The Michaela Community School

Fiona Millar's picture
Prompted by a few threads on this site, I have had a look at the website for school being proposed by Katharine Birbalsingh in Lambeth.  The first very noticeable thing is that it is to be called the Michaela Community School. Is the title " community school" making a comeback even before Michael Gove has managed to abolish them all? The fact that this will be a free school is buried away on the site - this is interesting. Maybe being a free school is now old hat - I have been thinking for a while that there might be some merit in just soldiering on as a community or voluntary aided school as eventually we will be special, unique and different. Free schools and academies will be the bog standard model.

Secondly, unless I am missing something, there is no information at all about the people who plan to start and presumably run this school - just a picture of a few nameless individuals. Why then should we have any confidence that they can deliver their grandiose claims. Anyone can set up a website and make any number of claims about what they plan to achieve. There is no way of knowing that this will be translated into reality until the school is up and running. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the real world when they are grappling with recruiting staff, ever decreasing budgets and above all, the unexpected .

One final interesting point - there seems to be an assumption on this site and amongst the various comments in the media that Katharine Birbalsingh will be the head teacher. As she is also the founder of the school, will she be appointing herself?

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olive's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 20:42

Do you think she's naming it after Michael Gove?

Sassy Puff's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 12:36

I read that it is named after a former colleague of Birbalsingh's who died recently. I'm guessing it is this lady;

Peter's picture
Tue, 14/06/2011 - 21:59

The concept of Katharine Birbalsingh as a headteacher raises intriguing questions.

What if other teachers disliked the way she ran the school? If her deputy, say, went on television to decry the school, what action would be appropriate?

I note that in a blog Ms Birbalsingh slated Vince Cable for disloyalty to the coalition. "Cable is no better than a spoilt child. He is meant to be part of a coalition! I’m sure David Cameron must harbour a vast number of negative thoughts about Vince Cable. Does he say them? NO! The man understands what leadership is: that public (or indeed private) rudeness has no place in any civilised leadership team!"

Ms Birbalsingh's actions have severely compromised her ability to require loyalty from any team that she may ever hope to lead.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 07:30

A more general, but interesting question is : What would happen if the teacher/founder of a free school then stepped back from the trust/governance arrangements in order to take part in an open competition for the Head teachers job but there was another better candidate on the day?
One assumes that the schools will be required to appoint heads and teachers openly and fairly as part of their funding agreements, however even that is not clear since we can't see them.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 12:03

So Mr Cameron understands that "public (or indeed private) rudeness has no place in any civilised leadership team!" Perhaps Ms Birbalsingh has missed Mr Cameron's patronising remarks to a female MP in the Commons, telling her several times to "Calm down, dear." Or doesn't realise that entering when Mr Cameron enters a hospital ward with an entourage of TV crew it is not leadership but a photo opportunity - one that backfired spectacularly yesterday when a hospital surgeon told them to clear out.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 11:23

Fiona's comments put the strange and secretive arrangement of Free Schools back into the spotlight. Katherine Birbalsingh as both Governor and Head - is this a first in a state school? It would be useful if she made her intentions clear, perhaps on the school website?

I am always bemused by those generic library shots you see on websites and pamphlets for, say, financial services companies. All these young, smart, professional, smiley people, clutching pens and documents, all engaging with other to attract the punter in. When you arrive at the office, you realise none of the people in the pictures actually work for the company and the company, strangely, doesn't really have an office either but are hot-desking or renting a corner. You sit there, while they plug their services, and you feel a bit uncomfortable as they give you the whole spiel about how great they are and only they can provide the surface you want, all the time thinking - the set up is a bit fly-by-night and "dodgy" and do I want to put my children there?

Sorry - did I say children? I meant my annual accounts....

So who are the people behind the school? The steering committee? The head? The teachers? The support staff? The admin staff? The cooks? all these people who back up and will put into practice the claims promised on the website?

The staff. I read yesterday that the new draft Admissions Code includes a proposal to “give priority to children of staff when a school is over-subscribed, if the school wishes, making it easier for schools to recruit teachers and other staff”. This means that it won't make it easier for Free School founders to get their own children in since the new rule doesn’t apply specifically to free schools, and it makes no point about reserved places for founders’ children.

However, because free schools tend to be set up in areas where there’s a shortage of places, they’re likely to be over-subscribed. Channel 4's Fact check called the Department of Education who revealed that on this point, free schools are left out of the code. “We’ll consider it on a case-by-case basis. If the founders make it part of their proposals (to reserve a place) then we’ll consider it,” a spokesman for the Department for Education said.

So Toby Young could be rewarded for his diligence setting up a school in West London, by putting his four children at the head of the queue if he so chose. And how many "founders" can there be? Can a whole steering committee of, say, 50 people, be "founders"? If they all had one child each, would 50 places be given over already to the founders? Are you still a founder if you attach yourself to a Edu-chain?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 11:49

I've often wondered where the children shown in websites for non-existent schools come from. Wherever they're from, they are not from the schools being promoted because they are not open yet. Are they from neighbouring community schools, or independent ones (the latter would be better)? Are the children not in schools at all, but posed for the picture - smiling, looking earnestly into a test-tube, playing a violin? Are they stock photos filched from a clip art folder? Did parents give permission for their children's images to be used?

One example is the video on Langley Hall Primary Academy website which shows a video of happy children engaged in all sorts of activites (including a cute picture of two toddlers holding hands) to a background of up-beat music. The video invites the viewer to "Picture a school..." followed by lots of positive statements. And the answer to each statement is - at any good community school.

