'Strictest' headteacher to be documentary subject

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School - Credit: Archant

Opposite Wembley Park Station, in the heart of North West London, stands an unremarkable looking school. 

Housed in a seven-storey office block, overshadowed by Wembley Stadium’s imposing arch, you’d hardly give Michaela Community School a second glance.

This school is run by Katharine Birbalsingh, who is known as the strictest headmistress in the country. 

With her uncompromising – often controversial – approach to teaching and discipline, she has built up a reputation as someone who demands the absolute highest standards. 

There have been reports of youngsters undergoing a boot camp to prepare them for life at Michaela, where they are taught to keep their shirts tucked in and pick up crumbs after they’ve been eating. 

Ms Birbalsingh, who also chairs the Department for Education’s social mobility commission, is the subject of a new documentary.  

In ‘Britain’s Strictest Headmistress’, we hear how pupils are punished for not making eye contact, pulling funny faces or forgetting to bring a second pencil. 

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One student, Corliss, who joins Year 8 halfway through the school year, simply describes his first meeting with teachers as “strict”. He adds: “I can’t say I’m looking forward to it.”

Ms Birbalsingh is unwavering when it comes to her methods. She is adamant teaching is “too lenient” in the UK, suggesting educators are at risk of losing control of their classrooms. 

She has also proposed fostering the concept of allegiance to the nation, and children at her school regularly sing God Save the Queen, Jerusalem and I Vow to Thee My Country. 

Teachers at Michaela say this is just as important in Brent – the most diverse region in Britain – as it is anywhere else in the country. 

Ms Birbalsingh is a firm advocate of detention, suggesting this shows the school “loves its children”. Obedience is at the heart of her mantra. 

In the documentary, pupils are seen sitting up straight with their arms folded, in complete silence and giving their undivided attention to their teachers. 

Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman, who visits the school as part of the programme, says one of the first things he recognises is the “silence” in the corridors, which gives pupils “time to think”. 

He praises the “old-fashioned” methods adopted by the school but also wonders what impact this will have on pupils when they leave for a modern world of work and study.

This documentary will be available on ITV from Sunday night.