MSA Chairman’s Update Autumn 2013

This summer was a busy time for Montessori, not least as the government has published a series of consultations and policy proposals across a wide range of departments. I have blogged in some detail about this (see A summer of consultations on our website). The main thrust of the governments approach is to encourage more mothers back to work sooner, and then to consider childcare needs. Our consistent view is that this does not take the childs needs as the starting point, nor does it properly address the funding and other financial issues. Yet to have policies going across several departments including education, health, communities and local government (making it easier to get planning permission to convert factories, pubs and other premises for childcare), and the Treasury (changing various tax allowances) is a significant step for the government, albeit one which has not been properly acknowledged or explored by commentators.

One proposal which could have significant effects on us is that a baseline assessment for readiness to cope with the National Curriculum might be administered in the Reception year. The consultation actually asked where in Key Stage 1 it should bewe suggested Year 2. But when Elizabeth Truss spoke on the BBCs Newsnight programme, she referred to it as the Reception age check. Our concern is that it will be used as a means of justifying more formal teaching before the test to ensure that children perform well. When I met officials at the Department for Education in August to discuss the proposals, their idea that more than one organisation could devise any tests seemed at odds with complaints about GCSE students being entered for more than one maths exam to see which one they did best inthe idea of children facing more than one baseline test had not occurred to them.

The statements by Baroness Morgan of Ofsted about two year olds going into school-based childcare if they have parents with poor child rearing skills, also illustrates a line of thinking which assumes that the state can simply take over from the familya strange approach from a centre-right government like the coalition. It is at odds with government policy to support parents through training such as that which Barbara Isaacs has been organising for Montessori St Nicholas. How things have changed since state intervention in child care was regarded as a feature of totalitarian states.

Besides the earlier consultations, Department of Health, along with DfE are consulting about provision for people aged 0 to 25 with special educational needs. This is a complex set of proposals which will have far reaching implications for anyone working with young children. We will be posting our response to the consultation on the website by the end of November. You are welcome to add your comments and send it in to the Department.   The more replies they get from Montessori the more our voice will be heard.

Im sure that everyone will have heard of the difficulties faced by the Discovery New School when it became the first free school to be put into special measures by Ofsted. We are working with the new management to help resolve their problems as well as liaising with Ofsted and the DfE.

We have also begun to analyse the information gained from MEAB reports as a means of updating our views on the impact of policies and how our members are able to meet the various demands placed on them. It has become clear that many members have far more children for morning sessions than afternoon oneswe knew that circumstantially, but are able to show that this has increased since the start of the year. Besides the impact on income from paid sessions as opposed to funded hours, the knock-on effects are significant. Obviously fewer staff are needed for fewer children, so staff become more likely to be part-time. In turn the management of a key person system becomes difficult with staff who are part-time and not necessarily present at each session any one child may attend. We are the only organisation able to provide such an up to date analysis of the impact of policies, based on sound data rather than hearsay.

We have then set this against information from recent Ofsted reports, especially where settings have been downgraded since May 2013. Its good to see that none of the  accredited schools have been significantly downgraded. Our analysis of the reports judgements shows that Ofsted is most likely to be severely critical where planning is not shared by the staff, so weakening the key person system, where staff do not evaluate their work and the childrens learning properly (linked to the planning point), and where staff deployment and supervision is pooroften related to over-controlling and dominant leadership. This does represent a tightening of Ofsteds views, which now appear to see the key person approach as being essential. The wish of Ofsted to see staff empowered to work as key people is appropriate, but needs to be tempered by an awareness of the issues around funding levels and more staff working part-time. We shall continue to monitor this and support our members when they need help.

MEAB work continues to develop and we have recruited more assessors to support this. There are now well over 150 accredited settings and schools. It is particularly good to see that schools accredited three years ago are returning for re-accreditation, and that when we visit them, their practice has continued to develop. This is, of course, a major tribute to the professionalism and commitment of the staffwell done.

Thoughts are also turning to the 2014 conference on the theme of Re-engage with Montessori (inspired by the 1946 lectures). We have a great range of speakers and the day promises to be another chance to recharge our Montessori batteries as well as to meet old friends and make new ones. In 2013 we had to stop taking bookings when we reached 850 places and this year will again have to put that cap on numbersso book early. Full conference details are elsewhere in this magazine and on the website. Also, please make your nominations for Montessorian of the Year and our new Montessori Practitioner of the Year. The new award is aimed at acknowledging good practitioners whatever the stage of their career, people who make a difference for their colleagues and for the children.

Dr Martin Bradley

National Chairman

Montessori Schools Association