Ian Taylor's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 13:10

I watched the video. I recommend it.
Reminded me of this one.
The sad thing is that these videos work, and people are prepared to pay lots of money for fizzy water.
The clever trick with Free Schools is that we are all going to pay for someone else’s fizzy water.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 13:28

Stock photos and stock clips to present an image of something that actually isn't real. Is it me or is it a bit Stepford Wives creepy?

Sassy Puff's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 11:59

The school has a Facebook page that sheds a bit more light on things.
If you go to Photos, then Press Clippings April 2011 and look at the fourth photo, it gives the names of the steering committee.
I hesitate to include this, because I find this man utterly tedious, and quite frankly offensive, but James Delingpole has written about the Michaela School;

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 14:04

She has such persuasive, moderate, engaging supporters no? Sarcasm aside, she and Free School founders do themselves no favours by being surrounded by so many hysterical, combattive and unreasonable supporters

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 15:57

The Telegraph article contains this statement:

"We currently live in a country where seven per cent of the population receives the best education in the world (the British private school system) but where the other 93 per cent receives (unless they’re really lucky) one of the worst"

Perhaps Mr Delingpole will provide a link to the evidence that the British independent system is the best in the world. Toby Young made the same statement (referencing the OECD) on this site months ago. I asked him to provide a link - he has yet to do so. Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools, said it in Parliament on 11 May (again referencing OECD). I have written to my MP to request him to ask Mr Gibb for the link. When it is provided, I will post it on this site.

I would also like Mr Delingpole to provide the link to the evidence which says the UK educational system is the worst. Even the much-quoted OECD figures do not say that - you know, the ones which are supposed to say that the standard of education in the UK has fallen appallingly in ten years (despite the fact that the OECD has said that the 2000 figures are flawed and should not be used for comparison). And I would remind Mr Delingpole that the 2009 PISA figures showed UK school children were at the OECD average for Maths and English, and ABOVE AVERAGE (I apologise for shouting) in Science. The Trends in Maths and Science Survey (TIMSS), admittedly a much smaller survey than PISA) showed that English school children were the highest scoring of the European countries in Maths and Science.

Does that really show that the UK education system is one of the worst? And does it prove that 93% are locked in a system which is not fit for purpose? I don't think so. But sensational and innacurate reporting, especially when it confirms the prejudices of so many people including our own Secretary of State, trumps hard evidence.

I'll finish with this quotation from OECD - I know it almost off-by-heart:

"On average across OECD countries, privately managed schools display a performance advantage of 30 score points on the PISA reading scale (in the United Kingdom even of 62 score points)". Now that seems to confirm Mr Delingpole's and Mr Gibb's assertion. But, there is a but. The next sentence reads:

"However, once the socio-economic background of students and schools is accounted for, public [publicly-funded] schools come out with a slight advantage of 7 score points, on average across OECD countries"

And here's the killer statement: "In the United Kingdom public schools outscore privately managed schools by 20 score points once the socio-economic background is accounted for."

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 13:54

Even Toby Young turned her down to teach at his free school. I guess that means the only way you get a job is to appoint yourself.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 14:55

Birbalsingh has just written about Gove's new GCSE targets–-but-his-new-gcse-targets-are-unfair-and-unrealistic/

At first glance, you think she's criticising him. But - phew! - it's another one of her poorly veiled attacks on the system and asking Gove to move faster

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 15:35

And she propagates the myth that community schools are crushed under local authority control. She knows very well that local authorities' responsibilities are limited to such things as admissions and that schools already enjoy a large level of autonomy and are free to be innovative. The dead hand of local authority control is a myth circulated by academy supporters. What local authorities provide is administrative and legal support - the responsibility for this devolves to the school when it becomes an academy.

Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 16:24

Will Lambeth Council give clearance for KB to use the site of the old Lillian Bayliss school?

The best-laid plans will come to nought without the nod from the Labour controlled council which is opposed to the concept of free schools. It seems akin to naming the baby and decorating the bedroom before the pregnancy

Steve Sarsfield's picture
Wed, 15/06/2011 - 18:52

My personal review of the Michaela Community Website

Trying hard to be elitist but failing.

Incredibly pretentious and lacking any meaningful, substantial information.
KB is a shameless self publicist and my only surprise is that the proposed school does not bear her name.

Narrow curriculum appears outdated and obsessively aimed at learnt facts. So any future pupils will be well prepared for Pub Quiz’s.

Total absence of DT and Food Technology so innovation, design and practical problem solving have all been sidelined.

The school also seems very small. Implication is that in order for MSC to succeed KB will be looking at class sizes of fewer than 20 for many subjects.

Sassy Puff's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 12:46

Ha! Well, given that she appears to be quite unreasonable and combative herself...
What I don't understand is why she continues to be taken seriously by anyone. I can understand why right wingers love her, but given her track record, why does anyone else pay her any attention? Yesterday, she was questioned on the news about her thoughts on streaming in primary schools!? Wasn't she sacked from her last job?
Please, someone explain!

Marie Faulkner's picture
Mon, 27/06/2011 - 10:58

Sign the petition against the proposed free school in Lambeth here:

Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 22:53

Interestingly, the Michaela Facebook site makes no mention of Katharine Birbalsingh's interest in a government owned building in Balham, following the sale of the school building she was after in Lambeth by Lambeth Council.

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