I never like to criticise individual schools and, in this case, I’m quite hesitant to offer praise. However, I think it is in the wider public interest to draw attention to Michaela Community School, not least because if Aussie teachers have heard of it at all, it is likely to be through one of the online witch hunts or feverish blog posts that hurl abuse at the school.
Why does Michaela provoke such a reaction? Under the headship of Katherine Birbalsingh, Michaela is an avowedly traditional school with high expectations for all of its students. It teaches a knowledge-based curriculum and eschews the silly gimmicks that many schools pursue. It also happens to be a Free School. Let’s face it, Michaela needs independence because local bureaucrats would never allow a school like that to exist.
The English schools’ inspectorate, Ofsted, have now visited Michaela and released their first report on the school. Ofsted used to be a student-centred inquisition, promoting progressive teaching methods. However, it has reformed in recent years and no longer enforces a particular teaching style. It also shows signs of taking behaviour much more seriously as an issue.
Here are a few quotes from the Ofsted report:
“From their starting points, all groups of pupils make rapid progress in a wide range of subjects, including English, mathematics, science, humanities, French, art and music.
Leaders promote equality of opportunity exceedingly well. Additional funding is used carefully. Leaders and teachers ensure that outcomes for eligible pupils, including disadvantaged pupils and those who have special educational needs and/or disabilities, are outstanding.
Pupils conduct themselves exceptionally well in lessons and around the school. They are polite, respectful and caring young people. Pupils know what steps to take to keep themselves safe from harm in a variety of contexts.”
I was particularly taken with the points about inclusion. I don’t believe that you make a school inclusive by offering alternative, dumbed-down versions of the curriculum to certain groups of students. I think this is the opposite of being inclusive. As I understand it, Michaela exemplifies the approach of making a rigorous, academic curriculum available to all:
“Pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities are encouraged and supported effectively. They make similar exceptional progress from their starting points at a similar rate to all pupils.”
Anyway, read the report for yourself and you will see that I haven’t just selected the best bits.
So why do I hesitate to highlight this praise? Because I assume that the online hate campaign are already sharpening their knives and this is just more fuel to the fire. But before you join in, pause and ask yourself one question: in pouring scorn on this school, are you really on the side of the righteous or are you actually one of the baddies?