Tuesday 11 March 2014

Katharine Birbalsingh and the tale of the black and white shoe laces

Michael Gove applauds Katharine Birbalsingh at Tory Party Conference
Parents of Year 7 children who have been offered a place at the Michael Free School have been somewhat bemused by a letter from Katharine Birbalsingh, if not left feeling a tad patronised. As the self styled headmistress says herself, it promises to be an 'extraordinary education':
We are expecting a great deal of you and you should be expecting a lot from us. We have set ourselves a challenge to show that children from the inner city can learn as much as any child educated in the private sector. This will require a lot of hard work, commitment and perseverance, not just from our children but from parents and teachers as well.
We are ready for the challenge and hope you are too. I look forward to the weekly contact that we will have when you access [you child's] assessment and behaviour records on line and [his/her] progress with [him/her]. We expect children to read every night at home and complete a reading log. Anyone who does not meet our expectations will be kept for a 30 minute detention the following day. I know you will support our strict line on uniform, our insistence on all pupils being prepared and polite and our desire that children should take pride in themselves and in their schools.
This can only be achieved through retaining high expectations of both children and parents and I am certain you will want to meet our high standards. It won't always be easy. When your child's black shoe lace is broken and you are rushing to work and only have a white shoe lace to give them, you may find yourself wishing that you had sent your child to a school that would make an exception to the uniform once in a while. You'll then remember that we have high standards for a reason: to ensure your child has access to an extraordinary education.

As headmistress I promise you an education that will transform your child's life. Our extended school day, starting at 8am and finishing at 4.30pm will itself be revolutionary in helping your child learn more, build their confidence and extend concentration. Our senior team is now appointed and our team of teachers is nearly complete, Please have a look at our website for their profiles. They are exceptional. They believe in imparting knowledge, benchmarking and healthy competition so that children are prepared for later challenges in life.
Birbalsingh goes on to assure parents that although no work may appear to be going on at the Arena House building which will house the school, 'there is a lot going on beind the scenes' and 'our contractors have a great deal of experience in preparing free schools to open (often on shorter timelines than ours) and we are confident that everything required will be in place for us to welcome our first intake in September'.

All parents will be expected to attend a Welcome Event on Sunday 15th June at Vale Farm Sports Centre when they will hear more about Birbalsingh's expectations and will be given information about uniform.

Ark Academy across the road from the Michaela Academy already has a reputation for strictness which has rubbed some parents up the wrong way.  I hope a 'discipline war' doesn't break out between the two schools in an attempt to prove which is the 'toughest'. We will be watching exclusion rates and the profile of those excluded closely.

Meanwhile a number of parents allocated a place for their child at Michaela did not express a preference for the school or its ethos, they were given a place because none of their 6 preferences came up, and that may well be a source of future conflict.


Anonymous said...

Ms Birbalsingh sets out her ‘vision’ for discipline on the school’s very entertaining website. Inspired by her words I was moved to post the following comment:
‘This is the vision we traditional Brit parents have been longing to hear for so long Katherine. Age old values with a modern twist. Back to basics. Hard work, tough love and no funny business. As Rhodes Boyson once said, “The way forward can sometimes be backward” ‘.
As the post was accepted at face value and can still be viewed on the site, I can only assume that a recognition of irony is not considered one of the ‘values of a private school education’ which Ms Birbalsingh graciously promises to grant Brent children access to.

Anonymous said...

I am concerned to read that some children have been allocated places at Michaela Community School when it was not one of their six preferences. Is this really true? If so, it is unfair and should be challenged.

If I were a parent in that position, who clearly did not feel that Ms Birbalsingh's strict regime and long hours were suitable for my child, I would wish to object, and demand that my son or daughter be given a place at an alternative school within the six preferences listed. My argument would include the question: 'Are you really telling me that this school, which makes such big claims for itself, cannot fill its 120 Year 7 places from people even listing it as low as sixth preference?' , and follow this with the statement: 'If that is the case, it should only be allowed to have those pupils who have expressed any preference for it, and my child is not one of them'.

I note from the MCS website that although it claims that facilities for the Year 7 pupils will be ready by September 2014, the refurbishment work on the building is not predicted to finish until "early 2015" (and when does any major building contract ever finish on time?). Given the very limited size of the Arena House site, this means that even if the lower floors of part of the building are ready to receive students at the start of the school year, they will be crossing a building site to get to school and will not have any outside space to use for recreation. As some of the unfinished work in September will be to the upper floors of the building, I would suggest that the school uniform for this year's intake should include a "hard hat".

Martin Francis said...

I have heard of a couple of cases where Michaela was not listed and this was probably due to parents only expressing a preference for one or two schools, leaving the rest blank. Parents can turn down the offer of a place. Other parents who listed Michaela down the preference list may have been offered other schools higher up their list. Remember around 7% did not get any of their preferences.

Anonymous said...

Hard hat's a nice idea but it would have to be boater-shaped with a red and yellow grosgrain ribbon round it. Hi-vis blazers too? Just as long as the black shoe laces don't get too dusty. Private school values must be maintained!

Anonymous said...

I hope that there's a coherent policy on 'slip-ons' as I would hate to see any disadvantage resulting from 'lace-based foot attachment provision' policy. When can we expect to see a 'footwear' spectrum made available with projected learning potentials indicated?

Excuse me while I pinch myself - Oh dear, it is reality after all !

Anonymous said...

Birbalsingh's writing cited above is of a poor standard. If the quote is genuine, questions should be asked as to why this person is accepted as an educator?