In this episode, I have the pleasure of interviewing Britain’s “strictest” headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh. Katharine is the founder of Michaela Community School, a secondary school in London that always seems to be mired in controversy. As other school leaders have sought to innovate their programs by opting for child-led learning and a softer touch to behavior, Katharine emphasizes a more traditional approach where teachers are seen as experts who teach from the front, and children are expected to obey – or else face a detention.
While the “Michaela way” might sound cold and outdated to many, the school attracts hundreds of visitors every year who are curious to see what the world’s “strictest” school looks like in action. While Michaela and its headmistress tend to attract critics, and even abuse, in online spaces, I’m told that it’s hard not to be profoundly impacted by the calmness of its classrooms, and, above all, the kindness and sophistication of its students, when you go and see it for yourself.
As someone who is extremely interested in how other schools operate, I was honored that Katharine agreed to come on the podcast to answer a few questions about her school. It should be noted that when I recorded this a few weeks back, England’s 2022 Progress 8 scores, a measure of how much progress students make in secondary school, had not yet been released. So, while Katharine will share towards the end of this episode that Michaela was ranked number five in the country back in 2019, the latest results rank Michaela as the number one school on this measure in all of England. Whether or not you agree with Katharine’s views on education or whatever else, it would be a mistake to ignore or dismiss completely these outstanding results. So please, sit back and relax with season 2, episode 12 of the Progressively Incorrect podcast, featuring Katharine Birbalsingh.