Digital Detox at Michaela

Some Headteachers have been asking me how we do Digital Detox (events for parents) and Digital Drop Off (system for kids to drop phones) because they want to do the same for their kids. Hurrah! I do think an initiative like this has to be whole-school. So teachers, maybe print off the blog and give to your Heads!

I would appreciate people not giving me grief for writing this. If you aren’t interested in digital detox, don’t read it! This is for people who are interested.

First – Remember we are just making this up as we go along. I am no expert.  So if you come up with clever ideas along the way, do let me know!Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 13.59.23

  1. We write a lot of emails/letters to parents, send articles & videos of me talking about the evils of unsupervised access to the internet.
  2. The reason smartphones are so bad is that they give UNsupervised access to the internet.
  3. We say to parents – ONLY ONE DEVICE – a laptop or tablet should be allowed. Push for complete removal of smartphone with year 7s. With year 11s, try to get them to delete evil apps, or drop phones with the school from Mon to Fri or even just one night in the first instance. You then keep them in a safe. You need a foolproof system that will prevent you losing phones!
  4. The main evil apps are Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp.
  5. Games also a problem – biggest one is Fortnite. I call it poison. They can drop their game console leads at school too.
  6. If they won’t give up the smartphone, encourage them to turn screens to black and white, never have the phone in main rooms of the house – keep them in corridors – it inconveniences them and discourages use.
  8. Sell alarm clocks at school. Phones shouldn’t be used to wake up kids!
  9. Tell the parents stories of how kids are up till 2am, meet undesirables, lie to their parents.
  10. We put on an evening on called Digital Detox for parents to learn how to put software on the child’s one device to only give access to homework sites.
  11. Clearly do not allow phones in school. But you must also reduce the school demands of use of the internet at home. We don’t use Google for instance for essay submission. We keep HW tech to a minimum.
  12. Just remember the main rule in leadership – Don’t ask people to do the impossible. Don’t set things up so that your parents/kids will fail at what you want them to do. Support them by cutting down the tech you demand of them.
  13. Explain to parents the concept that their kid isn’t exceptional. They aren’t going to be able to ignore the groomers, the sexy boy or girl who leads them astray, met on Instagram. When given the choice between homework and Fortnight, 95% of kids will choose the latter.
  14. Explain to them that eventually the parent ‘loses the child’. The child stops listening because they are lost to the underworld of social media. Nothing can then be done.
  15. Tell them about Breck Bednar’s mother who went to the police and begged for help. There was nothing she could do. Eventually her boy lied to her, went to this other boy’s flat, was tied to a chair and had his throat slit.
  16. Tell them about Kayleigh and Molly and so many others: dead children whose mothers have all made videos or agreed to films being made begging other parents to learn from their ordeals. But no one is listening. Play them a few minutes of these videos.
  17. Explain to the single mothers that 13 or 14 year old boys if given access to porn (smartphones) will watch porn. One of my male teachers pointed out to me that of course they don’t understand because they have never been a 14 year old boy!
  18. You need to persuade them to spend time with their children instead of just leaving them to their phones. Of course, easier said than done! Jobs, other children, absent fathers – all get in the way.
  19. Remind them that the big tech CEOs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – and many others  – protect their only children from smartphones – not giving them phones until they are 16 or even older – but become billionaires our of our ignorance.
  20. Social media sites are meant to have a minimum age of 13 but no parent abides by this or even knows this. Frankly, that minimum age should be 16. One day, I believe it will be.
  21. Remember that your parents are nowhere near as tech savvy as your pupils.
  22. You must keep your system of phone confiscation totally separate from your digital drop off systems. Have different staff in charge. Put the place where phones are kept in different physical spaces.
  23. Digital Drop-Off MUST be voluntary and all phones must be returned the moment they ask for them. Ie They signed up on Monday to drop it off until Friday but they buckle on Wednesday and ask for it back. Give pep talks yes, but do as they wish.
  24. Get a good safe and make sure you never lose a phone. We use padded envelopes to store each phone separately.
  25. Oh, you need to sell brick phones at school – make them cheap. Asda has them at £7 apparently but they wouldn’t deliver to us. So we get them at £14 but we sell them for £10. And talk about brick phones all the time. I do assemblies on this – I have done a few for EVERYONE at school!
  26. People may hate you for doing this – especially on Twitter. Ignore them. You know you are doing what is right for your children. And when it gets hard, JUST KEEP GOING.
  27. GOOD LUCK!!


