This is Katharine Birbalsingh’s challenge to anyone applying to work at Michaela Community School. There are many things schools do because it’s how it always been done rather than because it’s what’s best. The Michaela Way challenges these assumptions and, as Katharine said today, ‘is causing a revolution’. For children to leave school without the literacy and numeracy to succeed in life means we are failing them. Katharine argues a revolution is needed to turn this around – our children deserve better. I can’t argue with that.
MCS has put itself above the parapet and it’s faced the consequences. Being so vocal about the failures of our education system and responding to these in a way perceived as ‘radical’ by many has opened the school and its teachers up to scrutiny at best and abuse at worst. The Michaela Way might not be for everyone but Katharine’s challenge of ‘are you prepared to question everything?’ is something we need people to do a lot more of. The gaps in attainment between rich and poor, urban and rural, north and south are too great and they need eradicating.
Listening to Katharine and different teachers from MCS today at ‘Michaela Mistakes’, it is impossible to ignore the conviction and passion with which they speak of there being a better way to educate young people. I read their book and blogged my thoughts through posing ‘But what about…?’ questions to some of their philosophies and practices in December and today was an opportunity to put faces and voices to the chapter authors.
What impressed me the most today was the openness with which they spoke about what hadn’t worked; it was after all called ‘Michaela Mistakes’! When I read the book I struggled with the, at times, preaching tone but today was an opportunity to hear about the journey the school was on and how they don’t have all the answers – yet! They haven't been afraid to try out different approaches or to change/ditch things swiftly if they aren’t working. They look for low effort, high impact implementation and act quickly. For me, today was about a group of people striving to do whatever they can to improve the education young people receive and not just a loud voice saying ‘we’re better than everyone else’ which is how it appears MCS is perceived sometimes by some people.
Now this isn’t to say I agreed with everything that was said today. But I do wholeheartedly agree with the MCS ethos of questioning everything and stopping doing things just because it’s how they've always been done. MCS is asking the questions everyone should be asking. Other people’s answers might not be the same as MCS’s are today but, if we're to have the revolution Katharine Birbalsingh calls for, we need more schools like Michaela that aren’t afraid to go against the tide to do everything to improve life chances for every child regardless of everything else. I'm glad I work in one of them.