Montessori free school application for St Albans refused

A GROUP hoping to open a new free school in St Albans this year have been left in shock after their proposal fell down at the final hurdle, the Herts Advertiser can reveal today.

The Albany Montessori group were told by the Department for Education (DfE) at the 11th hour that their proposal to extend their successful nursery provision in the city to a free primary school for four to 11 year olds had not met the required criteria.

This was despite what they deemed to be ongoing support from Herts County Council, the New Schools Network and the DfE, as well as widespread enthusiasm from local parents which saw the proposed school over-subscribed at reception level until 2014.

One of the steering committee, Bonnie Singh, said the group had been left dumbfounded that the application wasn’t allowed to progress onto the business case stage given the positive feedback they had received from the DfE along the way.

She said: “It has been a huge disappointment to be declined at the very last hurdle and a big shock given that all the way along we have had such positive feedback. For some people it has almost been a full-time job – planning, proposals, meeting with the schools department, MPs, preparing reports, putting together detailed analysis and setting up the curriculum.”

But Bonnie insisted that the group, which also comprises the existing Montessori nursery owners Fawzia Topan and Tim Hodgson, were determined that it would not be the end of the proposal because of the proven demand for the school. They are currently working towards submitting another proposal to the DfE to open in 2012.

She continued: “We are very grateful for all the support we have had from St Albans families and we are hoping that their support continues.

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“The steering committee is not going to give up here – we will pursue this and do our utmost to see that a free Montessori primary school opens in the area because we truly believe that St Albans needs and wants a school which offers an alternative education but still meets national curriculum levels. There is room for it and there is a clear demand.”

Indeed, for 2011 the school had 34 children signed up for a reception class, eight for Year 1, 12 for Year 2, two for Years 3 and 4, and one for both Year 5 and Year 6. For 2012, 29 children were registered for reception along with 26 for 2013, nine for 2014 and two for 2015.

But a spokesperson for the DfE explained that refusal at this stage did not mean that future applications would not be successful and pointed out that only 40 of some 300 proposals had progressed onto the next stage.

He added: “Only the most advanced and best proposals get the green light – particularly one when the lead-in time to opening this September was so short. We’ve put in a place a transparent and robust process to assess applications and we considered each one on its merits.

“We will shortly set out how the process for schools applying for 2012 opening.”

For further updates on the Albany Montessori primary school’s progress and to show your support during the next application stage, visit