Queen’s Birthday Honours: Head of Michaela Community School in Wembley made CBE

Katharine Birbalsingh CBE, head teacher of Michaela Community School. Picture: Claudia Rose Carter

Katharine Birbalsingh CBE, head teacher of Michaela Community School. Picture: Claudia Rose Carter - Credit: Claudia Rose Carter

The headmistress of the UK’s “strictest” school in Wembley Park has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Katharine Birbalsingh, co-founder of Michaela Community School, has been made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to education.

“It’s very exciting for the school,” said Miss Birbalsingh. “I feel it’s very much for the school. We get over 600 visitors a year from schools around the UK and around the world.

“They have lunch with children and a tour of the school maybe because we’re different and they want to see what we do differently. They take it back to their schools and do things differently which is really nice as it’s not just what we do here, it’s the impact we have across the whole educational landscape that’s really exciting.”

Miss Birbalsingh rose to prominence after speaking out at the 2010 Conservative party conference in support of former education secretary Michael Gove, claiming that the state education system was “broken”.

She went on to found Michaela in 2014 after leaving her job as deputy headteacher of a south London comprehensive school.

One policy in the school in North End Road is to have the children seated at desks in rows with the teacher at the front.

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“You find that everywhere you but you find it in pockets in places whereas at Michaela you’ll see it throughout the school and that’s the big difference (...) you see the power of that and the power of the culture it creates in the school.”

Children work in pairs but never in groups and they are taught from booklets and not powerpoint.

“We think there’s a better way of doing it and a better way of teaching,” she added.

Covid “has put to rest the idea that technology can ever replace a teacher” and she is “grateful the school has reopened”.

”You cannot hold the pupils to account properly when online, the children might seem like they are learning the stuff but you see them in the flesh and they haven’t done it properly, it’s far from ideal.”

“We sent home a year 11 class who are doing their GCSEs and for 14 days because one tested positive. It’s devastating.”

Windows are kept open“We are soldiering on under very difficult circumstances.”