We announced at the hugely successful MSA annual conference on the 29th of September that we would be developing a scheme to accredit Montessori schools and pre-schools as part of our aim of joining the MSA with the Independent Schools Council. To do this we need to demonstrate that we are sure that our member schools not only meet the government regulatory requirements - your OFSTED reports (and other inspection reports if you are outside England) will show that but also follow appropriate Montessori practices in their organisation and work. It is our aim that in the near future we will join the Independent School's Council's inspection system and so you will no longer be inspected by OFSTED inspectors, but by Montessorians trained as inspectors with the ISI (Independent Schools' Inspectorate) and working to the same standards and requirements as OFSTED.
Since September things have moved very quickly. Our working group, the Montessori Evaluation and Accreditation Board (MEAB) has met several times and been bombarded by papers from me looking at different aspects of the scheme. Our plan is to have an accreditation scheme which is as straightforward as possible, involving you in some paperwork, but nothing as complex as is required for OFSTED, for example. We have looked at other accreditation schemes nationally and internationally and feel that the crucial point is that it must be a process shared with you, rather than done to you. The Montessori Charity Trustees have agreed to support the scheme financially, so that at least at first, the cost to you to become accredited will be heavily subsidised nor will there be any annual registration fee. Our scheme will be evaluated and assessed by outside agencies recognised by central government and our first batch of assessors will also be trained by outside agencies. This will make Montessori Schools truly accepted by the government.
The initial structure of the accreditation scheme will be for schools to receive notification of a visit and to be invited to a briefing/ training session which will be free for MSA member schools. If schools do not wish to join the scheme, that is fine, but the OFSTED inspection system will continue for them and ultimately when the MSA\ joins the main independent sector they will have to stand alone. Schools will then complete a self evaluation form and return it, electronically if at all possible, to us. We will also look at the last OFSTED report. Shortly after that, you will be notified that a qualified Montessori assessor will visit you for a day (or two half days if you do not operate a two session day). During their visit they will use a form very similar to that which you previously completed, so that the two follow the same approach. The assessor will give you oral feedback, and will write a report. The report will then go to what will probably be called the Montessori Accreditation Board (replacing the current working group). That body will look at the assessor's recommendations and make the final decision as to whether a school can be accredited, or whether some help is needed for a short period to develop practices or equipment, or whether in a small minority of cases accreditation should be refused (this is most likely to be where the school has problems meeting regulations or where practices do not follow the Montessori approach).
Accreditation will last for three years and, after the first accreditation visit, will be combined with your regular inspection, so that you do not receive additional visits.
We will shortly be seeking to appoint a chair for the Accreditation Board and advertising for a Senior Accreditation Officer as well as Assessors the assessor advert is on this page as you can see. We will also need Readers for the assessors' reports and Trainers to work with the assessors and with schools.
Our timetable is fairly tight as we intend to get the scheme up and running alongside the Early Years Foundation Stage arrangements next September. Linked to the scheme is a booklet which Barbara Isaacs is writing with Ruth Pimentel, National Director of the EYFS, on Montessori practice and the EYFS. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has agreed to publish this and the MSA logo will feature on the booklet, alongside those of the National Strategy and the DCSF. This booklet will be very useful in informing the accreditation process. We hope to have a conference to launch the booklet next year as well as making sure that your local authority receives copies. This is a very significant initiative which places MSA firmly alongside the National Strategy and the Department and is a testament to how far our association has come in being seen as the main professional body for Montessori.
Our initial recruitment of assessors will be in January and we will train them by the end of March. Pilot schools will be identified by Easter and pilot accreditation visits will be made in May and June. For these we will probably have two assessors working together so that we can ensure that they are sharing ideas. The pilot scheme will be reported on in July, and the main accreditation programme will begin in September by which time we will need more assessors to be appointed. From September we may also begin working with the Independent Schools Inspectorate to support their early years work for which there may be vacancies for Montessori experienced inspectors. Of course these people will be paid and inspect not just Montessori setting but other independent schools a major bonus in career development terms.
I have written to everyone who responded with comments following the conference and our previous article in MI. If you have any other thoughts, please let me know. Several people have volunteered their schools for the pilot scheme we won't be able to take up all the offers, but we need to get a balance of schools with different age ranges, urban/ rural, different types of accommodation and so on.
This is obviously a very exciting scheme and one which will enable Montessorians to become self-regulating within the broad context of the DCSF and OFSTED. As such it represents a major move forward for MSA, providing us with much closer links with other major providers of education in the UK. Once accredited then schools can choose to have their awards (a wall plaque and framed certificate) presented at their school with their parents and local media present or at regional ceremonies.
Dr Martin Bradley
MSA National Chairman