Birbalsingh has changed her tune since she was Head of Languages

Francis Gilbert's picture
IMPORTANT NOTE: "Katharine Birbalsingh has asked us not to name any of her previous schools in our blogs and comments  as the ‘Ordinary School’ featured in  ‘To Miss with Love’ is fictional."

Since reading her fictional diatribe against state education, To Miss With Love, and writing a review of it for The Observer,  I've been starting to investigate the truth about Katherine Birbalsingh and found out some interesting facts. Firstly, she was Head of Languages at a in South London when the school took part in the London Challenge, a scheme where schools collaborated to raise standards across the board. Secondly, in Teacher Magazine, I found this quote:

"Senior staff have very high standards for both the students and the staff. They have really led in a way that doesn't always happen in other schools," says Katherine Birbalsingh, head of languages.

I wonder if she stands by these words of praise for the good work the school did? Was she telling the truth about the school then? Or is her novel a more accurate representation of the school? I've contacted her and asked these questions. I have also contacted the headteacher at the relevant school and asked for his view. Perhaps, with a bit of investigation we might find if there is any "truth" to anything she says.

Perhaps most pertinently, is there anything in the most recent Ofsted report of a school which she was a teacher at for a number of years, which she disagrees with? The school, like her fictional school, Ordinary Comprehensive, in To Miss With Love, was judged "good with outstanding features".

I found this section heartening, I feel it's difficult for her to refute it, because it's based on hard facts and personal testimony.

"Students enter the school with levels of attainment that are broadly average. They make good progress and many, regardless of attainment or background, reach their personal challenging targets. Overall attainment is above average. The needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities are met well by teachers and by well-trained learning support assistants. They make very good progress. The GCSE standards attained over the past three years have placed the school in the top one third nationally on the basis of achievement.

These high levels of performance are initially underpinned by the good teaching and learning, which includes a high number of outstanding lessons. In the best practice, teachers generate excellent group work and private study that motivates students to think and learn for themselves. This gives them confidence and enables them to review and guide their thinking to indicate the next steps in their learning. Senior leaders recognise that there is more work to do to enable all students to develop these independent learning skills, but clearly a good start has been made. Learning has a very high status in the school and the vast majority of students are sympathetic to others who work hard or strive to improve their performance in any sphere of the school curriculum. Most parents are very supportive - one writes, 'The school has an excellent balance between education, pastoral support and extra-curricular activities.'

The atmosphere of harmony and tolerance throughout the school reflects the school's active approach to developing a good cohesive community. For example, it is reflected in the dramatic decrease in exclusions over the past three years. Personal development and well-being in the school is good overall. Aspects such as spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, students' health and safety, and their contributions to the community are outstanding. A Year 11 student stated, 'There is a great sense of community in our school; we get on with everyone, whatever their backgrounds.' Most students behave and engage well in lessons. They are well supported by effective pastoral teams who work closely with a host of outside agencies to provide excellent quality of care, support and guidance. Attendance is good and improving. Students have a good knowledge of how to be healthy and how to stay safe."

What is your response to this report about your old school Miss Birbalsingh? Unlike your novel, it is based on truthful personal testimony and a variety of different views, including inspectors' own judgements and the various stakeholders involved, pupils, parents, teachers, governors.


It would be great if anyone else has any other information to contact me at
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Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 27/02/2011 - 17:18

Very interesting Francis. And of course Katharine Birbalsingh had only been at St Michaels and All Angels for five weeks before she made her speech to the Tory Party Conference in which she criticised the school and made fun of her pupils - it is worth watching the clip again to see how much pleasure she appears to get from response of the hall on these points.
However it is good to know that Katharine was previously proud to work in a school which had high expectations and excellent practice. More evidence maybe that this particular book is simply a work of fiction?

Andrew Old's picture
Sun, 27/02/2011 - 19:16

I have to say this is the most pathetic thing I have ever read here.