I am rooting for you. 100%.

Guess what’s in my head?

The other day I sent a joke out on Twitter in response to a well-known educational quote.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 22.58.17

Little did I realise how fragile teachers are. Aside from the insults sent my way, some teachers implored with me on behalf of their colleagues who simply wouldn’t be able to handle reading such a tweet. Their self-esteem, even their mental health would be at risk.

Funny how not one of these people gave thought to my own mental health. Insults directed at me were perfectly acceptable.

But enough of that.

What of the point of the tweet?

It is a feature of 21st century education both for teachers and parents to play the game of ‘guess what’s in my head’ with kids. It is so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even realise this is what we do. So they take offence. However, I hope that some are open-minded and interested in self-reflection enough to check themselves the next time they ask a child a question.

The thing to check is: given what you have told them before, could the child know the answer or are they relying on knowledge they would have had to access from someone else?

For those teachers reading this who are genuinely interested in improving their practice, try it. Ask yourself that question 100 times a day.

When hiring teachers at Michaela, we have candidates do model lessons. ALL of them, without exception, inadvertently play this game. All new teachers joining Michaela have to get themselves out of the habit of playing ‘guess what’s in my head’. We require all of our teachers to stop playing this game because we do not believe the game is helpful to real learning.

It is so normal for teachers to do this, that it isn’t something we hold against them when interviewing. We know that this is the norm in teaching these days, so we look past it and think, is the teacher flexible and open-minded enough to change it?

Teachers who apply to Michaela for a job tend to be more traditional. And even THEY do this far too often. They might do it less often than most, but they still do it.

That is because it is ingrained in what we think good teaching and good parenting looks like. We shy away from questions that recall facts. We naturally feel that it is wrong to ask questions about something we have already told them because ‘it’s too easy’ or it feels like ‘we have already told them the answer’. We feel we should ask them something that they don’t already know, ‘to make them think’.

This is normal practice.

What’s odd about the progressive position is that on the one hand they argue vociferously in favour of this type of more ‘exploratory’ questioning – asking kids things they don’t know because they want the child to ‘discover’ it somehow – i.e. – discovery learning. On the other hand, they deny doing this and feel deeply insulted that anyone would suggest this is the case.

Which one is it? They cannot have it both ways.

Of course the thing about questioning is that it is VERY hard to get right. You DON’T want your questions to only be about recalling facts. And you DO want some of your questions to extend their thinking. But that can only be done by scaffolding so that the weaker pupils (and the ones who don’t access extra information at home) can keep up and by mixing the questions up so that you can stretch the strongest. But your questions still shouldn’t require the children to guess. The distinction between ‘guess’ and ‘think’ is hard to pinpoint and our educational culture has been in the guessing arena for so long that we just cannot see it for what it is anymore.

Questioning is HARD. I struggle with it myself constantly, where you catch yourself asking a question that the child cannot answer. The entire profession struggles with getting it right. We’ve all seen it a million times:

Teacher: “What is X?”

A few hands go up. She picks a kid. Answer given. “Nearly… nearly… Come on… does anyone else think they know…?”

This goes on for ages (lots of lesson time wasted) and the kids don’t know it. She eventually tells them the answer. ‘Starters’ in lessons are based on this idea. Ask them questions about the topic you haven’t yet taught! Standard practice.

Our rule at Michaela is, if you don’t have 75% of hands up, then something is wrong. You haven’t taught it to them properly. And we don’t do starters. We also do lots of ‘warm calling’ by using ‘turn to your partner’ – to help those struggling or those who have simply forgotten.

That one little rule about 75% of hands in the teacher’s head makes all the difference. For teachers who are open-minded  – try it. You’ll see how it will transform your practice. It will feel weird at first. But keep going with it. I promise you’ll eventually see a difference.

People commenting on this problem and working with it should not be shut down and no-platformed. Rather, we should welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue.

By all means disagree with me. But if you are on Twitter and can’t handle reading that tweet of mine, then maybe Twitter isn’t for you.



The State should protect children from smartphones

smartphones-1174The state does its best to protect us from our own follies and ignorance. It is illegal not to wear a seat belt. Cigarette companies are forced to put warnings on their packets. Five-a-day vegetables are encouraged as is washing hands after using the toilet or binning used tissues. We aren’t allowed to drive too quickly even if we are alone on a country lane. It isn’t just about harm to others. The state goes to great lengths to prevent us from harming ourselves.

