Headteacher and TES columnist Mike Kent nails the "scare-mongerers"

Francis Gilbert's picture
Mike Kent, the Times Educational Supplement columnist, who is an experienced headteacher (and a consistently witty and wise writer too) has written a great column this week on the two teacher books that have been in the news recently: Katherine Birbalsingh's "To Miss With Love" and Charlie Carroll's "On The Edge". His last paragraph is worth quoting:

"Books such as Ms Birbalsingh's and Mr Carroll's are important reads, but there is a fair amount of scaremongering about them and the average reader could easily believe that what they describe is the norm. It isn't. And even in schools where it is, the route to putting things right isn't exactly rocket science."

I couldn't agree more. The schools described in these books are not "normal" and it's worrying that the authors have promoted them by pretending they are.
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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 17:31

It's not just the average reader who believes the accounts. Just read the recommendations printed in "To Miss With Love". They include:

"This gripping, occasionally shocking and surprisingly moving book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand what life in Britain's innter-city schools is really like... exposes the terrible failings of our current education system." Kate Hoey, MP

"...the struggle to hold on to your ideals in the face of a broken system - this book is the story of contemporary state education." Toby Young.

"...a book which explains why our kids have been failed by State Education." Rod Liddle

Oh, dear.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 17:38

But do any of the above have the experience of state schools like Mike Kent does? Er...I think not.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 18:50

Its amazing that Ms Hoey didn't try to do more about these problems in her constituency in her capacity as Member of Parliament for Vauxhall for longer than I can remember. I don't believe she has children either so no first hand experience of the education system, other when she was a hockey teacher of course...

Andrew Old's picture
Sat, 19/03/2011 - 11:58

A person in a position of power says: "Don't worry everything's fine; people like me are doing a really good job; anyone who says otherwise is scaremongering."

And you believe it?

It wouldn't be so absurd if it wasn't for the fact that a few years ago, you were one of the scaremongers.

Andrew Old's picture
Sat, 19/03/2011 - 12:32

I have now read the actual column rather than Francis' interpretation based on the last paragraph it seems fairly sensible.

But just to clarify one thing, Mike Kent is a primary headteacher. He does not work in secondary schools and, therefore, has only limited experience by which to judge what is or isn't normal in secondaries.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 10:39

As a primary headteacher, Mike Kent is in a better position to judge what happens in secondary schools than the people mentioned in my first post (two journalists and a MP) who took the incidents in Ms Birbalsingh's book to demonstrate a "broken system". Incidents like this do happen but they don't happen in every class in every secondary school every day. This, however, is the impression given by Ms Snuffy who bases her ideas on hunches (eg making students repeat years) which are not based on empirical evidence, but instead blames the "system". Mr Carroll, on the other hand, while highlighting some horrific incidents did point out that in a school with good leadership and management these incidents were greatly reduced.

Andrew Old's picture
Mon, 21/03/2011 - 13:36


I'm a secondary school teacher, so I know what schools are like so there's no point playing the "who can we quote" game. I was just amused that Francis' star witness against the accuracy of accounts written by secondary school teachers turned out not to actually work in secondary schools and that he appears to have obscured this by simply describing him as "an experienced headteacher".

I just find you denialists hilarious. One unrepresentative paragraph from an establishment figure not working in a relevant sector is meant to hold more weight than two whole books written by secondary school teachers. Even more amusingly, despite this saremonger comment Mike Kent is far from a consistent denialist. Here's a more extended account of his view of Katharine Birbalsingh:


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 08:35

The article to which Andrew Old refers actually confirms the point made in the TES review when discussing Mr Carroll's book: that it is leadership that turns schools round. It is not being a "denialist" to say that the problems Ms Snuffy highlights, while undeniably present in some schools, are not symptomatic of a "broken system". It is, however, creaking under the weight of decades of innovations.

Andrew Old says that the books carry weight. I have reviewed Ms Birbalsingh's book on this site under the heading "Ms Snuffy to the rescue - not quite". It highlights problems with the book while at the same time acknowledging when Ms Birbalsingh makes valid points about such things as league tables being a poor way to judge schools (pp 130-132). Unfortunately her nuggets of truth are lost.

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 17:04

Janet, do you have a point? You seem to be just asserting things.

Happi's picture
Fri, 06/05/2011 - 14:52

You're right of course that the schools described are not normal inso far as one of these books is about a school described as "good with some outstanding features".

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