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  1. ITV Report

London headteacher: 'Boot camp' discipline and 'tough love' key to high standards in schools

By headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School. Credit: Michaela Community School.

At Michaela Community School, the motto is ‘work hard, be kind’.

Lessons are very calm and very focused, with lots of extended subject practice in silence.

Corridors are also silent, and pupils walk briskly and purposefully in single file lines between lessons to maximise time for learning.

Every single minute of every single lesson is used: classroom entry only takes 30 seconds and books are handed out in five seconds down rows of desks.

Parents and visitors are invited to visit any day, any week, and can see any lesson happening across the school, because there is no disruption at all. Discipline is very strict, with detentions for distracting others, for forgetting equipment or for arriving late to school.

Pupils respond well to the ‘tough love’ culture and change their habits, including pupils permanently excluded from other schools.

All children focus very well and work very hard in all lessons, because they understand the high standards expected of them at the school.

The school runs a boot camp week when children first join, where all the rules, consequences and habits of success are explicitly taught by their teachers.

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School with Boris. Credit: Michaela Community School.

Michaela’s tough love approach ensures pupils make strong academic progress.

They make two years of reading progress in one year. Some children make three or more years of reading progress in one year.

Their parents say they have become much more hard working, much more responsible and much more motivated, putting in hours of extra effort for homework and in the holidays.

All pupils, including those with difficult homes lives, become increasingly dedicated to studying hard. Every child reads five Shakespeare plays in three years, and all pupils write several complex academic essays every year. Children at Michaela are very happy: they warmly greet guests, and politely say ‘thank you miss’ as they leave lessons, with cheerful smiles. In family lunch, pupils eat together with their teachers every day.

Pupils are very appreciative, and every day every child thinks of an appreciation to recognise their teachers, peers or parents for acts of kindness or their efforts.

The culture of kindness does not stop at school: pupils offer their seats to adults on the tube or on the bus on the way home, and adults write in to the school in surprise at how polite these teenagers are.

Parents write in to say that their children have transformed, becoming more polite, considerate and kind, from making their mum breakfast on Sundays, to helping their younger siblings with homework. When children are asked what they like about the school, they say they feel safe and happy because there is no bullying or disruption.

Any unkindness is dealt with swiftly, so that bullying is non-existent in the school.

Pupils feel very proud of their school, guiding visitors round from Year 7, and all children learn poems by heart to chant in unison as a year group in assemblies and before lunch every day.

Because all their teachers and all their peers are kind to them, children at Michaela are bright-eyed, happy and enthusiastic.

  • Katharine Birbalsingh is the headteacher of Michaela Community School, a free school in Wembley Park, Brent. The views expressed here do no necessarily reflect those of ITV News London