Seat belts were not always mandatory. It is illegal not to wear one because wearing them saves lives by 45%. Smoking used to be fashionable. Fewer people smoke these days thanks in part to government interference.  Now, society takes a different view of it.

In many spheres of life, we accept and understand this guidance/influence from the state. Not all of us are educated enough to know the damage done or risks taken by certain behaviours. We need government influence to help guide natural expectations and culture in society.

Yet when it comes to smartphones and game consoles, we tend to think parents don’t need support. When I campaign against smartphones for children, many people tweet along the lines of, ‘Well didn’t these parents give their kid the smartphone in the first place?’


Yes, they gave them the smartphone.

Age 10 is when it tends to happen, (in my experience) just before they get to secondary school.

The assumption then is that these parents deserve everything they get. And so does the kid. If they are stupid enough to give their kid a phone, then so be it.

But these parents are not necessarily bad parents. They are just doing what everyone else is doing around them.

  • They don’t know that the big tech CEOs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs don’t (didn’t) give their kids phones until they are 16.
  • Not in their wildest dreams could they have guessed that the most popular school in Silicon Valley bans phones and is anti-technology.
  • They don’t realize that the brick phone option would allow them the convenience of being in touch with their child without exposing them to the dangers of unsupervised access to the Internet.
  • They don’t understand the damage that several hours a day on Snapchat, Instagram and Whatsapp will do.
  • They do not imagine that in five years, their child’s personality may have changed, that the addiction to the phone will make them unpleasant & desperate teenagers.
  • Neither do they foresee that their child will refuse to do homework, will abandon all goals around GCSEs and might get themselves involved in gangs and start dating various undesirables.

By the time they realise, it is too late. And the poorer they are, the fewer distractions they can offer the child when they try to take the phone away, years after the addiction has taken hold. They can’t take them on nice holidays, give them pretty books (to own), interesting toys, visits to paid exhibitions etc. They might also have a number of children and with their two jobs, they are unable to spend the necessary time with their children to help with their addiction.

Because make no mistake: it is an addiction.

In order to stop a generation of children being addicted to these destructive apps that stop them from thinking, damage their brains & ability to think, concentrate and sleep, mess with their minds and cause mental instability, the government should at the very least force these companies to put warnings on their merchandise.

My teachers have had countless conversations with children who are badly addicted and cannot stop, despite wanting to do so. If only their parents had known when they were 10 that their saved-up money for the smartphone birthday present would have been better spent on a number of books. Someone needed to warn them. Sadly, I didn’t do it because not even I knew then just how dangerous the smartphone would be.

The big tech CEOs know this. They have firsthand knowledge of the damage unsupervised access to the internet does to a child. But they stay quiet about it so that parents like ours at school can make them rich while they protect their own children.

People think I exaggerate when I say, ‘You wouldn’t give your kid heroin, would you?’ And they laugh.

But one day we’ll understand just how little of an exaggeration it is. And perhaps then, the laughing will finally stop.

Why we hold the line



I was at school today with Sweet Boy. Sweet Boy was excluded permanently from his secondary school well over a year ago. He was a terror. I don’t blame the school for excluding him. He has been in and out of the Pupil Referral Unit and for some time, he hasn’t been anywhere at all.

Enter Michaela. We take him in. Silent corridors? Homework must be completed? Tough.

I meet with mum and Sweet Boy and tell his mum that she is half responsible for the situation her son is in and she had better step up as a parent. Her eyes open wide. “Don’t worry,” I say. “We’ll help you. But I need your commitment that you are willing to do your bit.” She nods in agreement.

Sweet Boy tells me he wants to turn his life around. “Yes, yes,” I say, “I’ve heard that one before…” He smiles. I smile. “You’re going to have to prove it to me.”

We induct him into the Michaela Way.

He takes to it.

Every now and then, I see him in the corridors. Like all kids who join Michaela, he is grateful for the calm, the high expectations and the hard work.

Then one day towards the end of term, one of Michaela’s teachers sees his phone.

Does he hand it over?


I talk to him. He won’t hand it over. So polite though. So nice to me. We sit for 45 minutes chatting. I ask to see the phone. He hands it to me. I have a look at it. I hand it back. “Unless you want to give it over, I’m not taking it.”

He smiles. Sweet Boy has such a lovely smile. ‘You can’t smile your way out of this,” I explain. “I have to keep you out of school for the next couple of days. I need that phone.”

