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Ignore Ofsted and do what’s best for your students, government social mobility czar tells teachers

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Headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh with students from her school in Wembley – David Rose

Ignore Ofsted and do what’s best for students, the government’s social mobility czar has told principals.

Katharine Birbalsingh, 49, said the inspection body is “not a force for good” and urged teachers to “put on the blinders” and “do the right thing” for their children.

In a speech at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference in Birmingham on Saturday, he said bureaucracy should be banned because “people spend too much time writing things and not enough time doing them”.

Before becoming chair of the Social Mobility Commission in October last year, the Oxford-educated reformer was known as “Britain’s strictest headmistress” for her rules at Michaela Community School, where she is founder and principal.

Rules at Wembley Coeducational High School include detentions for those who don’t bring a ruler to class and for talking in the corridors.

In 2021, 82 per cent of their A-level cohort were offered places at Russell Group universities.

Ofsted concern

During her 30-minute speech, Ms Birbalsingh, who was appointed CBE in 2020, claimed that she had once convinced an Ofsted inspector visiting her school that writing everything down is a waste of time.

While admitting that Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, had done a “good job” so far and that the inspection is probably “the best there has ever been”, he added: “Too many of us, understandably, as leaders, are constantly worried about what Ofsted is asking for.

“You should try and just put on the flashing lights and ignore it and just do the right thing for your kids and do the right thing for your school…When the inspectors come, you explain and you show.

“If you have evidence of what you’re doing and why you’re fighting for it.”

In an August 2021 tweet, he called for Ofsted to be abolished, saying the damage it causes to directors and other senior staff is “catastrophic”.

In his speech, he said that teachers should not be afraid of not being liked and should avoid “sentimentality”, as having a backbone “is a mark of a good leader”.

‘Believe in children’

She said, “Don’t get hurt if your parents are upset with you or if people on social media are mean, whoever is upset with you. You have to believe in children.”

As for smartphones, which Ms Birbalsingh said hamper students’ ability to learn, she recommended that poorer children should not own them because it prevents them from being “socially mobile”.

As part of a “digital detox” initiative, Michaela’s students are being encouraged to ditch their smartphones and cords from video game consoles, where they sit in a safe for months, she said.

About half of Year 11 students have voluntarily handed over their phones to staff to help with revision and many Year 7 and Year 8 students do not own them at all.

In the most challenging schools, I would “strongly recommend” a policy of complete silence because they can be “horrible places where children are bullied.”

He added that students from poorer backgrounds who had not been explicitly taught the material would see their middle-class classmates answer questions and become demotivated.

talking to young children

“What (the child) doesn’t think about at the time is ‘Well, I must be from a different socioeconomic background, so that’s why I couldn’t answer.’ What he thinks is, ‘God, I’m dumb.’ And then he starts prodding Dave and John and continues to misbehave,” he said.

Speaking about her role as president of the Social Mobility Commission, she said that not enough parents talk to their young children, an activity that enhances speech development.

A 2014 study from Stanford University found that talking to infants and toddlers helped them understand the rules and rhythms of language at an early age and provided a foundation for developing an understanding of how the world works.

Ms Birbalsingh has frequently criticized government bureaucracy, which she says infringes on the autonomy and capacity of schools.

Shortly after his appointment to the Social Mobility Commission, he said the body frequently “wasted time” writing reports that “get stuck on a website” that no one reads.

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