New research highlights commitment of nursery leaders to providing Montessori education in low-income areas
The research found that Montessori nursery leaders in under-served areas were deeply connected to their local communities, challenged conventional notions of ‘school readiness’, and were greatly inspired by the values of Dr Maria Montessori’s early work, advocating for children from low-income backgrounds.
The research was led by Dr Nathan Archer and Jeremy Clarke, at the International Montessori Institute in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University, and supported by Montessori Global Education.
Dr Maria Montessori was an Italian doctor, educator and activist who opened her first school in a low-income area of Rome in 1907. She believed strongly in child-led, rather than curriculum-led, education practices and created an environment where children were empowered to be independent thinkers - and teachers were responsive to children’s individual needs. She was also an advocate for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
In England, Montessori schools and nurseries are traditionally found in affluent areas, but this is not always the case. A number of early childhood education centres, which adopt a Montessori approach to early learning, are located in more disadvantaged areas. Through this research, we wanted to better understand the work of leaders in these areas - their motivations, challenges and successes.
The researchers carried out in-depth interviews with nine Montessori leaders from five nurseries in low-income communities across England. All had a significant number of Montessori qualified staff members and were active members of the UK Montessori community.
Four main themes were found:
- Leadership was based on strong values – The leaders felt empowered and inspired by Dr Maria Montessori’s early work. They were driven by quality of experiences for children and staff rather than income or profit.
- Leaders are committed to equity and social justice – All settings were working hard to keep fees affordable against the backdrop of low funding, and catered for families across the income spectrum. Work with children with SEND was a core element of the settings.
- The nurseries are rooted in local communities – All leaders were well-known community champions and local leaders in their areas. They were delivering services over and above education including hosting a food bank, offering parenting advice and trained counselling support.
- School readiness was being re-defined – The leaders rejected over-emphasis on literacy and numeracy and spoke of ‘life readiness’, ‘learning for life’ and a more holistic development of the child in terms of community life, confidence and concentration.
Based on the findings, the research report highlights areas for future research, including; how to better understand the support needs of Montessori leaders; further investigating the nature and impact of social mixing of children from different backgrounds; case studies to understand the work of leaders in local communities; and exploring, debating and creating alternatives to the notion of ‘school readiness’ from a Montessori perspective.
This year, the International Montessori Institute launched an online Master’s degree programme in Montessori Education, in addition to its online, two-year accelerated BA honours degree. Leeds Beckett University is one of only two universities in the country to offer this Master’s course.
The International Montessori Institute at Leeds Beckett University was established in 2020 as a partnership between the Carnegie School of Education and Montessori Global Education. The Institute’s research seeks to inform education policy change nationally and internationally to advance outcomes for children.