A new low.

Nigel Ford's picture
Sun, 27/02/2011 - 20:10

I've read all her blogs published in the Daily Telegraph in her own unique patois and I can't recall her ever writing one positive statement about state education, often making jaundiced comparisons with the private sector be it the teachers, pupils or facilities.

Yet curiously, for reasons I'm unable to fathom in view of her disparaging comments, she expresses a desire to return to the state sector in a teaching role rather than a private school.

It makes about as much sense as Fiona wanting to join the board of governors at Roedean - where's the smiley icon?

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 27/02/2011 - 23:23

She got fed up of living a lie
The problem is you are defending the lie

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 15:11

If a comment about the disparity between an OFSTED report and the author's account of the school is described as a "pathetic thing" and "a new low", perhaps Andrew Old could provide evidence to back up his assertion.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 15:25

Ben Taylor says Ms Birbalsingh got fed up with living a lie. Which one would that be exactly?

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 15:32

Apparently Katharine now objects to the names of her previous schools being published in case anyone thinks the book was based on them, so we must all be very careful.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 16:52

Ms Birbalsingh defends her book from negative reviews by claiming that reviewers haven't actually read it. She justifies this assertion by saying that the reviewers only mention one of the characters: Miss Snuffy (Miss Birbalsingh's alter ego) and not some of the others like Mr Bushytail (I'm not joking).

If an author who is a high-profile ex-teacher writes a book about experiences in an inner city school, then anyone who has been in a school with her will recognise their establishment and people within it. Perhaps she's afraid that her characters Seething and Deranged will recognise themselves and not like what they read.

All this publicity will, of course, increase interest in her book. It's now 63 in Amazon's best-selling list.

Fiona Millar's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 18:13

She is certainly becoming a great comic character in her own story and judging by the comments following this blog, even some of the Telegraph readers agree with that.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 17:17

The product description for the book on Amazon says: “A third of teachers leave within their first term on the job.”

Is this statistic true? The only accurate evidence I could find was a House of Commons report into teacher retention in secondary education published in 2004:

“We heard in evidence that fewer than 50% of those who begin teacher training are
teaching after five years”

Has anyone more up-to-date evidence which can demonstrate whether the book’s blurb is correct? Or is it just a statistic plucked out of the air?

Andrew Old's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 20:47


The new low is the desperate trawling for any old crap to discredit anyone who tells the truth about our broken school system.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 20:56

She wrote a novel Andrew; fiction is by definition made-up, not truthful. Her OWN 'non-fictional' words praising the school where she worked for years contradict her fictional protrayal of the school. The Ofsted report contradicts it. She wrote a lot of old tosh which has no basis in fact. The only shocker is that no one until now checked to see whether it had any basis in fact -- which it doesn't.

Andrew Old's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 21:15


I'm a teacher. Why would you even bother telling me that OFSTED reports are reliable descriptions? Who actually believes an OFSTED report?

As for Katharine saying different things at different times, surely you are in no position to throw stones? I remember when you were the one writing books about terrible state schools and encouraging people to go private.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 22:13

I don't see the inconsistency in Ms Katharine Birbalsingh in that the Ofsted report and her book based on her own experiences are both capable of being true.

I don't see why she should answer any of your questions if she so chooses since this is the standard the authors of this website seem to operate for themselves - but if you want to lay out a comprehensive standard for equal treatment of web debaters which you intend to stick to please go ahead.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Mon, 28/02/2011 - 22:37

Andrew, I've changed my mind based on my research and experiences of teaching in the state sector during the last decade -- and being a parent: things have got much better than when I first started teaching in the 1990s: teachers are better trained, schools are better resourced, standards have gone up, and inspectors generally assess schools more accurately. KB has refused to say whether she's revised her opinions despite the fact that I've asked her a few times. Where do you teach Andrew and what's your opinion of the school where you teach?