He nods. “I know. But I just can’t give it over.”

Roll on today. His mum is with him. Sweet Boy sees me and instantly smiles. I can’t help but smile back. Sweet Boy takes out all this summer homework – optional – that he has completed. He is proud of himself. We run through our expectations of him for the rest of the summer. I explain to mum about how I need the phone. She nods. I look to Sweet Boy. “If I made an exception for you, how do you think the other kids would feel?” Without hesitation, he replies, “They’d think it unfair.”

“Yes,” I say, “And then Michaela wouldn’t be the school that it is.” Sweet Boy nods, knowingly.

He takes out his phone and puts it in my hand. I grin, turning to his mum. “Sweet Boy is going to make it. I know he is. He’s a lovely boy. We just need to get him to make the right decisions IN the moment, when it is really HARD.” I look back at Sweet Boy. “We’re going to get there, right Sweet Boy?”

“Yes, Miss. Sorry, Miss.”

There’s no better job in the world than being a teacher. It’s our duty to hold the line.

Why Jeremy Clarkson’s tweet was irresponsible

Many years ago, one of my inner-city, street-wise girls asked me, ‘Miss, why do you want us to become doctors and lawyers when footballers have so much more money?’

I told her it was because there are hundreds of thousands of lawyers and doctors whereas there are about 150 professional footballers.*

If I had a pound for every child who has told me that he or she doesn’t have to work because they are going to be the next big rap star, footballer, youtuber, winner of the X Factor, video gamer, I would be the one tweeting about my two Range Rovers instead of Jeremy Clarkson.

But I don’t want to own a Range Rover. I can’t drive. What’s important to me is giving kids, and in particular the kind of kids the system has forgotten, as many chances as possible either to become another Jeremy Clarkson, or indeed anything at all. As I say at assembly, “Work hard so you can have ALL the doors open to you, and you can pursue any path you want.” That might include university or not. Of course it isn’t the end of the world if a child doesn’t make it to university. But it is the end of the world if they don’t fulfil their potential through working hard.

When the media and the public insist that exam results don’t matter, that you can own two Range Rovers while failing out of school, it makes a teacher’s job impossible. This is particularly the case for teachers who work with kids who believe street life is glamorous and you-tubing is their dream.

Let’s ignore (as did Jeremy) that learning to love Shakespeare’s sonnets is not meant to be a route to owning Range Rovers but instead is meant take our souls to depths we never knew existed. Telling one child privately who has failed his exams that it is ok, that there will be other opportunities, that exams do not define you, that ‘we will find another way because where there is a will…’ is entirely appropriate and decent.

But telling the world through an irresponsible tweet, as Jeremy did, “Don’t worry if your A level grades aren’t any good. I got a C and 2 Us. And I’m sitting here deciding which of my Range Rovers to use today,” does not just speak to the kids who got poor A level results. It speaks to ALL kids. It helps to set the general expectations of society. The media picks up on it and everyone gets behind that type of thinking. When you have 7 million followers on Twitter alone, you have a responsibility to at least be aware of the kind of damage your tweeting might do.

One of the biggest challenges we teachers have is overcoming the ‘Vlogger dazzle’ which eats away at motivation and commitment in kids.

We teachers aren’t resentful of Clarkson. True his family got him his first job. He also went to private school. He is a tall white guy who doesn’t sound anything like the kids I teach. I wish him luck. Good for him and his Range Rovers! I’m sure he worked hard for them.

But I just wish he wouldn’t pull the ladder up. Not everyone has the advantages he had. And he was doing this a very long time ago! The world has changed since then.

All we teachers can do is beg the celebrities like Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Branson who endorse the idea that school isn’t important, to stop. You aren’t helping. You may think you are, but we know better. We are on the ground, living in a world that you don’t know. I would invite them to come and visit our school Michaela and see the wonderful work we do combatting the kind of nonsense they endorse, as do many other schools.

Tweets like Clarkson’s might make the authors feel good but their impact destroys children’s lives. I am not exaggerating. Hard work is the main way out for our kids. Why are there too few black and working class kids at Oxbridge? One of the reasons is because of this culture that says ‘exams don’t matter’. More black kids than any other ethnicity miss their A level Oxbridge offers and then don’t get in.

Is this something we want to celebrate?

