Birbalsingh has changed her tune since she was Head of Languages

1 March 2011
The Local Schools Network
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IMPORTANT NOTE: “Katharine Birbalsingh has asked us not to name any of her previous schools in our blogs and comments  as the ‘Ordinary School’ featured in  ‘To Miss with Love’ is fictional.”

Since reading her fictional diatribe against state education, To Miss With Love, and writing a review of it for The Observer,  I’ve been starting to investigate the truth about Katherine Birbalsingh and found out some interesting facts. Firstly, she was Head of Languages at a in South London when the school took part in the London Challenge, a scheme where schools collaborated to raise standards across the board. Secondly, in Teacher Magazine, I found this quote:

“Senior staff have very high standards for both the students and the staff. They have really led in a way that doesn’t always happen in other schools,” says Katherine Birbalsingh, head of languages.

I wonder if she stands by these words of praise for the good work the school did? Was she telling the truth about the school then? Or is her novel a more accurate representation of the school? I’ve contacted her and asked these questions. I have also contacted the headteacher at the relevant school and asked for his view. Perhaps, with a bit of investigation we might find if there is any “truth” to anything she says.

Perhaps most pertinently, is there anything in the most recent Ofsted report of a school which she was a teacher at for a number of years, which she disagrees with? The school, like her fictional school, Ordinary Comprehensive, in To Miss With Love, was judged ”good with outstanding features”.

I found this section heartening, I feel it’s difficult for her to refute it, because it’s based on hard facts and personal testimony.

“Students enter the school with levels of attainment that are broadly average. They make good progress and many, regardless of attainment or background, reach their personal challenging targets. Overall attainment is above average. The needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities are met well by teachers and by well-trained learning support assistants. They make very good progress. The GCSE standards attained over the past three years have placed the school in the top one third nationally on the basis of achievement.

These high levels of performance are initially underpinned by the good teaching and learning, which includes a high number of outstanding lessons. In the best practice, teachers generate excellent group work and private study that motivates students to think and learn for themselves. This gives them confidence and enables them to review and guide their thinking to indicate the next steps in their learning. Senior leaders recognise that there is more work to do to enable all students to develop these independent learning skills, but clearly a good start has been made. Learning has a very high status in the school and the vast majority of students are sympathetic to others who work hard or strive to improve their performance in any sphere of the school curriculum. Most parents are very supportive – one writes, ‘The school has an excellent balance between education, pastoral support and extra-curricular activities.’

The atmosphere of harmony and tolerance throughout the school reflects the school’s active approach to developing a good cohesive community. For example, it is reflected in the dramatic decrease in exclusions over the past three years. Personal development and well-being in the school is good overall. Aspects such as spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, students’ health and safety, and their contributions to the community are outstanding. A Year 11 student stated, ‘There is a great sense of community in our school; we get on with everyone, whatever their backgrounds.’ Most students behave and engage well in lessons. They are well supported by effective pastoral teams who work closely with a host of outside agencies to provide excellent quality of care, support and guidance. Attendance is good and improving. Students have a good knowledge of how to be healthy and how to stay safe.”

What is your response to this report about your old school Miss Birbalsingh? Unlike your novel, it is based on truthful personal testimony and a variety of different views, including inspectors’ own judgements and the various stakeholders involved, pupils, parents, teachers, governors.

It would be great if anyone else has any other information to contact me at

your comment

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