Katherine Birbalsingh has posted a bizarre Telegraph blog
in response to Fiona Millar’s piece on Academy chains in Monday’s Guardian
Firstly, the comparison between a US President giving reasons to launch a war of terror and a journalist writing about the very real possibility of for-profit making companies running schools is so far-fetched and fabricated that it would be merely ridiculous if it were penned by someone who is not in the process of campaigning to set up a school. Unfortunately, this is a woman who has sharp elbowed her way into the forefront of the Free Schools debate and is promoting herself as the sort of headteacher you would willingly entrust with your child’s education.
Secondly, This is a woman unable to see the big picture or too unfocused and lazy to actually mouse click her way into the E-Act site to see that the company itself is indeed thinking about the possibility of making profits. A woman who, despite shrilly taking to her blog to convince the nation that she is an influential voice in school reform, seems ignorant of the recent ASI report recommending for-profit making companies to run schools. And finally a woman so misguided, so in thrall to and so unquestioning of government policy, that she is rendered incapable of informing herself about the failures of charter schools in the US, partly as a result of the way that many profit-making companies have taken over the running of a school to such a degree that standards have actually fallen and boards and states are suing the very companies responsible for the schools.
Of course there is no “proof” that this is happening in the UK. That is because Academies and Free Schools are a very recent development and the chaotic and secretive way that they have imposed themselves onto the schools map around the country leaves them wide open to the forces of free-market intervention. But any fool would be able to see that, since the government itself has admitted that Academy and Free School expansion is financially unsustainable, the money will have to come from somewhere. Has it not occurred to Birbalsingh that this just might indicate that the commercialization of schools is a very real possibility? Is she herself blithely unaware that Gove himself has declared on at least two occasions that he is not ideologically opposed to the idea?
She describes herself as “naïve”. Well, her self analysis is flattering to a degree that Norma Desmond might find excessive. She claims that the ordinary person in the street would immediately equate free schools with profit because this is what Fiona Millar and the Local Schools Network has put out there. I don’t think so. The ordinary person knows little about free schools, how they are set up, what they are going to teach or where, or even how they are funded. The last thing to occur to them is that they are going to make profits. This hasn’t even occurred to Birbalsingh either, it seems.
Birbalsingh is a graduate of Oxford University. Much is being made of the private school inspired curriculum and culture of Academies and Free Schools, with the implication that ‘poor’ children enrolled in them will have the same academic advantages to compete for places at Oxbridge. This may be true. But Birbalsingh herself is not the best example to young people of the intellectual rigour commonly associated with Oxford University graduates.
When people like Birbalsingh resort to personal and irrational attacks, you know the game is up for them. Not only has her dubious credibility reached an all-time low, but once again her suitability to lead, inspire and influence has to be seriously called into question. If her school ever reaches Funding Agreement stage and if the rumours that Anthony Seldon of Wellington College is going into partnership with her are true, then we will really know that the state of state education in this country is rotten.