There is a reason why so many teachers went mad reading Clarkson’s words. That’s because they know something that people who are not in teaching don’t know. Just because you went to school doesn’t mean you know what kids need, especially kids in the inner-city or in schools in challenging circumstances. Today, a friend of mine in his 60s, white, public school, reminded me that he used to say the same thing, “Hey look at me, I did XYZ with my life, and I failed my A levels.” Then he heard what I had to say about it and he stopped doing it.

Teachers see firsthand the damage done by this ‘anti-exam’ culture and while we do everything we can to fight it, it would be so great if the rest of the country could support us in trying to give kids who normally don’t have a chance, exactly that.


*If you take issue with my numbers that aren’t exact, then you really have missed the point.


Smartphones: Just say NO


At Michaela we have a quote on the wall that says, ‘Freedom comes from self-control.’

Many people think that freedom comes from a lack of control. But at Michaela we believe the opposite: it is only by mastering one’s base desires that one can be free to embrace real freedom and genuine choice. Only with knowledge can one know freedom of thought. Only with practice can one know freedom of expression.

The same goes for that smartphone. We are clear that if we see or hear a phone, we’ll confiscate it. And we’ll keep it for a long time. The kids are clear. The parents are clear.

So guess what?

No one at Michaela ever takes out their phone.  I can count on one hand the number of times a pupil has deliberately taken out their phone in the past 4 years.

They revel in the freedom it gives them.

All children yearn for the self-discipline to just say NO to their smartphone, to Fortnite, to Grand Theft Auto, or to that Xbox. Self-discipline is hard to develop. Many adults cannot manage it because no one helped them to learn it as a child. Many adults remain slaves to the sofa instead of going to the gym. Or they jump from job to job because they find it too difficult to be self-disciplined enough to turn up on time or meet deadlines.

School isn’t just about academic pursuits. It should be about setting children free. And that means teaching them self-control.

I hear some teachers or headteachers say they want to allow children phones at break and lunch so that children can be in control of their own phone use. But for the 6 to 8 hours that children have away from school every day, and for the 48+ hours they have at the weekend, they have lots of time to ‘choose’ whether or not to use their phones.

But even then, we try to support our pupils and parents. We give them a series of boxes to tick (to give a sense of achievement) if they manage to stay away from their phone for 3 hours in the evening. This frees them up to do their homework, talk to their families, or simply read a book.

Parents are SO grateful. In fact, we sell brick phones at reception as an alternative to the smartphone. We understand that parents like the security of being able to contact their child after school. Mobiles are a convenience of the 21st century. With a brick phone, you get the advantage of being able to contact your child without allowing them through the doors of hell. While there is good on the internet, there is also so much that is worrying for children, not least the porn, the bullying, and the miserable one-upmanship on social media.

I have had children beg me for help. ‘Miss, I am addicted. I just can’t get off it. What can I do?’ They desperately want to revise for their GCSEs but they have been seduced by addictive ploys. To those people employed at SnapChat and Instagram to make these apps more addictive, I can only say this: I don’t know how you sleep at night.

Self-control is hard to learn at the best of times, let alone as a child in the 21st century. At Michaela (and in many other schools no doubt), we believe it is our duty to help our pupils break free of the control of the smartphone so that they should be in charge of their own destinies.

And that is no bad thing.

Now where did I put that chocolate cake…?


The silence over Labour’s ‘legitimate’ racism


A few weeks ago, I signed a letter that was published in The Times that said racism was no longer a central problem in our society. Had someone asked me at the time what I thought would happen to an MP being blatantly racist, I would have said they would be fired immediately.

Yet when the disturbing racism of the Labour MP Emma Dent Coad was revealed this week, hardly a word was uttered in condemnation either from the Left or the Right.

Emma Dent Coad wrote (a few years ago and before she became an MP) about the black Conservative politician Shaun Bailey, “Who can say where this man will ever fit in, however hard he tries? One day he is the ‘token ghetto boy’ standing behind D Cameron, the next ‘looking interested’ beside G Osborne.”

Dent Coad also drew that picture above referring to Tories, ignoring the gut-wrenching history of blacks being lynched in the United States. Only thanks to the blogger Guido Fawkes do we even know about this. Where are the journalists?

How is it possible that in 2017 someone who is now an MP from the main political party of the left could say and draw such things without censure, and not in her distant past but just a few years ago when her views were presumably the same as they are today? Not only has Dent Coad not been censured by her party but the whole issue seems to have disappeared almost without comment.

The story would not have been ignored in this way in the US if Dent Coad had been a Democrat politician. And I suspect if she had been a Conservative or even UKIP politician she would have been fired on the spot.

