Phyllis Wallbank M.B.E.
Phyllis began her life’s work as a Froebel-trained teacher and later studied psychology at the University of London. However, working in juvenile courts as a Children’s Officer in Buckinghamshire, England, she realized that far fewer children would become delinquent if they could be educated to assume their own personal responsibilities and so take their rightful place in society.
To do this, she trained under Dr. Maria Montessori and became, for many years, a close personal friend. Phyllis often visited her in Holland. In Dr. Montessori’s later years, Phyllis served as her examiner for both the ordinary and the advanced Montessori courses, jointly examining with Dr. Montessori. She also served as Chairman of the Montessori Association in England and, for many years, Vice President of the International Montessori Association. Phyllis also organized the last International Montessori Congress, which met in London shortly before Dr. Montessori’s death.
In 1948 Phyllis founded the Gatehouse school in the gatehouse of St Bartholomew the Great Priory Church in West Smithfield, London. Closely following Dr Montessori's philosophy and principles the school was a pioneer of much that is now generally accepted in education.
Phyllis was an early devotee of inclusion; children of any colour, race, creed, background and intellect were accepted as students at Gatehouse and worked side by side without streaming or any kind of segregation. Phyllis was especially devoted to helping each child develop their inner spirituality, to know and love the natural world, to respect themselves and others and to develop their own unique personality.
In a firm departure from the mode of the day, students with all manner of developmental delays and disorders, including deafness and blindness, Down syndrome and Autism, learned successfully alongside ably-developing students.
Soon the Gatehouse was accepting students of all ages, including adults; it became the first Montessori school in England where adults learned with children and eventually became known as the Gatehouse Learning Centre. It was described by Buckminster Fuller, the master architect, in the following terms:
“So thoroughly conceived and created that it allows the children to do their own learning while avoiding their being shorn of their innate sensitivities, being deprived of their innate genius and not having their spontaneous trust betrayed.”
In 1996, Phyllis was created a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), an honour given her by H. M. Queen Elizabeth II. In the same year, Pope John Paul II decorated her with the Benemerenti Medal.
During her extensive career, Phyllis lectured at a wide variety of colleges and conferences, including Oxford University, Lady Margaret Hall; Cambridge; London; Harvard; Yale; Seattle University; Washington State University; Purdue University; Chicago University; Boston College, Columbia University in British Columbia; Vancouver.
Phyllis has also given teacher training courses and lectures in France, Italy, Holland, Ireland, Canada and the United States.