Thriving Walthamstow nursery lets kids decide what to learnThe independent school grew from a nursery a local mum set up in her living room
“I still can’t believe that I, as a parent, set this up all those years ago,” Lorna said, referring to the thriving independent school that grew out of the living room of her own home.
Lorna Mahoney founded the Walthamstow Montessori School in Penrhyn Avenue in 2001, after 100 local parents tried to enroll their children in the tiny nursery she set up for her own daughter.
Drawing on her background in the Montessori method of education, Lorna created a school and nursery where children aged two to six decide themselves what to learn, rather than being guided by teachers.
While niche, the ethos is sufficiently popular in Walthamstow that children join the waiting list from the womb and parents are willing to pay between £1,400 and £2,400 a term to enroll them full-time.
Lorna told the Echo the goal of Montessori education is to help children “become citizens of the world” and “learn for life”. In the classrooms, this means preparing a range of activities they can freely pick and choose between, placing all supplies within their reach.
The emphasis on choice, she explained, is a way of “empowering the children and making them feel confident as little people”. With only gentle prompting from staff, even students as young as two prepare their own lunch and are encouraged to clean up after themselves.
Credit: Walthamstow Montessori School
This unusual style of education, offered in an estimated 700 schools and nurseries around the UK, seems popular among former students, some of whom now teach at or send their own children to the school.
However, it appears Ofsted is less convinced. The education inspector handed the school its lowest-possible “inadequate” rating in 2020, along with a damning report that it was “failing” some of its students.
The problems began after an unsuccessful attempt to expand to teaching children up to age 10 in a new school on Brookscroft Road. While Ofsted inspector Rick Barnes was happy with the original school for children under six, he wrote that its “effective practice… is not sustained in the upper school”, adding that “staff do not have the knowledge to teach all subjects well”.
Lorna accepts that Ofsted was right to be concerned about the older children, explaining that a declining number of students had resulted in mixed classes of children aged 5 to 10.
She knew “it was not working”, she said, and had already planned to “gradually reduce the number of older children” before coming to a complete stop when Ofsted raised their concerns. Now that the school is back to only teaching children up to six, however, she is “confident about the future ahead”.
Notably, even in the midst of this troubled period, parents’ enthusiasm for the school did not wane, with even Ofsted remarking that they were “very supportive” of the school.
Lorna told the Echo: “I think a thing that draws people to the school is that it has a real community feeling to it. You need something to give you that, especially in an area that is constantly changing.”
Even after all these years, she said, she is touched by parents’ faith in her, adding: “It’s humbling that people have a choice of where to send their child and choose to send them here.”