Toby Young's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 00:44


Fiona and her gang are like the school bullies, picking on the new girl for daring to question their status as the coolest kids in the playground.

Just when you think they've hit a "new low", they manage to sink even further. I didn't think they were capable of shocking me, but Nigel Ford's use of the word "patois" to describe Katharine's writing was a marmalade dropper. If she agreed with them, her African-Caribbean heritage would be invoked as a reason to take her seriously. But because she doesn't, they've no qualms about trying to use it to discredit her.

What's next, gang? Are you going to accuse her of being a lesbian?

Oh, and Francis, when exactly did you become convinced that New Labour had brought about this magical transformation in state education? Must have been fairly recently because you wrote the following in the Evening Standard in 2005: ‘Some schools I've known have not been places of learning: they are bearpits of bullying. Over the years, I have been sworn at, jeered at, threatened, had missiles thrown at me, had to break up endless fights and watch constantly so that I didn't sit down on chairs spiked with pins and ripped cans. And that's just the kids. At times, trying to deal with a management which is intent upon meeting pointless and misleading targets is even more difficult, because of the atmosphere of fear that this creates... those kids most in need of higher standards, those from poor backgrounds, still mostly get a raw deal.’

KB couldn't have put it better herself.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 08:53

Glad you have found time to visit us again Toby, and to raise the issue of bullying, which reminds me that you haven't replied to my request that you apologise on the Telegraph website, and on the website of the West London Free School , for the malicious and unfounded allegations you made about me, about my son and about the founders of this site here on November 12 last year. I am happy to take you through each of the 'questions' you posed, line by line, to explain why you are quite wrong on every count.

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 06:08


you appear to be under the impression that everybody has to answer your questions and that if they don't then their opinion is worth less than yours. You know teachers do not have the freedom to criticise their schools so demanding that individual teachers do so before they can be believed about what schools are like, is ludicrous. I can only assume that you resort to this tactic because you know that your general position - that state schools aren't suffering from dumbing down or the behaviour crisis - is so unbelievable to most teachers or observers.

I can't help but notice that before your conversion to the wonderfulness of state education, you were hardly willing to name schools where you had bad experiences. How seriously would you have taken a review of "I'm a teacher, get me out of here" or "Teacher on the Run" that identified the schools you'd worked at, quoted nice things said about them, pointed out that the book was fiction, and then said that clearly everything you descibed was complete fantasy and would never really happen?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 07:54

Andrew Old asks who actually believes OFSTED reports. OFSTED reports, especially the annual ones, have become politicised and an odd thing has happened. If OFSTED reports that a school is inadequate, then this is regarded as true. However, if a school is judged satisfactory or better, then this is conclusion is regarded as misleading. The Government has seized on the negative reports to justify its reforms and is helped by OFSTED when it says that 2010 inspections show "that teaching is still no better than satisfactory in half of secondary schools, 43% of primaries and 43% of colleges that were inspected this year."

In its fervour to show how UK education has "failed", the word "satisfactory" (dictionary definition: meets the required standard) has been redefined as "unsatisfactory", in the same way that OFSTED judgement of "bad" = "reliable", while one of "good" = "misleading".

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 08:49

I have been part of seven Ofsted inspections as a school governor in two different schools. The first one was in 1994 under the original Ofsted framework, the last one in November 2010 under the current one. I know Ofsted is unpopular with a lot of people but I have found every one of these inspections to be broadly accurate about the strengths and weaknesses of the schools concerned. I agree that the new 'tick box' method, with relatively little time spent in the classroom, can fail to spot inspirational teaching. I also worry about any inspection linked to raw test and exam results and which doesn't take into account the progress made by individual students and their levels of attainment on entry. However the self evaluation process ( done properly) has helped schools to improve. All the Ofsted inspections of which I have personal experience have helped hold the governing body to account, and also helped the governors to hold the school to account. In every case, improvement has followed.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 08:04

Andrew Old says the UK has a "broken school system". There is indeed much wrong with the system including constant interference by successive governments over many years. However, the assessment that the system is broken is not borne out by data as has been shown on this website. It's a tribute to teachers that they have managed to educate the majority of schoolchildren despite years of top-down, high-profile initiatives.

