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"(2B) In the case of maintained nursery schools or of funded nursery schools which are designated as Montessori Schools, and where the principal or at least two senior teachers are holders of recognised qualifications from Montessori awarding bodies, the authority, in carrying out its functions under this section, shall do nothing that will require or advise schools or teachers to depart from principles and teaching methods that are appropriate to Montessori education and shall not insist on anything that is inappropriate to Montessori education."

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The noble Baroness said: I am delighted because it sounds as though the Minister is in a co-operative mood and therefore he will have no difficulty with my amendments. Both are designed to explore the same issue. Amendment No. 338A probes whether all those who have Montessori qualifications and who practise Montessori education will be free from pressure to abide by teaching methods that are not in keeping with the Montessori system.

Amendment No. 338B, which I must make clear is intended to apply only to nursery education, probes whether the department, Ofsted and the QCA are prepared to recognise the Montessori qualification as a full and proper qualification appropriate for Montessori education or whether they will require dedicated and experienced teachers and managers in nursery schools to requalify with some other award.

The Montessori system of education is a much valued and widely practised system of education which is recognised fully in dozens of countries world-wide. The Montessori qualification diploma is awarded to those students who complete a minimum of 200 taught hours, undertake a final written and practical exam and participate in 400 hours of supervised and assessed teaching practice in a Montessori setting. It is not something one can pull off a wall; it is a level four qualification.

In the UK, Montessori diplomas are awarded by training providers, or by larger bodies which are both awarding bodies and trainers. There are currently nine awarding bodies, although four are very small.

Montessori schools number about 400 and make up 6 per cent of the trained early years workforce. This is not some eccentric fringe activity indulged in by the middle classes as some ideologues pretend.

Montessori Education (UK), a registered charity, is the national standards body for education in the UK. It has been trying for the past five years, working with the Department for Education and Skills and the QCA, to achieve official status for the Montessori diploma. It is also working with the awarding bodies to agree minimum standards of assessment and course accreditation.

The Montessori bodies—and this is the essence of the argument behind Amendment No. 338A—believe that it would not be appropriate for them to be placed on the National Qualifications Framework by a non-Montessori awarding body because fulfilling all requirements should lead to the essence of Montessori training being lost. Does the Minister accept that? Is that understood by Ofsted and the QCA?

On the other hand, the Montessori sector is too small to set up an awarding body capable of meeting all the Government's many requirements, so it is being driven towards what it describes as the "depressing conclusion" that Montessori training, level four, may have to be expanded to include a further qualification from the framework that already exists. These are level three qualifications only. Students wanting to teach in Montessori schools would be forced to spend extra time taking a qualification at a lower level which was

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in many senses not relevant to Montessori education and possibly methodologically opposed to the Montessori approach.

That cannot be right. Those now attracted to train as Montessori teachers would be discouraged by having to take not one, but two, qualifications. As suggested in Amendment No. 338B, some experienced Montessori teachers and managers are being told that they must retrain to fit the new framework. There is even talk of intimidation. Last year, one qualified Montessori teacher was told that she could not set up a day nursery unless she too had an NVQ level three—an inferior and irrelevant qualification. It is no wonder that she said she felt insulted. Understandably, teachers like her feel that hard won and tested qualifications are not respected by government or their agencies. They feel that their schools and their professionalism are regarded as second rate. In a climate of shortage of early years practitioners, it seems short-sighted to undermine the standing of those who are teaching, or to discourage those who wish to do so. I hope that the Minister can reassure them, and reassure me. In his reference to the amendments so far, he has certainly not done so.

By accepting my amendments, or something like them, the Minister can assure Montessori schools, and the many tens of thousands of parents, that the Montessori diploma will be recognised for all Montessori purposes by the department, by Ofsted and by the QCA. So far, there is no evidence that the department is taking seriously the important differences of process through which Montessori schools work and through which they achieve the same, or better, outcomes as other nursery schools.

Surely the best approach would be to recognise existing Montessori diplomas, to give a firm undertaking—as Amendment No. 338A requires—not to undermine Montessori methods in Montessori schools, and to work for genuine parity. I am talking about Montessori qualifications for teaching only in Montessori schools. This could be achieved if the common elements of what constitutes a licence to teach were clearly identified and offered as a stand-alone entity on the national qualifications framework—one which could be grafted on to existing training offered by Montessori training bodies without imposing a double burden or undermining the Montessori method. This would also ensure equality of opportunity by enabling students to access public funding, at least for the licence-to-practice part of their qualification.

I hope that the Minister will give personal attention to this matter, which is causing a great deal of avoidable anxiety. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: As I indicated in my opening remarks, I want to make it clear that the Government value highly the work of Montessori. There is no question of our doing anything to affect its continuing role. None of that is at issue.

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What is at issue is whether all 15 Montessori bodies should separately have qualifications accredited by the QCA as part of the national framework. At present, none has presented qualifications for accreditation, but they are in discussion with the QCA on how best to do so. I believe that that is the way forward. I am sure that we shall reach a satisfactory conclusion.

The reason for wanting to avoid a proliferation of qualifications is that employers, service users and those seeking qualifications will find those qualifications more transparent and easier to understand. Too many qualifications will mean that the framework is incomprehensible to those who wish to use it.

In relation to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, we believe it is vital that the QCA should be able to exercise its responsibilities even- handedly in respect of all awarding bodies seeking accreditation for external qualification. The amendment would mean that the QCA would not be able to consider the soundness of Montessori qualifications, or whether it is necessary or helpful for qualifications from all 15 organisations to be accredited. Nor could they seek improvement to their quality before accreditation. This would put the Montessori organisations in a unique position among more than 100 awarding bodies that may each consider, as probably all do, that they have special characteristics. I believe it would be inappropriate to make an exception of any awarding body in this way in primary legislation.

I emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that this is not about one size fitting all. Where there are genuine and important differences between qualifications, that will of course be respected. While there may in the long term be a move towards requiring providers to hold qualifications within the national framework, we know, first, that this is a matter for the long and not the short term; and, secondly, that we would never put the Montessori contribution to early education at risk.

Of course parents expect staff to be properly qualified. In setting requirements, it has been important to strike a balance between minimum standards that give parents confidence and the need for flexibility to respect different traditions. We fully recognise the distinctiveness of the Montessori tradition, as we recognise the arguments that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has put forward, but we do not think that accrediting qualifications without applying the usual processes would be an appropriate reflection of this distinctiveness.

As no Montessori qualification has ever been submitted to QCA for accreditation, it cannot be said at this time to be a level 4 qualification. The term level 4 relates solely to the national framework. There are also some very small awarding bodies. With 15 Montessori organisations currently providing qualifications, it seems very unlikely that they cannot muster a suitable awarding body. I reiterate to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we respect the Montessori tradition. We do not seek to do anything

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other than to ensure that it continues to play the valuable part that it does. However, we do not think that it would be right to make exceptions in primary legislation for one body when there are so many others that would seek to claim equity in these terms. Nevertheless, I assure her that proposals for movement towards the requirements in the legislation will be gradual and made with due consultation and a long-term perspective.

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