I became irritated recently when reading this review of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers”. I should point out that I have not visited Michaela Community School and although I find what they are doing interesting and exciting, I think the jury is still out on whether it will succeed long term, even if signs are very encouraging. However, the review makes claims which I feel should not go unchallenged.
The author of the review states that “Spurious claims are constantly made throughout, with scant regard for facts”. However, there are some spurious claims in the review. Take the following:
Most European countries are far more child centred than us. Really? Where is the evidence for this claim? Most European countries require children to repeat the year if they fail to meet a certain minimum standard. Nothing particularly child centred about that.
Saying that “teacher training institutions…indoctrinate unqualified teachers with their one sided progressive values” ignores the hours I spent as an ITT tutor teaching my undergraduates grammar and phonics. I don’t see the evidence for this either. It’s perfectly possible for a teacher trainer to teach grammar and phonics, while constantly telling their trainees that they are only doing so because the government decrees it and it’s really not in line with their philosophy. I’m not saying that this is what the author did, just that the claim is unsubstantiated. The anecdotal evidence about teacher training institutions pushing progressive values is very strong. Nevertheless, perhaps the author can point me in the direction of a teacher trainer who is dismissive of learning through projects and group work….
An 11 year old cannot access the adult experiences and passions writ large in Wuthering Heights. Why do we think a novel written expressly for adults about adult emotions should be appropriate for an 11 year old, just because it is hard? This seems to be saying that 11 year olds cannot read any books meant for adults, as they have not yet experienced the full range of adult emotions. Well, I remember starting to read books written for adults at that age. I started with “The Eagle Has Landed” if I remember rightly. I then read “The Odessa File” at the age of 12. I had never experienced the emotional state of being in fear of my life, but it was interesting to read about others experiencing it. A lot of books written for adults are unsuitable for children, but not all.
The review is scathing about Michaela’s approach to SEND. It is a fact that the UK diagnoses far more children as having SEND than is the European average. Surely these statistics should make UK educationalists sit up and take note? Yet, according to the review, to probe further into this statistic has no purpose. It’s almost as if we must be doing it right and other countries are doing it wrong. That seems rather arrogant.
Towards the end of the review we come to the author’s main criticism of Michaela, that, by asking for parental support, it is selective in its admissions. This has been identified by Greg Ashman here as a trend which is emerging about criticism of Michaela. I would simply say that it seems rather odd to criticise a school for seeking to ensure parental support for the school. I also find the author’s view rather fatalistic about parental engagement – it seems to be that there will always be parents who are unengaged and that’s just the way it is. It is possible that if all schools adopted the Michaela approach the number of disengaged parents might diminish considerably.
The author is careful to praise some aspects of Michaela. Yet I felt as I did when I read her review of Daisy Christodoulou’s “7 myths about education”. Being “damned with faint praise” is the phrase which springs to mind.