Shaun Bailey said this of Dent Coad, “I’m extremely disappointed and further saddened by the cowardly response given by Emma Dent Coad. Instead of facing this issue, she has attempted to blur and camouflage the views she expressed in her blog by falsely dressing them up as someone else’s words.”

Emma Dent Coad thought it sensible to invent a story about how Shaun Bailey had called himself ‘boy’. What black man with any sense of history would do that, given the oppression associated with this word? Shaun Bailey visited our school (Michaela in Wembley Park) about a year ago. He comes from the same area as our pupils. He spoke with such pride of growing up in that area. In no possible world would he ever think, let alone say that where he comes from is the ‘ghetto’. Only racists speak in this way of areas where hard-working people are trying to make a living.

It is also absurd to call him ‘token’, another typical racist assumption that black people achieve because of bias in their favour. In fact Bailey is one of the brightest people I know and has struggled against multiple disadvantage, including racism, to get where he is. He would be a great addition to our House of Commons and it does not reflect well on the Conservative party that he has not found a safe seat.

As Bailey says, “Despite her claims, she can provide no evidence that I or anyone else used the horrendous terms she advocated. I find it appalling that someone as privileged as Ms Dent Coad would dare question the legitimacy of my background. I am now urging Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party to take the strongest disciplinary action possible.”

Sadly, not only has Corbyn not acted but thousands of white progressives have come out in defence of Dent Coad’s vicious remarks.

I am not one of those black people who sees racism in everything. Indeed, I signed that letter in The Times. I’m even forgiving of various types of everyday racism, especially when it comes from ordinary people. When white progressives hacked my email account and sent out vile racist emails to my address book, all because I dared to once speak at the Conservative Party conference, I ignored it.

On another occasion, I met a member of the BNP for lunch. While I found some of his ideas disturbing, I was fascinated to speak to him to find out why he thought as he did. He was very friendly and wore a suit to meet me because as he said, I was educated at Oxford, whereas he was white-working class and had never been to university. When walking through the streets of London, I noticed him limping and asked him what was wrong. He explained that he had bought new shoes for the occasion and they were hurting his feet.

Racism is complicated. So the whites who jump to Dent Coad’s defence with the ‘some of her best friends are black’ argument, or the ‘but she has helped black people in Kensington by doing x’, are either being dishonest or they do not understand how racism works.

Neither is it OK to point to blacks who are supportive of Dent Coad’s words and say, well if they say it is OK, then it is OK. During slavery times, some blacks supported slavery. Some even owned slaves. That did not make slavery right.

Emma Dent Coad being a racist isn’t what shocks me. The BNP man was polite, respectful and bought me lunch. I liked him, despite his racism. What is deeply disturbing is the fact that Dent Coad is in a position of power and respect in this country and the man who leads her party has refused to discipline her and indeed has made no comment about it. Does Corbyn think it is fine that black men should be referred to as ‘boy’?

Where are the protests? Where are the whites demanding action? When the Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris used the phrase ‘nigger in the woodpile’ earlier this year, she was immediately suspended and had the whip withdrawn. Theresa May showed leadership and demonstrated by her actions that racism will not be tolerated within the Conservative Party.

The Labour Party cannot now say the same. One of their MPs has directly attacked a black person using three terms of abuse—token, ghetto and boy—that have been unacceptable in the black community for decades and nothing has been done.

Who has come to Shaun Bailey’s aid? Here is a black man being vilified for being black and working-class and it is left to other black people like the Conservative MPs Kemi Badenoch and James Cleverly to write letters to Corbyn to ask for action.

Why is no one supporting them from either the Conservative Party or Labour Party? Why does no one care? This last week has taught me a lot about our country.

I am not a Conservative, nor am I a politician. I am a swing voter who has small c conservative values. Once upon a time, the Labour Party might have shared those values, some of which are about valuing the content of our characters and not judging people by the colour of their skin.

Sadly, I can now see that the Labour Party of today no longer agrees with that sentiment. Labour was at the forefront of the early battles against racism in the post-war period but it has grown arrogant and lazy when it comes to race. Too many people on the left think that they own black people politically and if you are seen as a black person on the wrong side of the political divide you are evidently fair game for attack and even for racist abuse.