Laura Brown's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 08:30

Having read some extracts of the book in the Sunday Times and read some of her telegraph blogs, I am confused. The whole tone (and choice of publications) seems designed to reassure parents who can afford to pay that they are doing the right thing by avoiding the dreadful state system and indeed encourage others to do the same. I just don't see how this is helpful to her apparent desire to help kids from disadvantaged backgrounds receive the same opportunities as those in private schools etc. Surely this makes it more difficult?

The Sunday Times extract from a few weeks back focused on a tale of a middle-class-inner-city-comprehensive-supporting parent whose son ends up permanently excluded (after bringing a metal bar to school to defend himself against a bully, having had a previously unblemished record), not sitting his GCSEs and ultimately smashing a bottle over the bully's head thus further ruining his life. KB wonders aloud in the book whether this parent is now berating herself for ever considering sending her child to this school. The article was illustrated by ridiculous crime scene reconstruction sketches of the boys involved, the metal bar, the fighting and hyperbolic statements about life-ruining and being excluded consigning you to a life in prison - you would really think this was a report on news rather than fiction!!

That is my issue with the whole thing - is it fiction or non-fiction? Anyone who is a teacher or indeed alive in Britain can come up with extreme examples of horrible things they have seen or heard about. That doesn't mean that they are regularly affecting every child in every school in the country. But these stories are held up by certain newspapers as being "the truth" about our schools despite a wealth of evidence that things are improving... No doubt, there are still things and specific schools that need to be improved but I just can't see how KB whipping up a frenzy of anxiety amongst the middle class parent is really going to help anyone.

Andy Smithers's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 10:47


I have just read the article on Telegraph you refer to.
There are a lot of questions for you to answer which I, and I am sure many readers of this site, would be interested to hear the answers to.


Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 12:38

I am happy to answer the questions Toby Young has asked about me:

Comprehensive Future is funded by donations from supporters. My website The Truth About Our Schools was paid for by me. This site was funded by the founding members. It has since had a small charitable donation but receives no funds from trade unions or political parties.

There has not been a high turnover of heads since I became Chair of Governors at William Ellis. One head teacher has resigned.

None of my children has had private tuition.

The governors at William Ellis do not 'dole out' money to any individual students. Nor did my son get a payment from the school to go to Oxford.

I have never tried to be selected as a parliamentary candidate , in Hampstead and Kilburn or anywhere else, so Melissa Benn can't have acted as my 'unofficial agent'

I am not a member of the SWP.

I look forward to reading a full retraction on the Telegraph website.

Ros Coffey's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 11:35

I think my problem with books like this is, they are neither fish nor fowl, is it fact or is it fiction? It reminds me of some biographies that I have read and when you ask others who knew the place and time would say, "Yes it all may have happened but unlikely to have been at the same time and to just one person, more likely to have been an amalgam of a good number of people over a very much period."

I have been an inner City governor for 20 years and I recognise very little from Ms Birbalsingh's blogs and confess to tiring of the constant decrying of state schools. There are a lot of very good schools out there but sadly that will not sell newspapers or, indeed, books.

