Phyllis Wallbank MBE (born 1 September 1918) is a British educationalist who, in 1948, founded the first all-age Montessori school in Great Britain and the Gatehouse Learning Centre, which took its name from the gatehouse of the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great in London.
Wallbank began as a Froebel-trained teacher. Working in juvenile courts as a children's officer in Buckinghamshire, however, she realised 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 Maria Montessori and became a personal friend. In Montessori's later years, she served as her co-examiner for both the ordinary and the advanced courses. She served as Chairperson of the Montessori Association in England and as Vice-President of the International Montessori Association. She also organised the last International Montessori Congress, which met in London shortly before Montessori's death. William J. Codd, Professor of Education at Seattle University, wrote of Wallbank: "The one on whom the robe of Montessori should fall to carry on the living tradition."
Wallbank was married to the Revd Prebendary Newell Eddius Wallbank, a long-time Rector of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, and a noted musician and scholar of the pipe organ. It was in the priory church's gatehouse that Wallbank began the Gatehouse School, becoming the Gatehouse Learning Centre, later expanding to Great Missenden.
Through the educational philosophy of Montessori, Wallbank was drawn to the Catholic Church: she felt that Montessori's method naturally demanded the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. She became a Catholic but was advised by her spiritual director to remain "underground" so as not to embarrass her husband.
After retirement, Wallbank and her husband moved out of London to Dorney near Eton, where they had a little house on the Common. Both were involved in different ways with Eton College, with her husband conducting services for BBC broadcasts and she coaching the weaker students and introducing them to her Slough Run.
Shortly before the death of her husband, Canon Timothy Russ introduced Wallbank to the writings of the Canadian philosopher and theologian Fr Bernard Lonergan SJ CC. She found in Lonergan a philosophy that was deeply consonant with Montessori's educational practice and convictions. She was subsequently invited to lecture at the annual Lonergan Workshop at Boston College; some of her lectures have been published in the proceedings of the workshop.
The Phyllis Wallbank Educational Trust was founded to continue her educational thinking and expertise.
Wallbank remains retired in Dorney, where she continues to be active, entertaining international scholars at her home and communicating with a wide variety of people after having embraced the internet.
The Gatehouse Learning Centre was "known for its distinguished graduates as well as its integration of exceptional students into the regular classroom." Wallbank has lectured at a wide variety of colleges and conferences as well as university courses and lectures under various titles. In particular, she designed the distance learning course of the College of Modern Montessori. In retirement in Dorney, she was called upon by Eton College as a visiting teacher. In 2007 and 2008, in her late eighties, she went on Montessori World Tours giving lectures on Montessori education.
Besides her innovations in the field of education, Phyllis Wallbank has also been involved in creative charitable and social initiatives. In 1985 she began the London Run, a new ministry dedicated to helping homeless and destitute people living by the Thames Embankment. Some years later, she also began the Slough Run. Her London and Slough Runs continue to function, with people of all persuasions and faiths gathering together spontaneously on Mondays evenings on a street corner in Slough, and offering food and drink with dignity to street people. In 1990, a charitable trust was established to manage the activities of the London Run and Slough Run.
Primary sources "The Vocation of Teaching." The Sower: A Quarterly Magazine on Christian Formation. "Moral Teaching through Shakespeare's Tragedies." The Sower: A Quarterly Magazine on Christian Formation. "The Way we Learn." The Sower: A Quarterly Magazine on Christian Formation. "The Philosophy of International Education." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 12/2 (2001) 193–209. "Periods of Sensitivity within Human Lives." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 12/3 (2001) 337–384. "Savants." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 13/1 (2002) 137–140. "Time." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 14/1 (2003) 1–12. "Montessori and the New Century." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 14/2 (2003) 135–144. "A Universal Way of Education." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 15/3 (2004) 521–532. "Adolescence." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 18/1 (2007) 77–90. "Dr Maria Montessori: The Past, the Present and the Future." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 18/2 (2007) 149–158. "A Montessori Journey: Phyllis Wallbank celebrates the life and work of Dr Montessori." Montessori International Magazine 83 (2007) 32–33. "Imagination." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 20/1 (2009) 107–108. "War and Time." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 20/2 (2009) 255–258.
Secondary literature Ivo Coelho. Review of Phyllis Wallbank and David Fleischacker, Worldwide Natural Education: Three Important Discussion Lectures by Phyllis Wallbank MBE and Dr David Fleischacker (set of 3 DVDs). Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 18/2 (2007) 231–233. Eugene Curran. "A Method and a Model: Maria Montessori and Bernard Lonergan on Adult Education." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 18/2 (2007) 165–204. David Fleischacker. "Understanding the Four General Sensitive Phases of Human Development from Age 0–24: Maria Montessori, Phyllis Wallbank, and Bernard Lonergan." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 18/2 (2007) 205–222. Patty Hamilton Price. "Phyllis Wallbank and Maria Montessori." Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 18/2 (2007) 159–164.