Why David Lammy might be wrong about Oxbridge

OxfordI was at Oxford in the early 90s and I stuck out. Why? Because I was black and hardly anyone else was. Entrance exam & interview was the way in. Nowadays, Oxbridge tutors have a sea of A* candidates to choose from. That’s what happens when you dumb down exams. It does not solve social disadvantage. It perpetuates it.

I can see why David Lammy thinks the problem is Oxbridge. That’s how we’ve always thought and changing one’s mind is hard. But my own experiences (which are vast in this area) tell me that he is wrong.

  1. It is recognized that black students from private schools get in. So clearly the problem isn’t about race.
  2. I would love to know the number of white private school applicants who apply and then the number that have 3 As and get rejected. I’d also like to know the number of black students (from the state sector and then also from the private sector) who apply and the number that get rejected. Then we’d have some facts instead of wild speculation from people who have absolutely no experience of the system.
  3. There is data out there showing that the majority of successful state-school applicants to Oxbridge come from about 200 schools. I’d love to know how many black students attend these schools and if, when they apply, whether they also get rejected.
  4. The current evidence shows that blacks often apply for subjects like Law and Medicine where the rejection rate is high. Again, I would love to see more precise data on this. How many blacks applying for these subjects get rejected? How many whites applying for these subjects get rejected? How many blacks applying for other courses get rejected? We need more data.
  5. Because of the dumbing-down, grades are necessary but not sufficient. Is it really the case then that one just has to ‘whiten up’ to get in? Or is it more profound than that?

Why are so few blacks at Oxbridge?

  1. Over my long(ish) career, I have met so many teachers who are anti-Oxbridge that I have lost count. I have also met many teachers (but far fewer than those who hate Oxbridge) who are trying to encourage their pupils to apply but are so terrified at being called elitist that it is a battle that is rarely won in many state schools. Not all schools are like this of course. But far too many are, and we refuse to talk about it.
  2. The schools where many black pupils go can often not have knowledge as their focus. They believe in teaching skills. Oxbridge will expect students to know lots of stuff at interview. It is hard for kids to teach themselves, however bright they are.
  3. The schools where many black pupils go can be reluctant on insisting on a no-excuses behaviour culture. This means that pupils who could get to Oxbridge are held back by those who would never be able to go. Teachers cannot teach and even if they can, their time is taken dealing with the disruptors instead of pushing the top ones to go for the very best universities.
  4. The schools where many black pupils go can have mixed-ability classes. Teachers will pitch to the middle and so the ones at the bottom of the spectrum prevent the ones at the top from accessing the knowledge that is necessary to get them to Oxbridge.
  5. The schools where many black pupils go can have teachers who struggle to know the Oxbridge application process and requirements. Even if they are lucky to have a few teachers who are not anti-Oxbridge, these teachers do not know how to get them in.

As a Head, if you have Ofsted pressures to deal with, unreasonable parents, staff who need huge support, caretakers who don’t show up to work, amongst a million other daily fire-fighting issues, is it any wonder that your school’s Oxbridge count may not be your top priority?

Our top cohort is in year 10, but I have spent the last 2 years visiting both Cambridge and Oxford colleges, speaking to admissions tutors, asking for advice, attending events and conferences on how to get them in. It is a big focus of ours. In doing so, I have met countless Oxbridge tutors, all desperate for me to send them talented black pupils. I have met the full time staff employed by every Oxbridge college, all with one focus: widening access.

When the time comes, if we get some of ours in, I am certain people will say we got lucky. Or they’ll say that doesn’t it matter, all universities are the same anyway. But neither of these things will be true. And if someone took a moment to look at why Mossbourne or the London Academy of Excellence or Newham Collegiate Sixth Form or Harris Westminster (amongst others) get large numbers of ethnic minorities into Oxbridge, then we could start having a meaningful conversation about this.



I LOVE our school!

This just landed in my inbox from one of our teachers and I had to put this on here because I want to tell the world just how incredible our school is, not because Ofsted inspectors say we are, but because of things like this…


I confess that this morning in form I did something unspeakable. I did what, in other school contexts, we might call “discovery-based learning”. I played 8Z the opening minute of each of the ‘Planets’ suite and got them to ‘guess’ which planet we were listening to. Normally this would have been a pointless game of “guess what is in my head” but, owing to our fantastic knowledge-led curriculum, they were able to correctly name the first four without fail! Here is a sample of the conversations we had:

Max: “is this Mars because Mars was the God of War and this sounds very war-like?”

