A small-time earthquake happened in the British education system. Fifty years of progressive dogma were shattered last week, when “Britain’s strictest school” got its first national exam results, and they were four times better than the national average.
The school is a free school, the U.K. equivalent to a U.S. charter school. That means it is government-funded but privately run. Free-schooling was a controversial reform made under the David Cameron government. It is still opposed by the Labour Party and has come under increasing fire from the liberal-left.
The controversial free school Michaela was started by a British-Indian head teacher named Katherine Birbalsingh, who now has a significant Twitter presence. Birbalsingh first attracted controversy when she talked about how spineless the British education system is and criticized student behaviour at the Conservative Party conference in 2010. Naturally, she was attacked from the left and lost her job as a deputy head in a south London government-run school.
The tuition-free community school for the underprivileged and economically disadvantaged that she eventually founded in a block next to a football field was constantly under attack as too strict. And it was, compared to the standards we are used to observing, especially in British schools.
But it turns out those high standards get good results. In the recent GCSE exams, a national exam for 15- and 16-year-olds that determines their future academic trajectory, Michaela scored four times better than the national average and other schools, state-funded, private, and community schools included. These were the first GCSE results for the school since it started five years ago.
Even the ultra-liberal Guardian, which constantly opposes all authority, discipline, and order, had to meekly report, “Compared with other non-selective state schools, Michaela’s results rank among the best in the country. More than half (54%) of all grades were level 7 or above (equivalent to the old-style A and A*), which was more than twice the national average of 22%. Nearly one in five (18%) of all grades were 9s, compared with 4.5% nationally, and in maths, one in four results were level 9.” To non-Brits confused about the terminology, understand this as peak performance.
What would now seem anachronistic, but what was once very common, at Michaela students are given detentions for forgetting to bring a pencil or pen, and must be completely silent while walking through the corridors to change classes. Incomplete homework is penalized, as is shabby homework, rolling eyes, and frequently turning around in class during lectures. Students are expected to address teachers with proper decorum and titles.
As the school rules say, “We expect every pupil to move swiftly and in single file lines between lessons, so that children are hardly ever late to lessons. We expect every pupil to greet teachers and guests with eye contact and a polite, cheerful, ‘morning, sir!’ ‘afternoon, miss!’ If a school is too permissive, allowing too many exceptions, it risks creating helplessness, selfishness or dependence in its pupils rather than responsibility, consideration and agency. If a school reduces its standards for poorer pupils because of their poverty or difficult home life, it does them a disservice; frankly, it doesn’t believe in them enough.”
Birbalsingh attributes the success of Michaela to “personal responsibility, respect for authority, and duty towards others,” conservative values that were common until the 1950s.
This, for lack of a better word, is phenomenal. More than 50 years back, British school teacher Ray Honeyford proposed similar reforms and lamented the declining educational standards since the sixties. Honeyford said there is no comparison between Shakespeare and Byron and some random poet writing garbage like “Inglan is a Bitch,” whose verse goes like “An wi fite an wi fite An defeat di state.”
He was naturally called a racist, and lost his job. School standards declined even further under Tony Blair, with grade grabbing students, cowardly and business-minded school and university teachers, and leftist supervisors who preferred equality over quality.
Michaela, however, dared to turn the clock back. The students who came to Michaela could not afford a private school. But they needed order and discipline in life, which they desperately lacked in their families and communities.
While the left in the U.K. and U.S. claims to stand for the poor, their policies incentivize failure and incompetence, and promote too much chaotic, structureless freedom. This leads to indiscipline, which causes incompetence and failure. The idea that knowledge is a both-side interaction instead of a hierarchical, disciplined model where wisdom flows from one side to the other, and the idea that freedom to express garbage is far more important for students than Spartan discipline, takes a severe beating with these results.
The implications are phenomenal for the Anglosphere. Fifty years of progressive dogma has resulted in an education system that has given up on class in favour of the mass, and discarded quality over quantity. Michaela’s results prove that both the progressive left and the ethnocentric right are wrong.
Michaela’s result proves that you don’t need to be a genius, rich, or part of a ruling class to achieve, and you can come from every stratum of society and with enough hard work, discipline, and structured order, you can compete with the best of the best.
More importantly, it throws open a question that no one dared to ask. It proves that you can, in fact, turn back time. You can go back to an earlier system and order, one that was time tested and good, and that we lost due to a cabal of left-dominated ideas. It shows “progress” does not necessarily mean good, and sometimes it is better to correct course before it is too late.