My visit to Michaela Community School (MCS Brent)

Given the criticism that the school has received from many quarters (such that staff have even received death threats), I was fortunate enough to be allowed to visit Michaela at the end of the summer term. I spent a remarkable few hours there, and sent the following email to the headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh afterwards:

Dear Katharine,

Thank you very much for having me to Michaela yesterday. I really enjoyed my visit – and the school is an inspiration. I was only sorry I couldn’t stay longer.

In ten years of visiting schools, Michaela was something of a singular experience – so I thought I’d note the features that particularly surprised me. Few will surprise you, I’m sure!

  • Culture – even without MCS’ unique features, the commitment and professionalism of the teachers mark it out. Extraordinary attention to detail and teamwork, with maximum buy-in to the school’s mission. No sense of putting on a front for the benefit of the students.
  • Oracy – such a neglected feature in schools today. Loved seeing the emphasis put on helping students to find their voice. Regular practice required from all students, if not in class then at lunch – so no sense of embarrassment or being picked on.
  • Chanting of beautiful literature – genuinely moving. Lia Martin choreographed Charge of the Light Brigade with great deftness, and I especially enjoyed one chap at the back’s fist-pumping as the poem paced along. i.e. no joy sacrificed.
  • Knowledge – as others have commented, not just pleasingly enthroned but regularly tested so easily memorised. Knowledge Organisers are an inspired idea. (*See below for a follow up thought.)
  • Candour – esp with respect to whether an answer was right/wrong, good enough / not good enough. I didn’t realise until yesterday just how absent this is in other schools – and how motivating (or certainly unstressful) it is for students. (**See below for follow up thought)

What did I think could be done better? After what I had heard in the morning, I was expecting a more lively discussion at lunch. I think I had quite a tentative group, who didn’t really engage with the ‘set questions’ and seemed overly reliant on the prompts. From what other guests said, I was alone in this though.

Sorry for sending such a long email, and hope we can stay in touch,

Kind regards,

Will

*PS I thought you’d enjoy reading this quote from Charlotte Mason who, like MCS, took the measure of an education by the number of ‘substantive nouns’ were mentioned by her students in exams.

“In the course of an examination they deal freely with a great number of substantives, including many proper names; (I once had the names used by a child of ten in an examination paper counted; there were well over a hundred, of which these are the “a’s”:—Africa, Alsace-Lorraine, Antigonous, Abdomen, Antennae, Aphis, Antwerp, Alder, America, Amsterdam, Austria-Hungary, Ann Boleyn, Antarctic, Atlantic; and these are the “m’s”:—Megalopolis, Maximilian, Milan, Martin Luther, Mary of the Netherlands, Messina, Macedonia, Magna Charta, Magnet, Malta, Metz, Mediterranean, Mary Queen of Scots, Treaty of Madrid: upon all these subjects the children wrote as freely and fully as if they were writing to an absent sister about a new family of kittens!”

(http://charlottemasonpoetry.org/a-liberal-education-for-all/)

**PPS Charlotte Mason is also instructive in giving evidence of what poor Victorian kids were capable of in the 1890s: here’s an excerpt from a 10 y/o essay (https://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/vol3complete.html#282) and here a 14 y/o (https://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/vol3complete.html#288)

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