Flagship free school Michaela fears its teachers will be ‘harmed’ by pupils from other schools

Janet Downs's picture

Teachers at flagship free school Michaela Community School (MCS) fear they will be ‘harmed’ by pupils from other schools, recent accounts* reveal. 

It’s to be hoped Michaela’s senior team has contacted local schools to report intimidation.  Secondary schools within one mile of MCS are Ark Academy, Ark Elvin, Preston Manor High and the independent Lycee International De Londres.  Principals need to know if their pupils are behaving unacceptably.

Another risk was ‘detractors from the outside harassing staff on social media’.  This is odd because an MCS blog suggested twitter was a ‘chance to develop your thinking’.  The blog’s writer (‘admin’) said s/he had received tweets which caused anger.  But ‘admin’ recognised this was just emotion.  The correct response was to exercise control when replying.   

One risk in the previous year’s accounts is missing: the fear that ‘disgruntled members of staff bring the school into disrepute’.  As MCS only opened in September 2014 and presumably recruited staff who supported the ‘Michaela way’, it’s surprising MCS feared some teachers might be so discontented their concerns could damage the school.

A third risk included ‘GCSE exam results being below expectations because of the nature of the exams’.   MCS hasn’t entered pupils for GCSEs yet but fills nearly half of its financial report with tables showing how well pupils are doing in ‘national tests’.   But the only national tests on which MCS will be judged are based on GCSE results. If MCS pupils don’t do well it appears this will be because of the ‘nature of the exams’.

Yet MCS appears to have nothing to fear.  Ofsted has judged it outstanding.    It’s odd, then, that in a Times article today exalting MCS, Melanie Phillips repeats the lazy criticism that Ofsted believes ‘knowledge wasn’t important’ and is more interested in ‘engineering attitudes into conforming with prevailing social orthodoxies’.   

But Ofsted praises MSC for promoting knowledge and understanding.   When applied to ‘British values’ this prepares pupils ‘exceptionally well for life in modern Britain’.    This contradicts the assertion that Ofsted is knowledge averse or that inspectors conform to some nebulous ‘social orthodoxies’. 

When questioned about Michaela’s outstanding judgement, Phillips later commented ‘I was making a point about the general education culture and its toleration or promotion of child-centred attitudes.’

Phillips cites Civitas who published three books denouncing ‘child centred’ methods in 2014.    But neither explains who or what is at the centre of education if children aren’t

Phillips says the regime at MCS is essential for children from ‘shattered or chaotic’ families.  But are all MCS pupils from such families?  It’s true the proportion of children eligible for free school meals (FSM) at any time during the past six years is twenty percentage points higher than the national average of 29.1%.  But it doesn’t follow that all these FSM pupils come from dysfunctional families.   This implication does a disservice to the many disadvantaged families who provide a loving environment despite hardships. 

It could even be viewed as prejudice if free school meals eligibility is too easily equated with chaos and dysfunction.


*Accounts available from Companies House

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 06/03/2018 - 16:11

"Teachers at flagship free school Michaela Community School (MCS) fear they will be ‘harmed’ by pupils from other schools, recent accounts reveal. "

Is there no risk of harm from the methods employed by their own school? See


Matthew Bennett's picture
Wed, 07/03/2018 - 21:56

Worth noting that one of the founding fathers of 'no excuses' schooling, Mike Feinberg, has just been fired by the KIPP chain of charter schools 'after an investigation found credible a claim that he sexually abused a student some two decades ago' (New York Times).  The same investigation found evidence that he had sexually harrassed two KIPP employees -- apparently former students taken on by the chain as teaching assistants or unqualified teachers.


Feinberg and his colleague David Levin developed the 'no excuses' model as novice teachers working in Houston in the 1990s.  (They were both Teach for America recruits -- i.e. their training consisted of a five-week summer camp.)  They founded KIPP -- the Knowledge is Power Program -- in 1994.  One of the chain's main slogans -- ripped off from the maverick (and now-disgraced) teacher Rafe Esquith -- is 'Work hard, be nice'.

Since then, the KIPP approach has become the standard operating model of the big US charter school chains.  And it has been spreading like a virus through English state schools since the late 2000s.  As Paul Marshall, hedge fund boss and ARK Schools trustee (and former lead non-exec at the DfE), told an interviewer back in 2011:  'We model ourselves on the American KIPP schools'.

Michaela's mottos are 'Knowledge is power' and 'Work hard, be kind'.




Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 08/03/2018 - 11:34

KIPP comes from the same false ideology as the notion that all education is 'skills-based'. Barely a day goes by without some BBC presenter repeating concerns about 'the lack of STEM skills in our school leavers'. 'Skills' are acquired by training and practising'. The study of maths, science and technology is about conceptual understanding, not 'skills'.

I am not decrying skills, and they are certainly in decline. How many young adults can now mend a puncture in a bicycle tyre? It is tricky. The first problem is to lever part of the tyre over the rim of the wheel using two tyre levers. To achieve this the inner tube must be fully deflated. Then a section of the tyre opposite where the tyre lever is to be inserted must be pushed away from the rim. Then the tyre on the opposite side of the wheel can be easily levered over the rim so that the inner tube can be pulled out. Finding the puncture and applying a patch are further tricky skills, but the hardest part is getting the tyre back over the rim. To this without pinching the inner tube against the rim and causing another puncture once again needs the part of the tyre on the opposite side of the wheel to be pushed away from the rim. If you do this it is usually possible to get the tyre back over the rim using just your fingers.

There are a great many such skills that are in decline and boys and girls of all abilities should be taught them at school in technology lessons. But this would not help students to understand Newtons Laws of Motion or the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the entropy principle). I discuss this here


The ‘Slow Education‘ movement also addresses this issue.


Another factor is the increasing takeover of school management by ‘Executives’ and Management teams that not only have no background in Learning Theory and Education, but also no classroom experience. It is all too easy for such people to believe that if they understand something, then the only explanation for a student not being able to, is either a lack of training (skill deficit) or a lack of motivation (behaviour deficit).

Such ignorance minimises teacher effectiveness, erodes teacher professionalism, maximises student alienation and is ultimately catastrophic as it becomes the paradigm that dominates the national education system.

That is why there is a growing cognitive underclass at the same time that ever inflating school performance benchmarks have provided disastrous false reassurance that all is well.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/03/2018 - 17:03

Matthew - the latest version of Private Eye (1465) also mentions the motto you've cited but in a different context and with two words added.

The Eye describes an Ideal Home splash about a house belonging to 'Joanne and Edward Hegarty' in which the husband, whose wife says he 'enjoys a nice interior as much as I do', was absent from all pictures.   He also didn't appear under the name by which he's better known: Ted Verity, deputy editor of the Daily Mail.  

Verity, the Eye noted, had been responsible for 'crassly sexist headlines' such as 'Legs-It' which compared Nicola Sturgeon's 'pins' with those of prime minister Theresa May (note: not her predecessor Cameron).  But, although Verity was absent from the Ideal Home feature, the Eye noticed a quote on a message board in Verity's bedroom which, the Eye said, 'does give some insight into the Ted Verity psyche.'  And what was this motto?  'Work Hard, Play Hard, Be Kind'.



Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/03/2018 - 12:45

Roger - the irony is that Michaela claims it has a 'private school ethos'.  But just how many private schools have the kind of regime practised by Michaela?  Eton doesn't.  Mike Grenier, one of its housemasters is a founder of the Slow Education movement.   He will be speaking at the Festival of Education in the summer.  

There's also something deeply disturbing at the way politicians and much of the media (including the Times which has run several articles praising Michaela in the last few months) support draconian disciplinary measures enforced on children (especially those from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds).  It's as if these people are afraid of such children unless they're trained into submission, compliance and conformity.




Matthew Bennett's picture
Thu, 08/03/2018 - 19:34

Janet – the English version of ‘no excuses’ is 90 per cent KIPP and 10 per cent Daily Mail (the blazers, the badges, the racist fantasies).  But, for the big chains, it is above all a business strategy, allowing them to cut costs, especially wage costs, while still maximizing output – the test and exam results that are so essential for ‘growing the brand’.  The model was summed up a while ago by a teacher-blogger:  ‘strong behaviour systems to replace relationships; textbooks to replace subject knowledge; and a supply of young people looking for a couple of years’ work to replace expertise’.

If Melanie Phillips is really still so angry about ‘child-centred education’, she will be relieved to know that many English state schools are now more like Amazon’s warehouses than schools.  The children have their targets, their ‘performance’ is monitored closely, and they are ‘managed out’ if they can’t make the numbers.  The point about test-centred education is that the children are there to serve the needs of the school, not vice versa.  Their job is to produce the data that will allow the chain to expand – or Google to ‘beta-test’ new products – or hedge funds to open up new investment markets.  And we tell them that we are making them ‘workplace ready’, or teaching them ‘resilience’.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 08/03/2018 - 20:17

Exactly so Matthew.

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