Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh has said “excellent behaviour” across all schools would solve pupils’ Covid learning loss “very quickly”.
Birbalsingh, head of the country’s “strictest school”, was quizzed by the Women’s and Equalities Committee today after being named the government’s preferred candidate to chair the Social Mobility Commission.
I would be worried if I was the rest of government
She said that “the reason why people shy away from having high expectations” is that teachers “don’t like giving detentions”.
She added: “I promise you, if we were to have excellent behaviour across all of our schools suddenly if we could just wave a magic wand and go bam, and it happened, we would all catch up on the losses from the pandemic very quickly.”
Former commission chair Dame Martina Milburn stood down last year saying the role needed beefing up to have more impact.
When asked if the role had “sufficient teeth” to make a “real difference”, Birbalsingh said she didn’t know, but added she “had a lot of teeth” and “I tend to make a bit of a splash”.
“I have a lot of respect for Liz Truss [equalities minister] signing this off, I do, as I would be worried if I were her. I would be worried if I was the rest of the government,” the Michaela free school head said.
“From the government’s perspective, they have no idea what I’m going to say. I can imagine that they might even think of me as a bit of a risk.
“I’m looking forward to my independence and experience bringing something to this role. It’s possible that the government might ignore me but I do make it very difficult to be ignored.”
Birbalsingh made her name after giving a speech at a Conservative party conference.But she told MPs: “I am somebody who speaks my own mind and I’m not a yes man”.
She told the Sunday Telegraph this week that she vowed to bring the same strict principals that are seen at Michaela to social mobility and one of her priorities will be tackling bad parenting.
Michaela free school has silent corridors and other controversial policies such as ditching SEND labels and giving detentions for failing to have a pen.
At the committee today, she said she would like a “national campaign” on “things like phones for instance and not giving them to your toddler”.
Likening it to the eat five fruit and vegetables a day campaign, she said: “I’d love it if ‘don’t give your child a phone’ were to become part of the national consciousness and that will help people with parents and will help people with teaching.”
Birbalsingh said adults should “lead” children, adding: “You don’t leave it to the children to lead because children need guidance and they need to be led. I think there’s a lack of knowledge out there, so for instance it being a bad idea to give your toddler a phone to occupy him, that it will make it much more difficult for him to read later.”
She also praised the approach of “teacher-led” teaching, saying that she didn’t think teaching children in groups around tables has been a change “for the better”.
Birbalsingh also said that in the pandemic “we were all sort of kidding ourselves” that there were “extraordinary zoom lessons” and that children “could learn via these laptops”.
“There was some learning going on I’m not going to knock all of it. The fact is that there is nothing better for a child than being in a good classroom with a good teacher.”
Asked about how Birbalsingh would manage her personal views with those of the commission, she said she could put “personal views” tag on her popular Twitter account – which has 86,000 followers.
“We will have to distinguish that as that is important, and I understand that difficulty.”
The committee will now prepare a report on her suitability for the role, but Truss can go ahead and appoint her regardless.