Jenny: “Is this Venus? Venus is the Roman god of Love and it has a very romantic sound”

Carl: “I think this is Mercury because Mercury was the God of messengers and thieves. He was known for playing tricks on people and the piece sounds very mischievous”

And then when I skipped to the “I vow to thee my country” part of Jupiter all the hands shot up.

Knowledge really does beget (meaningful) creativity.

What a great school we work at!

What is so extraordinary about this is this is this teacher’s tutor group. He isn’t a Science teacher or a Music teacher. He is just playing them some classical music as every tutor does every morning across the school.

It isn’t a test. They haven’t been taught this and then asked questions. It is just conversation being had while the register is being taken – with a year 8 middle set of working class kids in an inner-city school. They have remembered and retained what they have been taught over the last 2 years in various subjects and they have voiced it and applied it in a totally different context.

David Didau unwittingly argues for selection

WARNING: This post is not for the emtionally-attached to the ‘Grammar schools are evil’ idea. Only those who think there are pros and cons on both side should continue to read.

udzUVdjD_400x400David Didau is BRILLIANT. But he has unintentionally made me think that maybe Peter Hitchens is right on grammars after all.

‘Why grammar schools for all won’t work’

If you read nothing else, read this by David Didau. It is so spot-on in everything it says. It chimes with my years of experience in a variety of schools and it is for these reasons that at Michaela, we do as David says: we talk about being ‘Top of the Pyramid’. Many schools do this. It is a trick of illusion used by teachers in their classrooms and heads in their schools. “We are better than them” is the sentiment. We can behave better, work harder, strive more, and these attributes make us ‘better’. We aren’t failures like the kids who choose gang life over a life of hard work. We are better than that. At Michaela, we so believe in the sentiment that we have ‘Top of the Pyramid’ painted on the wall. We are the best. We are so damn good, we are going to give those boys at Eton who think they are the best a real run for their money. Think you are the best Eton? You haven’t met Michaela yet.

Peter Hitchens argues for an education system with grammars. David Didau does not believe in them. And yet, I find that Didau makes the most powerful argument in favour of grammars. Weird, eh?

Here’s how:

  1. As Heather Fearn has discussed and Roger Scruton argues for, the purpose of education should be to impart knowledge to the next generation, not to engender social mobility.  While Didau and I may put social mobility first, we also believe in our duty to pass on knowledge to future generations.
  2. Both David and I want a high floor for all schools. But David Didau makes a strong argument for the necessity of less good schools to exist so that good schools can set themselves up against them and motivate the children with talk of ‘being better than that’.
  3. Didau does say that he believes that children who do well in grammars would do well elsewhere and those who do worse in grammars would do better elsewhere. And he rightly said to me he isn’t sure how that can be construed as an argument in support. Didau is right: his heart is against grammars. But the logic of his argument is not.
  4. If the central point of Didau’s blog is correct, then, as he says, not all schools can be excellent.
  5. If this is true, the question is which schools should be excellent and which schools should not be. Hitchens makes this point and argues, rightly, that often what makes good comprehensives good is that they have huge intakes of very supportive parents who have moved into the area to get their kids into said school. Why select by postcode instead of ability?
  6. Of course there is also a handful of schools out there that are excellent despite intake because of the incredibly committed staff. But these are certainly not the norm. For a nationwide system, what should one do?
  7. Grammars have a natural ‘top of the pyramid’ position to play on and use to their advantage. If we had grammars across the country in sensible numbers, then the dynamic (currently used by clever comprehensives where they create the illusion of being better than others – explained by Didau) would give those schools the edge required to do very well.
  8. If Didau and I believe in successful schools and we believe in the validity of his blog post—that grammars cannot exist for all—then the question is who should get to go to an excellent school?
  9. Hitchens believes it should be the more able. I’m not sure who Didau believes it should be.
  10. If education should both promote social mobility and impart knowledge for future generations, then the argument that Hitchens puts forward for the able to be the chosen few is a good one, AS LONG AS some working class kids get in.
  11. As it stands, both Didau and I seem to take the position that the chosen should be those who get lucky either by post code or having pushy parents, or those who so happen to get into a school which so happens to have a strong ethos at that time because a good Head just took it over and will remain for 5 years until he/she leaves and the school deteriorates again. Our position is that the chosen should be totally random and unpredictable.
  12. And while Hitchens’ position in favour of grammars is coherent, I’m not sure the same can be said of ours against them.


I hope this makes sense. I find it hard to get my head around it!