two straws in twenty-first century winds

People in the English-speaking world, indeed in the West in general, are not aware of many 'alternative' educational philosophies  alternative, that is to the usually implicit educational philosophies of their governments. If pushed, the most that people come up with are usually 'Steiner' and 'Montessori'. Both of these are represented by rather bigger, better-founded systems than is 'Pető'.

So in a period of rapid and stressful social change it can be instructive to look over the garden fence and see how near-neighbours are getting on.

Two very different stories about Montessori were published yesterday, one from the United States the other from the United Kingdom. They might ring a bell  for people in Conductive Education almost everywhere (some might experience this as an alarm bell). The first example comes from the United States and relates to technological change; the second is from England and relates to to creeping bureaucracy.

US: wood and ipads

Bobby George runs Montessorium, an app company; he also founded Baan Dek, a Montessori school in South Dakota – which makes this article in Quartz almost inevitable:

Quartz is a 'digitally native' news outlet, for business people in the new global economy.

England: Ofsted and a free alternative

Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, the first state-funded primary school to adopt a whole-school Montessori approach, is to have its funding withdrawn by the Department for Education at the end of the coming spring term – as Ofsted (the English schools-inspection service) deems  the school 'inadequate'.

There is already a mountain of information and comment on this growing on line (including Wikipedia, updated yesterday). One can also see the actual inspection report and official closure letter:

Other than those directly involved in such matters, who knows the ins and outs, the rights and the wrongs of either case? Analogies and implications, however, ought to spark thoughts on this side of the fence, in the world of CE.


Gaunt, C. (2013) Failing Montessori free school to close, Nursery World, 13 December

George, B. (2013) How iOS7 is forcing a redesign of Montessori education, Quartz, 13 December

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Blogger NormanP said...

I'm still no more the wiser, having read the Nursery World report as well as other UK press reports, as to whether the school was failing as a Montessori school or whether, successful as a Montessori school, Ofsted simply did not like it. I am reminded of the row around Ofsted failing Summerhill in 1999 Is there any similarity between the two cases?

Monday, 16 December 2013 at 01:44:00 GMT  
Anonymous Andrew said...

I doubt that Ofsted has either the brief or the skills to inspect and rate a school according to whether it is good, bad or indifferent according to the criteria of the Montessorian movement, or indeed of any other 'alternative' movement. It can only do what it does, steering by the flickering, unconstant lights of the values and criteria of the governing educational ideology.

I too am puzzled by what is going on here, and where it might head. Clearly in future those with 'alternative educational philosophies' are gong to want the goalposts very clearly marked.

There was a time in which Conductive Education could do nothing right in the eyes of Ofsted. Something has now changed and there has been a short rash of 'outstanding' CE Ofsted reports. Achieving this has followed colossal hard work and ingenuity on the part of the schools involved, not just to comply with official requirements but also in order to maintain their underlying educational philosophy in the light of these formal external demands.

Let us hope that the recent high-esteem Ofsted ratings for CE-schools have resulted directly from all this work and the pedagogic changes in practice that it has brought about – rather than just from some hidden political shift that could so easily swing back again.

Summerhill's philosophy was so divergent from the official one that the gap was possibly wholly unbridgeable in practice without massive concessions of principle and values on both sides. Maybe this year Ofsted's philosophical distance from the Crawley school's take on Montessori proved equally unbridgeable at the level of practice. If so, then this should been clarified before all that money and hope and hard work had been squandered on an undoable task.

Objectively perhaps András Pető's pedagogy represents an inherently stronger position in this respect. But CE in England would do well to watch out for those goal posts, where they might go next, and what might have to be conceded to stay within them.

Monday, 16 December 2013 at 08:41:00 GMT  

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