@NinaCave1 writes the third part in her series on education. She discusses the Michaela Community School in Wembley and their strict behaviour policies.
Pride of place atop the shelf of the ‘no excuses’ schools is Michaela Community School in Wembley. Founded in 2014 by Katherine Birbalsingh, in the heart of Wembley Park, Michaela aims to have a ‘private school ethos’ at an inner-city London school and has been dubbed ‘the strictest school in Britain’.
Whilst this headline is sensationalist clickbait it is true that Michaela implements incredibly strict behaviour policies that are present in several ‘no-excuses’ schools across the UK – Birbalsingh herself satirises this in her book about the school ‘Battle Hymn of The Tiger Teachers – The Michaela Way’.
Birbalsingh started as a state-school teacher running an anonymous blog ‘To Miss With Love’ and eventually ended up on stage at the Conservative Party Conference. Birbalsingh having worked in five different British state schools vented her frustration at an education system that she said kept ‘poor children poor’.Birbalsingh in this speech, which I recommend watching for yourself, uses examples of the children she taught at the time in Camberwell. Using one child as an example she criticises his persistent excuses for his poor behaviour, but also criticising a system where ‘all must have prizes, all must have GCSEs, all must have a place at University’.
There are a wealth of critics of this speech, so I am not going to foray into this as there are many much more intellectual people than me who have better worded opinions. This is just an insight into her ethos.
So, in 2014 Birbalsingh opens her Free School in Wembley Park and thus, Summer 2019 is their first GCSE season and the school received the fifth best progress-8 score in the UK. This is an immense achievement and many would say a testament to how a ‘no excuses’ policy works. However, whilst I praise them for getting these results I have a couple of questions.
Firstly, I query the environment of austerity under which this success was achieved. This ‘no excuses’ behaviour policy has proven successful at Michaela, at King Solomon Academy in Paddington, and I cannot argue with the current success in terms of results. However, as in my previous articles, I argue that with more funding, as there would be under Labour leadership, we could achieve similar if not better levels of success across the board (including for our most vulnerable pupils). This success would be achieved through more investment in teachers through things such as specialised CPD. Further investment could be made in specialists in behaviour and safeguarding, especially for our most vulnerable pupils who I have previous argued are often failed by a ‘no excuses’ behaviour system and need individualised and one-on-one interaction.
Next I query the longevity of the success of these students coming out of Michaela Community School. I wonder how these children will fare when faced with the modern world, a world that is not by rote, where getting a job is based on individual skills and being a well-rounded person – something that is not honed in the incredibly micro-managed environment of Michaela. I wonder how many of these students truly develop an individual desire to learn and are not just taught to the test, and thus how this will set them up for the highly self-motivated studying at University. This is something that should be tracked, in some form, and is not currently measured in our education system. If we’re trying to end inequality through education we should see how these children’s outcomes changes our social structure throughout their life e.g. by measuring University graduating rates and the grades achieved here.
Michaela’s focus on learning by rote and silent corridors leads to achieving top grades at GCSE in a borough where a third of households live in poverty. But, here’s the catch: theories of education in Britain range from the Summerhill of A.S. Neill, to Montessori, all the way up to the strictest such as Michaela and King Solomon Academy in Paddington. There is no one size fits all for children and an education system that can be tailored to students and their capabilities and skills would be the most successful. This will only be possible with an end to austerity and more funding.
 Katherine Birbalsingh, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way(London, 2016).