The Learning Journey
Forest Farm Nursery:
The Forest Farm Nursery follows the principles of a Montessori ‘prepared environment’ which requires the continuous availability of special learning materials and other resources that promote the independence, learning and development of children. As an Early Years childcare provider, we are governed by the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and fulfil all requirements laid out in this document.
The nursery offers 37 places for children from 2 to 5 years. They are accommodated in two classrooms with vertically mixed age groups. It is one of the Montessori principles that an early childhood setting should reflect a family/home environment, where younger children learn from older siblings, and older children can build self-confidence and develop leadership skills as well as social and emotional intelligence. Such mixed-age groups promote language development as younger children are surrounded by language of different complexity and older children learn to make adjustments to their speech.
Both nursery classrooms open up to an extensive outdoor play area and the children are free to move between the indoor and outdoor areas throughout the day. Outside the children have many opportunities to launch themselves into the physical world where they use all their senses and learn by touching, tasting, investigating, looking and listening. Wooden climbing frames, slides, a digging area and other outdoor equipment give opportunities for running and balancing, and support the development of muscular strength and endurance as well as body awareness and movement control.
Maria Montessori observed that from birth children learn through actively engaging with the people that surround them as well as by exploring objects and experiencing the natural world. Their powerful, innate drive to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste quickly develops into active exploration and investigation of their surroundings, allowing them to learn about the world and develop their language and thinking skills as well as the physical, social, emotional and spiritual functions available to humans.
To support this natural process the teachers at Forest Farm build on Maria Montessori’s insight of the importance of a favourable environment for development by preparing a learning space that reflects children’s needs and interests. The result is a structured, well-organised, dynamic, and rich classroom environment that evolves with the children and bears witness to our respect and commitment to them.
There are intriguing and beautifully presented objects, both natural and man-made, which attract investigation and discovery. Displays reflect the concrete sensory experiences the children encounter in their daily life, on seasonal themes for example, supplemented by resources that help them to explore further and make links beyond what they can see, hear and smell. These resources might be reference or storybooks, related puzzles or sorting activities, which further support the development of physical skills, vocabulary, and the facilitation of maths learning and science investigations.
At all times both in and outdoors the children are encouraged to act independently and engage spontaneously in activities of their choice, and thus lead their own learning. The teachers’ responsibility is to observe the children, identify unique learning styles, acknowledge individual family experiences, personalities, interests, preferences and cultural backgrounds and respond by enriching the classroom accordingly, and thereby guide them on their learning journey.
From Nursery they progress to Primary One:
In Primary One, children continue their journey as independent learners. They have regular time to be free, choose and play within the classroom and outside on Forest Farm’s brilliant outdoor facilities. Unlike the rigid structure of state schools, the freedom children have helps them to be independent and make their own choices. Children often choose play based activities such as role-play and dressing up, building and designing through junk modelling as well as playing a variety of other games and puzzles. They balance this free choice time with regular, short bursts of whole class learning, followed up by small group work with the teacher, usually in pairs or one-to-one. Children’s interests are pursued both in informal play activities, as well as in planned learning tasks. There are resources for creative work as well as playing with letters and numbers, which the children regularly enjoy. The continous use of Montessori equipment supports learning and helps children to build a solid understanding of key concepts. They enjoy handling and manipulating the apparatus in order to to learn initially through concrete concepts, before progressing to visual or abstract ideas. In line with Montessori ethos, the children decide the topics in which we explore and are welcome to suggest ideas for us to do. Another difference from state schools is that the children benefit from small group or even individual learning activities on a daily basis, in which their stamina for focused activities is built on steadily and according to the needs/abilities of the individual child. Learning can be tailored to each child meaning that they can make good progress whilst their interests and motivations are also being met. Children in Primary One are active learners who are able to engage themselves in activities or play, where enjoyment of learning is key.
