British teacher speaks out

A British teacher who criticized “dumbed-down” education standards at a Conservative Party conference is back in school this week. Katharine Birbalsingh, 37, was ordered to stay home on Thursday or Friday. A French teacher for 10 years in London schools, she started this term as deputy head of a South London school rated “inadequate.”

In her speech on Tuesday, Miss Birbalsingh told delegates of a “broken” system which “keeps poor children poor”.

I thought her views sounded familiar. Sure enough, Birbalsingh is Snuffy, who blogged as To Miss with Love. In the blog, she wrote about low expectations, disorder and teachers’ struggle with bureaucracy.

Miss Birbalsingh says she has watched in silent horror, over more than a decade in teaching, as good teachers were ordered to follow bad rules, schools colluded with the folly of inspectors to win coveted ratings and classrooms were allowed to deteriorate into war zones.

. . . “Teachers are too scared to speak out because they think they are going to lose their job. And indeed, I gave a five minute speech and said a few home truths, and that has resulted in me being sent home from work.

Birbalsingh, who is Indian-Guyanese on her father’s side and Jamaican on her mother’s side, charges that discipline is poor because teachers “fear being labelled racist if they attempt to tackle bad behaviour by black pupils.”

* Britain’s state education system is an “international disgrace” which is incapable of reaching the “absurdly low” target of pupils achieving five grade Cs at GCSE.

* Mixed ability teaching, where bright students are taught alongside the less able, is “insane” because it means no pupils can receive the teaching they require.

* Ofsted’s inspection criteria are so skewed and prescriptive, they can lead to great and inspirational teachers being labelled as underperforming.

* The fashion for “group teaching” in some schools prevents teachers setting out classroom desks in traditional rows, forcing them to be arranged in groups so pupils can work in pairs or teams.

Educators make excuses for children from low-income, single-paren or black families, she charges. “This idea that because you are poor you cannot achieve is ridiculous.”

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