As to Francis moving on and changing his opinion, I for one applaud it. I certainly don't hold the same opinions that I held ten or more years ago - why - because I have had more experiences which shape those opinions and frankly, I would rather be able to change my mind than feel constrained to think in the same manner that I did twenty years ago because of something that I had written which chimed with my beliefs at that time. Many years ago I believed in the tooth fairy, I don't anymore, I put that down to gathering further evidence and being able to reach the alternative conclusion that it was my mother filching about under by pillow. Now that may make me look gullible but I think it just shows that I have matured.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 12:16

Thanks Ros to saying what I was going to say about changing my mind. I have changed my mind because I have been persuaded by my own experiences in the classroom and as a parent that state schools have got MUCH, MUCH better in the last ten years. The quote you refer to in the Standard was about my time in the 1990s as a teacher, when I wrote two books about my experiences. I was experiencing the fallout of the disastrous Tory party education policies: the under-investment and poor management of things. New Labour got a lot wrong, but I am increasingly realising that they got much right too. Most particularly, teaching in state schools has improved hugely since I first started teaching: the new recruits are better trained and really committed. When I first started teaching, things were desperate. I taught in a school which had 3% 5 A-C grades; that same school now regularly achieves 80% because the teaching is so MUCH better. I did send my child to a private school for a while but pulled him out, and now he's much happier and achieving more highly in a state school. Birbalsingh taught for some years in a school which we know from objective evidence is MASSIVELY improved; her novel just doesn't count as evidence. The Ofsted report does; it's called using a sound evidence base, Toby and Andrew. I am sorry that you prefer to believe fiction above the facts.

Ros Coffey's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 12:39

Actually Francis, I have a confession to make, back in the early 70s, I was part of a group responsible for putting a drawing pin in a seat which our Latin teacher was destined to sit upon - unfortunately our French teacher had a much larger derriere and suffered the consequences - although we were a girls only, Convent Grammar school in the home counties!

Nigel Ford's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 15:12

Toby - my use of the term "patois" wasn't intended as any racial slight (if that's what you're implying) but merely using a word to describe her unique style of writing.

But it is true that her blogs constantly denigrate the state sector giving ammunition to private school advocates. Rarely, if ever, does she say anything positive about maintained comprehensive schools and her criticism seldom seems constructive which is why I wonder why she wishes to return as a teacher in the state sector.

People like Fiona and Francis come in for stick from posters on KT's blog and KT herself isn't averse to sticking the boot in (sometimes quite unjustly) as I've illustrated on this site before.

Subscribers to this blog know that I differ politically to most of the core posters on here and I have supported KTs views on the phasing out of EMA, so I'm nobody’s poodle.

However, as I strongly believe in supporting local state schools, even if they languish near the bottom of the league tables, like the comprehensive school my kids attended, I think I share the central philosophy of this board.

There was an article in the Telegraph recently about how oversubscribed popular state schools are, ie those at the top of the league tables, and how many working class parents couldn't get their kids into these schools because they don't have the financial means to buy a property in the catchment area or have the wherewithal to know the machinations of getting their children in.

I think what people on this site are doing by sending their children to the less oversubscribed local schools, promoting community values, giving these schools more balanced intakes, raising standards from within and supporting the teaching staff is really admirable as it helps to elevate their standing. For that reason alone they will always (for what it's worth) get my wholehearted respect.

Plodder's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 16:16

Don't you lot have anything better to do? It's a book. Get over yourselves. It's an amalgam of experience. If what I've read is correct, KB has never pretended that the book is a chronological, real time account of the experience she had in one school. She's said that all that happens in the book has happened to a number of people in a number of schools. Isn't the issue that these things happen in some schools, some of the time & most state schools will recognise something of themselves in it. I don't like the book, nor do I agree with the politics of it, but the aim to improve things for all, particularly disadvantaged, children must be a good one whatever its source. Stop sniping. Drop the political point scoring. That London schools have made massive progress in 10 years is undeniable. Things are better. But those of us in such schools know that we must keep doing better still. The gaps in achievement must be closed. Some of the commentators above should be using their time to find ways to do this rather than simply continue an already sterile debate. We're better than this, I would hope. And what's at stake is too important simply to point score.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 17:19

Plodder is right - it is a book. But it is a book that is being used to "prove" that state education is abysmal. The anecdotes (real, imagined, composite, whatever) are not being treated as specific incidents but regarded as generalised "home truths" about a "broken system".

