Montessori stands test of time in the dales

Wharfedale Montessori School in North Yorkshire has chalked up 25 years of alternative education

At a special ball this autumn, former pupils returned to mark Wharfedale’s 25th birthday and celebrate successes which they attribute to their happy early years at the school. They attest that the school has “given them the edge”, a sentiment which echoes that of entrepreneurial icons across the world who also had a Montessori education, including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezoz and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales.

Among the former pupils who joined in the birthday ball celebrations were Flora Mewies who is practising law, Yvette Levine who dances with the National Youth Ballet and has a full scholarship to the Classical Ballet Academy at Tring, Max Heaton who plays with the National Youth Orchestra and Elliot Jackson developing software for an Apple subsidiary. 
When Jane and Graham Lord first approached the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to found the school in 1990 it was the first of its kind in Yorkshire. It remains the only one true to original Montessori philosophy, with pupils not given any tests until their final year of primary school in preparation for moving on to secondary education. â€¨â€¨

Jane explains: “Children are naturally competitive but enforced testing tends to flatten their enthusiasm and it is certainly not good for more sensitive children.”

The more holistic approach eschewed by the school means the teachers educate each child individually, working with their strengths, unlike most schools, which are geared to regimental benchmarking. Feedback from the schools that go on to teach these pupils observes that they are markedly articulate, well organised, confident and self-motivated. From opening with just nine pre-school pupils in 1990, Wharfedale Montessori School has grown over the years, gaining new Montessori teachers from as far away as New Zealand and in 2006 opening a new nursery at Barden.

As the school celebrates its 25-year milestone, inevitably thoughts turn to the future. Jane and Graham’s daughter, Imogen Hardy is also a Montessori teacher. Headmistress of Wharfedale Montessori School from 2005-2010 and having worked in the Cayman Islands and Munich, she is now heading St Wilfred’s School nursery in Exeter. Whether she will eventually return to take up the reins of her parents’ school again remains in question, but there is no shortage of interested parties, former pupils and teachers among them who want to see the legacy of the Lords’ inspirational school carried forward for future generations.

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