Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Beatrice Chambers founds Maltman's Green, a girls' progressive school

This year, in Buckinghamshire (UK), Beatrice Chambers founded Maltman's Green School in order to provide a unique educational experience for girls from the age of 8 to 18. Previously the Headmistress of Huddersfield High School, Chambers obtained the backing of parents and friends to put her new pedagogical ideas into practice. One of the first progressive schools set up at that time, this boarding school for girls opened the path for other progressive schools such as Summerhill, which would open its doors in 1921.

Beatrice Chambers' aim was to "enable children to be themselves and put them in full possession of their lives." For her, the school should meet the needs of the individual child and give them a foundation for life. The two main guiding principles were freedom and responsibility. Girls of different ages were mixed up at tables at mealtimes and in dormitories, giving a family atmosphere.

In the early days, there were no rules, no marks and attendance at lessons was voluntary. Known as "the school which did no work", girls nevertheless gained places at universities and training colleges. The school aimed to develop intellect and character, and to encourage self expression, resourcefulness and initiative. In this regard, one student from the 1930s observed in her contemporaries a 'tackle anything' quality that in large part was nurtured by the school pedagogy.

Following the flu epidemic in 1918, there was great emphasis on good health and fresh air. Fresh good food was provided, much of it from the school gardens, and many girls slept out in the grounds and on the balcony. As well a normal academic subjects girls had practical work such as carpentry and pottery and there was great emphasis on the arts, especially music.

Indeed, music has been the golden thread running through Maltman's Green from Miss Holland's provision of music lessons to talented girls at 6d a minute in 1918 to memorable carol services (including When Christ was Born by Reineke) so cherished by girls in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1970s and 1980s there were yearly musical entertainments such as Shirley Massey's We're all going to Bethlehem, and in 2003 the first Celebrate competition for Senior and Junior schools was put on by the BBC, and Maltman's Green won the Junior Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year.

After Miss Chambers died in 1945, Maltman's Green changed into a girls' preparatory school. At one point the future of the school was threatened when the Bank of Scotland wanted to develop the school grounds, over 11 acres, as a housing project. But the school survived, grew and adapted to changing educational needs.

By the beginning of the 21st century, Maltman's Green School is a large, well-established non denominational day school for pupils from the age of three to 11. Apart from academic work the school excels in music and sport, and has held onto its founder's ethos of fulfilling a child's potential and nurturing self expression, responsibility and confidence.

In the year 2000, the performance of Maltman's Green School was reviewed by the UK Independent Schools Inspectorate. After a site visit that included a variety of interviews and observations, the inspection team concluded that "Maltman's Green school is a very good school." The report noted that the standards achieved are high and that students make significant progress as they move through the school. Among the strengths of the school were the teaching, caring attitude and commitment of all the staff, the excellent quality of the learning environment and the wide range of extra-curricular activities. The inspection team also observed that pupils were extremely keen to learn, well motivated, and well behaved: "they work hard, with sustained concentration at all times of the day, individually and collaboratively in pairs or groups without any fuss, settling to tasks set with enthusiasm."

In 2001, Cynthia Walton, a Maltman's Green golden oldie from the 1930s, put an advertisement in Saga Magazine's reunions column, saying 'let's meet, let's write a history of the school." Pauline Hodder, a retired Head of Art at Maltman's Green School from 1968-88 was one of the people who replied. During the 1980s, she had begun to collect historical material relating to the school, and had built up a considerable archive. Cynthia and Pauline met, Pauline Hodder lent her archives, and they started to write a book.

During the same period, Cynthia managed to contact several of her contemporaries in the 1930s and asked them for information about the early years. Very soon, an ever-widening pool of knowledge, anecdotes, reminiscences, photos and artwork started to flow. Former Heads of the school Julie Reynolds and Madeleine Evans contributed notes about their educational ethos and educational activities in their eras.  As a result of this effort, in 2004 Cynthia Walton and Pauline Hodder published the book A Grounding for Life: A History of Maltman's Green School, which tells the story of the school in great detail. In the foreword of the book, University of London Professor Berry Mayall states that the book not only provides and interesting and delightful record, but it also stands as part of the history of educational experiments, and constitute a valuable resource for people working for better experiences for our children.

Since its creation in 1918, the educational philosophy of Maltman's Green School has followed Beatrice Chambers' original ideas. She detested spoon feeding, and advocated learning projects, learning through play, less mass instruction and more group work, resourcefulness, initiative and the importance of extra curricular activities such as music and theatre. She wanted to nurture inventive, creative, caring, critical and independent minded learners with flexible skills and attitudes to be active agents in an ever-changing world.


Independent Schools Inspectorate (2002). Inspection Report On Maltmanís Green Preparatory School. 

Walton, Cynthia with Pauline Hodder (2004). A Grounding for Life Ė A History of Maltmanís Green School. Barn Books Ltd.

Prepared by Cynthia Walton and Daniel Schugurensky, 2006.

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