In P2 children continue personalised, topic based and holistic learning that follows the children’s interests. The children help plan what we are going to do, sometimes requesting specific activities or topics. Our topics have a focus on the wider world, enhancing the children's sense of being citizens of the world, as well as citizens of our own more local communities. The children have a strong sense of freedom and autonomy as we focus a great deal on democracy, many of our decisions each day are decided by vote, from what games to play, whether to work individually or alone, or whether to go outside or not. The mixed age group is a great bonus, while the children receive whole class instruction, small group and individual tuition, the children also teach each other. They check each other's work, help with next steps and mentor each other in new skills. The older children consolidate their understanding through teaching the younger children and the younger children respond really well to being taught by peers and to see where they are going next. In P2 we follow a creative approach to English, we read the next part of a high quality book each day and base our work around it, whether we choose to paint the setting, create games about the characters, do drama, freeze frames, conscience alleys or performance poetry, we are always getting right to the heart of the meaning of the text and the motivation of the characters. We take this outside as much as possible. Using the field, orchard and coppice to set our plays and perform our poems. We then base our own writing on this in a variety of genres including; diary entries, stories, formal and informal letter writing, instructions, newspaper reports and information leaflets. In Maths we use investigative approaches using Montessori equipment for number, shape and measure. Again, we like to take our learning outside as much as possible and use physical equipment. During the course of P2 many children transition from understanding number in its physical form (using blocks, beads or counters) to being able to work with number in the abstract sense; using written digits and recalling number facts to solve calculations. This is done entirely at a pace set by the individual child, and the golden beads and other physical equipment can be used at anytime. The small class size and flexible timetable means that the children get plenty of chances to have one on one time with adults, giving us a chance to extend thinking and add more challenge to each child’s set of skills. It also means we can dedicate lots of time to our topic which includes subjects such as science, art, RE, history and geography, all of which are taught holistically; building on skills to help children be prepared for life ahead, through investigation, experimentation, problem solving, creativity, and building values such as identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.
From Primary Two they progress to Primary Three:
At the heart of the Primary 3’s learning environment is topic based, cultural studies in which curriculum areas such as science, history, citizenship, religious studies and geography are integrated into each other.This allows children to gain a deeper understanding of the world and the interconnectedness of everything as opposed to learning through narrowly defined subject areas. Maria Montessori referred to topic based learning as Cosmic Education, which is intended to provide children with a framework to understand their world and their place within it. Topics are often chosen by the children, who think about what they would like to learn and the questions or themes they would like to explore. This helps children feel part of the learning process. Alongside core subjects children study Spanish, computer studies,music and drama. Teaching is delivered through whole class sessions, small group work and individual instruction. Montessori teaching materials are used; especially in maths and within cultural studies. The materials Provide concrete hands-on learning opportunities that make abstract concepts more clear. Learning also takes place outdoors, for example, the study of botany in science, using the school grounds and greenhouse to learn about and grow plants. Forest school gives children time to explore and investigate nature, and develop transferable skills such as problems solving,teamwork and communication. The National Curriculum is used as a guide to inform planning and track progress so that children feel confident and are ready for their transition into a senior setting. Teachers follow the needs of the child at every stage of learning with a focus on teaching each child according to his or her own strengths and needs.
Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Nursery and the Primary Years:
Our aim is to ensure all children receive an education that allows equality of opportunity and fosters a love of learning. We focus on removing any barriers which impede learning. Where appropriate we carry out our own assessments to ensure that any provision put in place is appropriately tailored to meet the needs of the child and is evidence based. The provision for a child with SEND is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure continued and sustained progress. Supporting children with SEND starts in the classroom with differentiated approaches and learning arrangements provided as part of high quality, personalised teaching. Primary and Nursery staff work closely with the SEND coordinator regarding appropriate strategies and interventions. Children are actively encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and ensure that they use all resources and support available to them. We believe strongly in working in partnership with parents.
From Primary they progress to our Senior School:
At Key Stage 3 we offer students a wide range of subjects and a variety of ways to learn. We adopt a thematic approach to teaching at KS3, and although we broadly follow the National Curriculum, themes are guided by student interest -following the Montessori ethos of the school.
For core subjects, students are taught by subject specialists in flexible, stage-not-age groups. Class sizes are intentionally small to give students the best support and challenge and we have a dedicated SENDCO who supports student progress and delivers strategic interventions.
Other curriculum areas are taught in mixed KS3 groups, with carefully planned lessons that develop each child's learning and engagement. As well as English, Maths and Science, Key Stage 3 students study Spanish, Geography, History and Religious Education. Students work towards AQA Unit Awards in Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education and have designated ICT lessons to make them proficient, safe users of the ever-evolving world of technology. A varied programme of Sport is integrated into the daily routine, with students participating in yoga, personal fitness challenges, cross country, circus skills, handball, hockey, football and basketball, to name but a small selection of options. In addition, all students prepare for the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, which they can achieve at age 14.
