Katharine birbalsingh

The triumph of Katharine Birbalsingh

There are two questions that need to be asked of any society: what is it that is going wrong; and what is it that’s going right that should be done more? It’s only natural to focus on the first question – not least because it is easier. But it is the second question that should be asked more. Whenever I think of the few things that are going well in Britain, I think of the Michaela Community School in Wembley, London. I have visited the school a couple of times. It sits in one of London’s most deprived communities. Set up under the era of Michael Gove’s free schools scheme,

The courage of Katharine Birbalsingh

Five years ago, I put my friend Nell Butler in touch with Katharine Birbalsingh, Britain’s most outspoken headmistress. I was hoping Nell, who runs a TV production company, would persuade Katharine to let ITV make a documentary about Michaela, the free school she opened in 2014 and which she’s led ever since. I was director of the New Schools Network at the time, a free schools charity, and was convinced there could be no better advertisement for the controversial educational policy. At the time, Michaela had yet to be inspected by Ofsted and didn’t have any exam results, but knowing Katharine as I do, and having visited the school a

Would the ancient Greeks have agreed that children are born evil?

The ‘social mobility tsar’ Katharine Birbalsingh has suggested that children, born evil, ‘need to be taught right from wrong and then habituated into choosing good over evil’. The Twitter mob is equally certain that all children are born ‘good’, and it is their environment that spoils them. Ancient Greeks, ignorant of St Augustine, did not think that this was a simple either/or question but that moral capacity was determined in many different ways, depending on e.g. age, sex, status, intelligence, chance, fate (etc.) — and nature. Greeks thought the gods had little to say about the question, since myth did not suggest they were our moral superiors, though that did

Katharine Birbalsingh is right: children do have original sin

When my son was about six he heard something at school about slavery but was not quite clear what it was all about. So I spelled it out. I told him that a slave was someone that someone else owned and ordered around and probably mistreated. I waited for the proper response of moral horror to show on his innocent features. Instead he said, ‘Cool, I want one!’ I offer this recollection in support of Katharine Birbalsingh’s supposedly controversial opinion that children are not naturally full of the right moral impulses. ‘Britain’s strictest head teacher’ has bolstered her reputation by saying that children are born with ‘original sin’ and must

Enjoyably bad-tempered: The Lock In with Jeremy Paxman reviewed

‘I used to be Mr Nasty! That was good! Mr Nasty was easy!’ Jeremy Paxman bellows at Michael Palin on his new podcast. Now Paxman wants to know: ‘Have you got any recommendations as to how you become the nicest man in Britain?’ ‘I’m a very angry, cross person half the time!’ Michael Palin protests, pleasantly. The Lock In with Jeremy Paxman is Paxman’s attempt at a more convivial register — ‘just interesting people, over a pint, with me’ — in contrast to the tone he deployed famously on Newsnight for 25 years: that of the professional curmudgeon. Luckily Paxman is still a hopeless grouch and cannot easily sustain common