Michaela Community School in Wembley is one of the most talked-about schools in the UK. Here, Jo Facer, Head of English, reveals why staff at the school have decided to write a book, edited by Headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh, about their approach.
Michaela Community School opened its doors in Wembley in September 2014. It has been written about widely in the education community. People have strong views about Michaela: one blog describes us as ‘marmite’ – people have very strong views about what we do.
Every day, visitors from all across the country, and indeed from other countries, visit our school, as do many of the parents of our pupils. They are guided around by pupils, and then encouraged to visit any classroom they choose. They join us for lunch, sitting with the pupils, where they can find out more about what the children really think of their extraordinary school.
Search online, and you will also find blogs critical of our school; though these are critiques of our ideas, and I have yet to see a critique from someone who has visited us. We are so controversial, we have held two debates to put the issues out in the open, inviting others to debate and argue with us about what we do.
Make no mistake about it: Michaela is different. We do almost everything you can think of in a different way. We drill knowledge relentlessly. We don’t mark books. We teach pupils how to hand out books quickly, and to walk down our corridors silently. We also teach them to walk from our school to the football pitches at Wembley Stadium in a silent line. Members of the public stop, stare, and sometimes begin to film our children.
You might read the above and think: that sounds horrible. How oppressive. I bet the children hate it! But our visitors attest to the opposite. Our children are extraordinarily happy. Because we also teach them to be grateful, and give them opportunities to display their gratitude. Our zero-tolerance behaviour system means perfect behaviour, and any minor infraction can lead to being sent out of the class. (Across the whole school, this happens less than once a day, on average – far less than in any inner-city comprehensive I have worked in.)
Perfect behaviour means our children learn a lot – and they know it. They love lessons, and hate missing them. Perfect behaviour means our teachers can teach, and they enjoy their work and stay happy and balanced, seeing family and friends during the evenings and weekends. It also means our children feel safe. They know adults are always around to spot any misbehaviour, and quickly deal with it, never making excuses for children.
But that’s not all. In fact, there are so many ways Michaela is different that we have decided to write a book about it. We have so many visitors asking to come to us, we can’t possibly host them all. And when they come, they have so many questions, we couldn’t possibly answer them all – we have children to teach; curricula to write! So we are writing a book collectively about all the things that are special about Michaela. In it, we will discuss each of these elements that make Michaela different, explaining our rationale, methods and the results.
Michaela teachers, from founders to classroom teachers to senior leaders, will lead readers through different aspects of what makes Michaela unique. So many visitors ask: what’s the secret? But the reality is that it isn’t only one thing that makes Michaela work.
In the book, you will read about how bootcamp breaks bad habits, and how we encourage and make sure our pupils practice positive habits. You will read about our unashamedly academic curriculum, taught with 100% didactic teacher instruction. You will read how we keep our standards high with pupils and parents. How we train up our new teachers, and how our CPD sessions are just one big conversation. Finally, we’ll share some early data and pupil testimonials about what Michaela means to them.
Because at the heart of our school is our love for the pupils. Every interaction we have with pupils is a chance to shape their habits and teach them powerful knowledge: in short, to change their lives. Our teachers couldn’t love the pupils more. Because we love them, we do what we know is to be best for their futures. That just happens to look very different to every other school in the country.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way will be published by John Catt Educational in November.
The book will be launched at an open event at the school on November 26th. More information below, tickets available via themichaelaway.eventbrite.co.ukBattle-Hymn-flyer
What do you think about the zero-tolerance, knowledge-drilling approach at Michaela Community School? Let us know via Twitter…
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