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 17:30

Sorry Plodder but some of us are indeed Plodding On campaigning on a range of issues that will make our local schools even better. Nothing sterile in that. Nothing sterile either in carrying on pointing out key political facts that critics of comprehensive schools always fail to mention viz that the continuation of academic selection and covert social selection in many state schools harms the intakes of other schools; and that schools with mixed intakes do much better. Incidentally, I find this new line perpetrated by Birbalsingh and others that middle class families in inner city state schools are now the problem because they cover up the so called failings of these schools a rather sinister development . So would it be better if all middle class families went to expensive private schools and sneered from the sidelines? Or converted to Catholicism?

Plodder's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 18:02

Melissa, do you and the rest of LSN work as a tag team? I know I won't get the last word. But your thinking, dare I say, seems faulty. You complain about covert selection and yet say mixed intake schools do better anyway. So why complain about the selection if it makes no difference to outcomes in other schools? The argument follows that covert selection limits the possibility of more mixed intake schools. But if that's the case, why are so many schools in London doing so much better, regardless of intake? And if all the children in the independent sector were made to go to state schools, there wouldn't be enough to ensure that all schools had a sufficiently mixed intake, would there? So that in itself isn't the answer. We need schools to be as good as they can be with high standards, a rich curriculum and a belief that all students can become something meaningful. While the sniping continues - she's wrong, we're right - the status quo remains. When a comprehensive school student from London is regularly Prime Minister or running Lloyds or winning a Nobel prize, you can spend time pontificating as the cause will have been won and no one will care. In the meantime, those of us in schools are trying to make a difference and we have a real job to do before such changes happen. Don't pretend you speak for us please. And what about all those schools which you suggest are 'covertly' selecting? The hard work of the staff & students in such a school is dismissed with the arrogance that you decry KB for. Cake and eat it springs to mind. Over to Team LSN.

Melissa Benn's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 18:32

Sorry, but our Foreign Secretary, the leader of her Majesty's Opposition went to a comprehensive school as do many other significant figures in public life, if that's what you are worried about. And my point on selection is simple: we can't say we have have a comprehensive system when so many schools select. Phase out selection AND improve standards ...we'd have a world class school system then. I have no idea what kind of school you work in - so do let us know...

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 19:20

To Plodder and Andrew Old, I have a problem with so-called "teachers" who can't be identified. At the very least we can say we know that Katherine Birbalsingh is a "real" person. For all we know, Andrew Old and Plodder are not "real" teachers at all, but internet "trolls", picking fights when they see fit. There's quite a bit of evidence that Andrew Old does this. Identify yourself chaps (names of schools where you teach and your real names) and then we might take you a little more seriously.

Plodder's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 07:40

This 'so-called' teacher is too busy to be an 'internet troll' (whatever that is) and is off to mark Y13 work before school starts. Clearly what I have to say cannot be true if you don't know my name. I'm probably a Tory agitator with no interest in education and an unhealthy desire to bait those who speak the real truth about our schools. But when you lift your eyes from the self-congratulatory forums you exist in, the real world has carried on: 2 figures in 'main' Government (and I'm you sure that you're a great champion of William Hague as a state school boy regardless of his political views) hardly constitutes success for the system. We must do better. When 2 former state school students are at the top of every major national institution (Govt, business, everywhere) rather than as token evidence, then we will be getting somewhere and have a chance of sustaining real social mobility in the future. But you don't know my name so that can't be true or worthwhile as a view either, can it.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 08:27

In an area where there is selection, covert or otherwise, there will be a school, or schools, which are "creamed". These schools will inevitably have results which are lower than their counterparts who have most of the academic students. As schools are judged on their academic results, then creamed schools find themselves at a low position in league tables. This in turn makes them less popular with parents. They are then locked in a spiral of decline: fewer pupils - falling rolls - fewer teachers - fewer subjects offered at GCSE - difficult to attract new teachers (because who wants to teach in a school perceived to be "failing"?) and so on. They are then pilloried as schools unfit for purpose.

Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 09:14

Plodder - Melissa didn't point out 2 figures in "main" gov't, only 1, since Ed Milliband (to whom she referred) is in opposition.

As well as Hague - Fox, May, Pickles and Baroness Warsi from the Conservative Cabinet attended comprehensives (there may be more) and I'm sure one of the Labour stalwarts on here could give you a long list of politicians from the opposition bench who also enjoyed comprehensive schooling.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 09:28

Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper spring immediately to mind. We have rehearsed some of these lists on the site before ( including people in show business and the arts ). However I think the important point is that the big expansion in comprehensive education came in the 1970s and that generation is only now becoming prominent in public life. I expect in the next two decades we will see an increase in the numbers of former comprehensive students in prominent positions. I I can certainly see some formidable young people among my own children's 20-something generation, many of whom were educated in their local state schools.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 09:43

At the end of last year, Lisa Nandy, a new Labour MP asked a question about the educational background of all MPs from the three main political parties. The answer was as follows:
Conservative: 46% state educated, 54% privately educated
Labour: 86% state educated, 14% privately educated
Lib Dem: 61% state educated, 36% privately educated.
It doesn't distinguish between comprehensive and grammar schools but does show, at least in the Labour Party, that the balance is very much in favour of MPs with state school backgrounds and is approaching the split in the school population as a whole.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 10:17

What's the big deal about telling us who you really are, Plodder? And yes, you said it yourself, your comments speaking "as a teacher" are worthless until you prove to us that you really do teach! As Fiona has already shown your general knowledge seems quite poor too.

Plodder's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 11:07

Ooh, now you've hurt my feelings. You're all so sharp. I can now see exactly how knowing my name would 'prove ...(I) really do teach'. Don't know why i couldn't se it before. You're all quite right to ignore the 'bleedin' obvious' while 'trolls' like me continue to waste your time. It's refreshing to see how up for a real debate you are. I can't imagine why right wing commentators see you as easy targets. See, you've converted me. Now I'm writing about me rather than the real issue. Thank you.

Plodder's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 11:13

Apologies for the typos in the last piece. It was the emotion of the moment. And does the current number of MPs from 'state' schools (and I wonder how many of them are from deprived bakgrounds and I suspect not many, which was the point I was making but feel free to ignore it) prove that social mobility is growing? Or that the attainment gap isn't growing? Or that the 9% of the student population in Independent schools don't still take 46% of Oxbridge places?

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 12:37

This is work in progress from our point of view. None of us would pretend that the system is perfect or that we believe that outcomes for some groups of students are good enough yet. But one reason we set up this site, and all work hard in our own local schools ( as volunteers) is because we believe high quality , well resourced, well led, non selective, collaborative local school systems are part of the answer. Even after almost ten years of campaigning on these issues, I am amazed at how a) controversial that idea seems to be and b) how angry some people get at the idea that it is possible to get a good, well rounded education in your local school. That, I would have thought, should be a cause for celebration, not despair.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 12:51

Plodder, as you must know if you are teacher, order in the classroom is important, particularly in debates: my pupils are not allowed to make unsubstantiated comments, not backed up with hard evidence. It's called PEAing; Point, Evidence, Analysis. In state schools you see, we insist upon high standards.

Plodder's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 14:32

Francis, I've always advised students to PEE their way to success - point, evidence, explain. I hope they also learn not to fear the unknown as doing so has blighted many a life. Fiona, I'm not sure that there is anything controversial about the idea of a good, local, comprehensive school. There are a lot of them, thankfully. I work in one and know many others. Or why the idea would make anyone angry. An odd notion. But even in my school, there is much we can do to improve things further. And in some schools, many things remain to be done. KB has not raised anything that isn't true therefore. I suspect, like you, that there are better ways of making such points. But such issues remain with us and must be addressed. The system is not broken in the way she suggests. Who, outside the world of the Daily Mail, really believes that it is? But we do the students we serve an injustice - and not just the middle class children who will usually be OK even in a very challenging school - by saying that KB is lying full stop and therefore carry on as you are?

