By Sarah Harris - Education Correspondent
Pupils allowed to learn at their own pace perform better both academically and socially, a study says. Psychologists found children from Montessori schools outperformed those across a range of abilities. The Montessori method - popular in the 1960s and 70s - focuses on personal development rather than exams.
Research found it produced more mature, creative and socially adept children. Five-year-old Montessori pupils were better prepared for reading and maths while 12-year-olds wrote ‘significantly more creative’ essays using more sophisticated sentence structures. Some of the biggest differences were seen in social skills and behaviour.
Montessori children displayed a greater sense of ‘justice and fairness’, interacted in an ‘emotionally positive’ way, and were less likely to engage in ‘rough play’. The Montessori system was invented in the early 1900s by Dr Maria Montessori to educate poor children in Italy. Today there are more than 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. and around 700 in the UK where they are privately funded.
The method discourages traditional competitive measurements of achieve-ment, such as grades and tests, focus-ing instead focuses on the individual progress and development of each child. Children of different ages share the same classes and are encouraged to collaborate and help each other. The U.S. researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Science, compared children aged three to 12 at a Montessori school in Milwaukee with those at other schools in the same area.
Dr Angeline Lillard, from the University of Virginia, who co-led the study, said: ‘We found significant advantages for the Montessori students in these tests for both age groups. Particularly remarkable are the positive social effects of Montessori education.’ Not only were five-year-old pupils better prepared for the ‘three Rs’ at elementary level, they also had higher scores in tests of ‘executive function’. This is the ability to adapt to changing and complex problems, and is seen as an indicator of future life success.
The Montessori method has its critics, however. Some parents believe the classroom environment is ‘too free’ and complain that children are not normally assigned homework. In Britain, the Government is funding a project with the Montessori Schools Association to develop the teaching practice in a state primary school for the first time. The aim is to raise standards at the 350-pupil Gorton Mount Primary School in inner-city Manchester, where 36 different languages are spoken. It has had seven heads in six years and was placed in ‘special measures’ by Ofsted.
For more information about the Montessori method please go to www.montessori-uk.org