Britain’s ‘strictest’ headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh made social mobility chief

Headteacher appointed by Liz Truss to ‘level up opportunity’

Matt Mathers
Monday 11 October 2021 13:33
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A headteacher described as the "strictest" in Britain has been appointed boss of the social mobility commission, a public body set up to boost the life chances of the country's most disadvantaged children.

Katharine Birbalsingh, co-founder and headteacher of Michaela Community School (MCS) in Wembley, northwest London, has been appointed by the government to “level up opportunity and give everyone the chance to succeed”, Liz Truss, the foreign and womens' minister said.

In 2010 Ms Birbalsingh's was sacked as deputy head of an academy in Camberwell, south London, following a political row over a speech she gave to the Tory Party conference, in which she described the UK's education system as "broken".

She said that the system was failing the most vulnerable children because of a lack of discipline and standards.

Ms Birbalsingh's set up the MCS, which has an above-average number of pupils classed as disadvantaged, four years later in 2014. Her methods are controversial but get results.

Pupils must walk in single file and not talk to each other between lessons. They can also get detention for messy work, lateness or not having a pen to write with.

In 2019, the first year the MCS got GCSE results, more than half (54 per cent) of all grades were level 7 or above - the equivalent to an A or A* - and twice the national average of 22 per cent.

Nearly one in five (18 per cent) of all grades were 9s, compared with 4.5 per cent nationally.

The school has been rated "outstanding" in all areas by Ofsted and is one of the best performing in the UK.

Ms Birbalsingh's views on politics and race have also proved controversial.

She said the Black Lives Matter movement damaged race relations by sewing division.

In April, she defended the author of a government-commissioned report into race and ethnic disparities in the, which was widely condemned.

The headteacher, born to an Indian-Guyanese father and Jamaican mother, has also accused “leftists” of their own form of “cultural racism” by trying to shut down the views of those they disagree with.

In 2020, she was given a CBE for her services to education.

She said the end of the pandemic was a unique moment for the country to "develop a culture in our society which provides an equal chance for all.”

Speaking after being appointed to the role, she said: “I want to inspire real action that will encourage people to seize the opportunities available to them and I want to ensure that the government and other public bodies are delivering on their commitments to providing such opportunities, so that we really can ‘level up’ every region of the UK.”

According to Child Poverty UK, 4.3 million children in the UK live in poverty - 31 per cent of children or nine in every classroom of 30.

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