Teachers as ‘guides’: inside the UK’s first Montessori secondary school.

The TES reports that the Montessori Place has no year groups, no assessments, and students work in partnership with mentors to decide what to study.

One student is completing a project on the rise of the emoji in modern culture. Another is making notes on the incubation of duck eggs, in anticipation of a hatching the next day. Others are outside in the garden, tending to basil, which will later be sold in a local shop.

This is the first Montessori school for adolescents in the UK. There are no year groups, no subject departments, no timetables and no assessments. There are also no teachers in the traditional sense: adults are “guides”, mentors who meet with students weekly or fortnightly to review their work and set a programme of learning. Students study in mixed age groups, learning from each other and working on topics that interest them.

The school opened its doors to adolescents in September and although there are currently only seven students, it plans to expand to 60 in the coming years. Paul Pillai, the softly spoken and intellectual head guide, describes the partnerships between students and guides as “a different relationship” to the usual teacher-student dynamic: “I’m more of a coach, or a line manager. I meet with the students individually, we discuss goals and how we’ll achieve them, and then we meet again and see how they’ve got on.”

But the Montessori approach is not without its critics. They say that it’s too individualistic in its approach at the expense of group work and social interaction; that it focuses too much on the practical; and that it’s elitist, with most schools only being available to those who can afford the private fees.

And what about after they’ve taken their A-levels, when these students are applying for jobs, or for university courses? Will they be disadvantaged? Christine Doddington, fellow emerita of educational philosophy at the University of Cambridge, doesn’t think so. “These students may not have as many GCSE results, but they’ll have advantages in other ways,” she says.

“In recent years, universities have been talking about how many students they get who don’t have the ability to think for themselves. So I think students who have had different experiences could be very attractive in that context.”

Read more Teachers as ‘guides’: inside the UK’s first Montessori secondary school.

What do you think? Will universities and employers come to accept that different experiences and ways of learning might become increasingly popular? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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