Challenges in Modern Education: UK Edition

By Tyler Bonin

British educator Katharine Birbalsingh discusses the path that led her to challenge the role of identity politics in education

Shortly after sitting down to discuss her work in education with Jeremy Tate on CLT’s Anchored podcast, renowned British educator Katharine Birbalsingh was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II—a title she shares with such notable thinkers as physicist Stephen Hawking and journalist Christiane Amanpour. But what exactly led to her rise in the education reform movement?

 

As a teacher, Ms. Birbalsingh began an anonymous blog (To Miss With Love, later adapted into a book by Penguin) in which she relayed stories from her inner-city school. The blog detailed the hard truths about the modern state-run educational system in Britain and gained widespread attention. She was asked to speak on the broken nature of modern education at the Conservative Party conference in 2010.  The outcome of the speech—viewed more than Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech at the time—was nightmarish. After outlining the deleterious effects of well-intentioned policies, Ms. Birbalsingh was forced to resign and told she would never teach in a state school again. 

 

Today, she is the founder and headmistress of the Michaela Community School, one of the highest performing free schools (similar to a U.S. charter school) in the United Kingdom. Teachers from schools across the globe have visited its campus in London, using the principles of education developed there as a template for their own schools. Upon visiting Michaela, Sir Roger Scruton found the arguments for Michaela’s educational principles incontrovertible. 

 

In this episode of Anchored, Ms. Birbalsingh discusses how such concepts as duty to community, obligation to family, and personal responsibility impact educational development. She also outlines the manner in which modern progressive education policies—however well intentioned they are—often exacerbate the very problems they seek to mitigate. Finally, she discusses the importance of the Western intellectual tradition and why it has taken center stage at Michaela, a predominantly ethnic minority school. 

Listen to Anchored on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our Anchored podcast website. New episodes every Thursday.

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