I have wanted to go to Michaela for about a year now. Well, I was at the Michaela debate but that was sans children. Thanks to Naureen (@5N_Afzal), who arranged it all, I finally got to visit today.
We started the tour with a chat with Katharine in her office. I can imagine her detractors see her as a Cruella de Vil figure who spends her time concocting evil rules to make her pupils lives a misery. I can only say she did an excellent job of coming across as smart, funny, warm and incredibly passionate about the students and teachers.
I am still a bit shocked at the letter she showed us, which the teaching unions thought fit to write and hand out to the pupils at Michaela. I had not known the opposition to the school had extended to that. It’s another piece of evidence for the ‘teaching unions have lost the plot’ file.
We were then introduced to our two lovely guides. Like all the pupils at Michaela, they were polite, respectful and charming. They did an excellent job of answering all of our questions (and we did have a fair few!) They spoke honestly about their experiences and how different Michaela is compared to their respective primary schools, where behaviour, was an issue. One of the children had attended a school that was rated outstanding but recalls fights and disruption.
We saw parts of two lessons. First up was Barry Smith’s French lesson. Did they passively pay attention while Barry spoke? No. They were eating out of his hands while he did. Pacy and interactive, there was plenty of back and forth between him and the children. It didn’t phase them when he corrected them, and his praise meant something. It’s the kind of praise children know they are getting because what they have said or done is worthy of it, not a bunch of throw away words to pacify them. It makes them a little taller. There was even laughter, and it definitely came from the children.
We also caught the tail end of Olivia Dyer’s Science lesson. Again impeccable behaviour, instructions listened to and followed in silence. While the children stood behind their seats, waiting for the lunch bell, they were answering questions and it was clear that this is what happens. These weren’t ‘show’ lessons to impress. These are lessons taught for one purpose – which is to enable the children to learn as much, as well as possible.
The teacher in me couldn’t help but have a look at the open books in front of the children. The presentation was beautiful. The books with their knowledge organisers were looked after. These are books that the children care about. Its obviously part of how they show they are proud of and care about belonging to Michaela.
The behaviour of the children is not the result of brainwashing or fear. It’s the behaviour of children who know where they stand, who don’t have to guess, who don’t have to keep track of which boundaries have shifted today, who don’t have to question if it’s worth behaving.
Any inconsistency at home is not compounded by the school. They don’t have to work it out in each class or with each teacher. Therefore, the school is absent from the insecurity this causes, and which has its own dynamic. The expectations are clear and the teachers are on board. There isn’t a weak link among the teachers and there is no reason why there should be. It’s never struck me as responsible or adult to disagree with the behaviour policy by not implementing it.
The children look up to and emulate the teachers, who are positive role models. This is a school where the adults are adults and take their responsibility to their pupils seriously (as opposed to themselves!).
I remarked to Naureen on the way out that the Michaela teachers just are beautiful. I don’t just mean looks or how they dress. They smile, they want to be there, they want to teach, they want to impart what they know and give the best of themselves to their students.
Katharine has set up a school that lets these teachers do what they came into teaching to do. Why should they have to compromise this because of the background of the children? Because of received wisdom? Ideology? Because other schools do? They provide these children with the kind of education that middle-class children receive without question or controversy. She also gets that teaching is a tiring and demanding job and it’s her job as the Head to keep the stupid away from her teachers.
Michaela is not perfect, nothing is.
It’s actually about what’s possible.
It’s actually about the pupils.
It’s actually about their learning and their future.
It’s actually about the teachers who make it happen.
And yes, it is about love, actually.