Tributes paid to pioneering Hampstead and Highgate teacher

As an educationalist who introduced Montessori education to north west London, Linda Madden, who died of cancer a day after turning 52, will be remembered by a generation of pupils and parents as a pioneer in pedagogy.

But it was a more intimate event that perhaps best showed off her maverick character.

One day in the hot summer of August 1990, Linda was stood amid the wild cats, exotic birds and Antarctic penguins in London Zoo exchanging vows with her devoted husband John.

Never one to blindly follow tradition and do what was expected, Mrs Madden had convinced her partner and the zoo authorities to allow her to be the first person to be married there, watched by pupils and parents from her schools.

It was a testament to her persuasive powers that they agreed.

Born in north London in 1959, Mrs Madden was a Hampstead Garden Suburb girl through and through.

She went to St. Margaret’s School, where she was exposed to her twin loves – education and the stage.

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And while she chose to take up teaching as a career, she pursued her love of the stage throughout her adult life as a member of the prestigious Impact Theatre Group.

Mrs Madden first learnt of Montessori education, a system of learning pioneered in Italy which emphasises the independence of the child at its core, in her late teens and later studied it at the famous St. Nicholas teacher training college, graduating in the late 1970s.

Her natural talents for articulating what was then still thought of as quite a radical educational philosophy were soon spotted, and she became a rising star, lecturing internationally on Montessori education when she was just 23.

But it was as an inspirational teacher, principal and mentor at her schools in Hampstead and Highgate, where she left her most lasting impact.

She founded her first Rainbow Montessori nursery in Sherriff Road, West Hampstead, in 1982, adding two others over the years to open the door to a new kind of education to children in north London.

And she made history in 1992 when a Rainbow junior school opened, creating what remains one of the only places in the country where a child can be schooled in Montessori education until they are 12.

A determined and flamboyant character, Mrs Madden was a constant presence at all of her schools, whose corridors she was easily spotted walking through with her trademark pink streaked hair.

Her theatrical and maverick ways shaped the schools she founded, and to the pupils and parents who came into contact with her, she was a gregarious, funny and innovative person who channelled her seemingly inexhaustible energy into making her schools the best they could be.

This enthusiasm proved infectious, and many of the parents at her schools became teachers themselves, training at Rainbow’s teacher training college.

Among them is Beverley Randall, Rainbow’s deputy principal, who says she owes much to Mrs Madden’s inspirational leadership.

A colourful maverick to the end, Mrs Madden insisted that the hundreds of friends and family who attended her funeral wore pink, a colourful tribute to a woman who brought so much colour and humour to the lives of so many.

She is survived by her husband John, and her two children Alex, 19, and Lottie, 15.