What's All The Fuss About?

Posted on: 16/10/2020


On 9 October, the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020 was announced, recognising the outstanding achievements of people from across the United Kingdom. On this year’s list were 133 individuals who have been recognised for their services to education during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These include teachers, head teachers and principals who have gone above and beyond to provide education to young people.

One Head who has very deservedly been recognised is Katharine Birbalsingh.  Katharine is the Head and founder of the Michaela Community School, an 11–18 mixed, free secondary school and sixth form in Wembley, established in September 2014. I have followed the work of the school and Katherine’s social media presence over the years and sadly Katharine has, on several occasions, had to defend what she and her staff do at Michaela to inspire the pupils to be their best.  I have always stood back and refrained from judgement; I feel that much of what her school stands for reflects what any good school should be doing.

For example, her school has a stringent behaviour policy which the pupils are expected to fulfil, the school has “family lunches” where staff sit with the pupils and the children are expected to make conversation, use their cutlery correctly,  pour drinks, and clear their guests’ plates. The school asks children to walk on a particular side of the corridor when passing each other; the school asks children not to ‘loiter’ between lessons, arriving promptly for their next lesson, and the pupils are asked to memorise poetry by heart and recite it back.

Over the years of reading about Michaela and watching Katherine being interviewed I have reflected on life at St. Helen’s College. Many of the Michaela Community School routines and expected behaviours resonate so closely to what we expect of our children here at St. Helen’s College! So what is all the fuss about it being branded  ‘Britain’s Strictest School’?

Our Ducklings may only be 2 years old but, with encouragement, they tidy up their toys, they sit beautifully at snack and lunch around their tables, they say please and thank you and they recite a little prayer and song of thanks for the food they receive.

Our Nursery pupils learn poems off by heart and recite these to their peers and parents in a special poetry assembly - the beginnings of our annual speech recitation event which, as you know, continues throughout the school.

Pupils at Lower School and Upper School walk calmly along corridors, with the Upper School children knowing that they stick to the left hand side on the stairs. At both Lower and Upper School the children understand the behaviour expected of them and the children sign a classroom pledge together to state that they will uphold the standards expected from them. Those who find it difficult to uphold these behaviours are supported appropriately and there may be the occasion for further actions if required. Ultimately, the children know that behaviour routines are based on our mantra of ‘Ready, Respectful, Safe’ and, as a school, we have taken the best aspects from UK behaviour specialist Paul Dix and embedded them into our daily routines with the children.

I truly believe that children enjoy structure and routines and they need consistency, but most importantly they need to feel safe and loved. I take my hat off to how the staff at Michaela Community School have weathered the social media storm over their routines and how the school is run - but I say keep up the great work!

I feel so blessed to have the most amazing staff here at St. Helen’s College and this half term has been a testament to their stamina and professionalism as they are back doing what comes naturally to them all - bringing out the best in your children. I also feel blessed to have the parent body we have! You are truly invested in St. Helen’s College and what we do TOGETHER  brings out the best in your children!

Have a wonderful half term break with your children and do speak with them about the activities and lessons they have engaged with this half term but also discuss some of the routines which we have at school - I am sure that you will agree that your children - ‘our’ children - are not in the ‘strictest’ school, but that they feel loved, safe and are thriving in a school environment which has good solid routines and boundaries. And that is a good thing! 

I leave you with an interesting article written back in 2016 by ResearchED’s Tom Bennett and his impressions of Michaela Community School some years ago in the early days - I would love to hear your impressions!

Mrs. Drummond