While recognising the importance of direct instruction, we value learning through experience and lessons are active, creative and flexible. Where possible children learn on their feet, away from their desks and when the weather permits we go outdoors to make use of our beautiful grounds. We also take advantage of the availability of the school minibus to get out and about in our local area; to museums, galleries and theatres in the city, industry and local business, as well as places of historical interest and natural beauty.
At Key Stage 4 our curriculum offers students a selection of routes to employment and further education.
In addition to GCSEs in English, Maths and Science, students can take Maths and English Functional Skills levels 1 and 2 with Biology GCSE, which offer higher chances of success for students who are not quite ready for the demands of the new GCSE courses. They are valid educational currency in their own right or can be a useful stepping stone for children to experience success in national tests before taking GCSEs. Groups are flexible, with the opportunity for students to change depending on their progress and attainment. Students work towards AQA Unit Awards in Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education and have designated ICT lessons to make them proficient, safe users of the ever-evolving world of technology. Sport and Physical Activity is integrated into the daily routine and students have the opportunity to express their preferences from a broad range of options, including conventional team sports and more individual personal fitness activities.
In addition to the core subjects, we carefully look at our small KS4 cohort and shape a curriculum that best fits the students in our care. For our current student cohort, we have designed a curriculum that offers: GCSE Art and Design Technology, Spanish, History and Computing alongside the Trinity Award in Art, Drama and Music and the student-led Curriculum Plus which offers Level 2 Awards for a range of topics. We take advantage of our ability to offer students opportunities to work alongside adults and currently have students gaining experience as Lab Technicians, Primary Sports Leaders, Early Years Play Assistants and working on aspects of grounds and building maintenance. In addition, all our students undertake Physical and Skills Training, Volunteering Placements and Expedition Preparation for the Duke of Edinburgh Award (Bronze and/or Silver)
Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Pastoral Care in Senior School:
In Forest farm Seniors, each child is supported according to their specific needs. We conduct a screenings for underlying ability and dyslexic type difficulties the term a child arrives. Interventions and specific support plans are put in place where needed. If a student’s specific needs are unclear following testing within school, children are referred to outside professionals for further assessment.
Interventions are tailored to the individual needs of the child. Generally, an intervention is weekly, but for those requiring SEMH support it may be fortnightly or half-termly alongside informal check-ins. We usually invite parents or carers to support and reinforce any additional work or new strategies at home in order to try and make the intervention more embedded for the child.
In the spirit of independence, SEND in Forest Farm Seniors can often involve supporting children to use assistive technology, whether it’s voice-to-text accessibility, a reading pen, or completing a touch typing course. Testing with a view to access arrangements and reasonable adjustments begins in Year 9. Invigilation is carefully considered with the examinations officer, to ensure that students have their needs met.
Some of our students have an EHCP. As with all our students who receive SEND support, we invite parents and other agencies to a progress review at least twice a year, usually more. If we think it useful, we will support a child and their parents to apply for an EHCP.
Often, our students’ difficulties may initially lie with SEMH challenges. In Seniors, we seek to offer consistent support. We work as closely as possible with outside agencies and other external support. We also have external professionals who support children with specific needs on site at various points in the week.
We make the most of our rural setting when supporting students. Whether it is doing our 1-1 interventions outside at a table in summer, or going for a walk-and-talk whatever the weather, there are plenty of opportunities to ‘escape’ the classroom and help a child get a better perspective on their learning and educational challenges. Ultimately, we seek to help our students build confidence, resilience and independence, that they will be better equipped for life beyond Forest Farm.
Next steps from Oxford Montessori School:
Our catchment area of students is huge - ranging from Northamptonshire, through Buckinghamshire and beyond. Therefore when the students move on post 16, they tend to return to more local educational settings.
Each year we have a range of destinations - again as we are non selective the range of next steps is vaste. In 2018, we sent one student on to St Clare’s on a scholarship to do A Levels, 2 students went on to colleges to undertake further education courses - one in Business and one in Photography, one student went to OTC to study A Levels, and 2 more went to local colleges to undertake Computing/Graphics courses. These are just examples of the range of next destinations for our students.