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 14:51

I don't think anyone would advocate carrying on as we are. We have a number of reforms we would like to see in our school system. Nor are we suggesting that Kathaerine Birbalsingh is lying, because we all know these incidents she describes do take place. However they are rare in many schools, where a lot of very positive work takes place, as the school pupil who reviewed her book in the Observer this week observed. Hers is a very partial picture, which plays into the general media narrative about state schools, which is that the words 'good' and ' comprehensive' can never go together. We are just trying to redress the balance and it is very heartening to see that there are many, equally realistic, but positive parents out there who agree with us and would like to help their local schools get better rather than indulge in trashing them.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 15:00

"The system is not broken in the way she suggests. Who, outside the world of the Daily Mail, really believes that it is? "

In adjacent areas of South London to where I live, there are a huge number of middle class parents (by which I mean those who can afford to go privately or buy million pound houses in the catchment area of the planned free school) who do seem to believe that what KB describes is the norm in our state schools.

There is so much misinformation, paranoia and anxiety about sending their children to the existing good/outstanding local schools despite the fact that many people have never even looked round these schools!

I'm just not convinced that KB-style shock tactics in newspapers generally read by these types of parents are the way to help our schools improve for the benefit of all those who go to them...

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 15:16

Here is a link to an article that Melissa and I wrote in the New Statesman two years ago on this subject. Unfortunately it doesn't link to the accompanying column which carried answers from all the national newspaper editors about which schools they had chosen for their own children. All bar one had NO credible experience of what a modern comprehensive school was like, preferring to rely on the negative images portrayed in their papers. The editor of the Daily Mail sent his son to Eton.
Laura has hit the nail on the head . This matters because it makes many parents very anxious, when in fact most people have nothing to fear from their local schools and often don't look at what is on offer because of this wall of negative propaganda.
Meanwhile we hear little in the media about what really goes on in some private schools. As I live in a part of London that has more state and private schools per square mile than any other part of Western Europe, I do pick up a lot of interesting stories and they are not always positive. Don't expect to see any of this aired in the press though. There is a conspiracy of silence on this subject!

Ms Believer's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 15:14

Sorry but I'm with Plodder on this one. Citing how many MPs are or are not state educated is irrelevant as long as the poorest in society are failing educationally. And many are. The biggest covert selection in state schools in my experience is by the middle classes who know how to play the game. Francis, you even wrote a book about it. This is how the reputations of schools are won or lost yet even at many of the most socially cohesive comprehensives, it is the poorer children who are more likely to fail. My daughter is just coming to the end of 7 years at a state comprehensive. In that time it has gone from a good school, through special measures and into Academy Status. Not many middle class families lasted the course of special measures when the school was at rock bottom. Children who could moved to other schools, mostly independent. It is not easy finding a good school with spaces in some areas, so the rest had to put up and shut up. The real story behind the success is a committed headteacher who believes in and has the highest aspirations for all the children along with a focus on improving the teaching and learning. Isn't this the point that KB is trying to make - even if at times her Telegraph Blog and Book don't articulate it in quite the way we want to hear.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 15:34

Yes we are totally in favour of brilliant heads, great teachers, especially in schools with very disadvantaged intakes and middle class parents who don't play the system, although there is much more to covert selection than that,so admissions need to be radically reformed. As I understand it Katharine Birbalsingh previously worked in a school that had a good head, was popular, oversubscribed and with mostly good teaching, which is why her very partial picture in this book is so disappointing and leads people to be suspicious of her motives. It doesn't help the least well off children to be educated in schools that are demonised and abandoned by their local communities.


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