‘Free’ school uses force to teach pupils – then accuses parents of ‘betraying’ their children

Katharine Birbalsingh gained notoriety after describing state schools as "utterly chaotic" at the Conservative Party conference in 2010 [Image: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian].

Katharine Birbalsingh gained notoriety after describing state schools as “utterly chaotic” at the Conservative Party conference in 2010 [Image: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian].

It is terrifying that our Conservative government supports a school system that allows teachers to behave in this way.

Michaela Free School in Wembley, London, has caused controversy by putting pupils into ‘lunch isolation’ if parents fail to pay for their children’s school meals.

According to the school, pupils in lunch isolation “will receive a sandwich and a piece of fruit only. They will spend the entire 60-minute period in lunch isolation. Only when the entire outstanding amount is paid in full will they be allowed into family lunch with their classmates.”

This seems like a form of psychological harm, inflicted on the pupils.

More controversial still – it seems to This Writer – is the attitude of the school’s head teacher, Katharine Birbalsingh.

“We’ve got three families in the whole of the school where this is the case. They are all families who are betraying their children. One we are reporting to social services,” Ms Birbalsingh told The Guardian.

“Betraying their children?”

That’s an extreme thing to say about people who haven’t been able to speak up for themselves.

And the mother who raised the issue in the first place – in the Daily Mail – claims she paid up the arrears before receiving Ms Birbalsingh’s letter demanding the money – but her child was put through the punishment anyway.

The pupil in question left Michaela at the end of the summer term.

Michaela School, which seems to revel in the motto ‘Knowledge is Power’, also seems to revel in the exercise of power over its pupils.

“Those children would leave school illiterate if they were at any other schools. At our school that is not the case,” said Ms Birbalsingh.

“Why? Because we force them to go to reading club after school, we force them to do their homework, and we also, during the time we take them out of family lunch, do extra work with them so that they are catching up.” [Bolding mine]

Force them?

In this day and age, doesn’t that signify mistreatment by multiple means?

It seems clear that Ms Birbalsingh is forceful in defending her policy, but one has to wonder, if this is how her school uses its power over other people’s children…

What else might go on behind this school’s closed doors, if she is allowed to continue?

The head of a London secondary school that places pupils in “lunch isolation” if their parents don’t pay for school meals is unapologetic over the policy, arguing that parents who refuse to pay are betraying their children’s education.

Katharine Birbalsingh, the head of Michaela community school in north-west London who imposed the policy, argued that the children affected were from dysfunctional homes and needed the school’s support.

“Should we charge a poor single mum twice so she can pay for Jonny just because she has a sense of personal responsibility and Jonny’s mother doesn’t?” Birbalsingh said.

“Free school meals looks after the poorest. Even then we have all sorts of systems for people who really are in financial need, and I mean the real ones. I don’t mean the ones who are playing the system, trying to get other poor families to pay for their child’s food.”

The controversy surfaced after the Daily Mail reported that a parent of a pupil received a letter from the school’s deputy head saying: “You are currently £75 overdue. If this full amount is not received within this week your child will be placed in lunch isolation.”

Source: Headteacher defends policy of putting pupils in ‘lunch isolation’ | Education | The Guardian


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15 thoughts on “‘Free’ school uses force to teach pupils – then accuses parents of ‘betraying’ their children

  1. joanna

    She should be Charged with Child Abuse, and never allowed near a child again!! The parent should also seek legal advice, there are plenty of lawyers who will take cases on a no win no fee basis.

    The “School” is also breaking the law, because they are making the child responsible for actions out of their control, Even if the child took money to school to pay for lunch, and spent it on sweets, they are Still not responsible!!

  2. joanna

    What makes this even worse Mike is, the school day starts at 7.55am and finishes at 4pm. That is a long day to get by with just a sandwich, what about children whoi have food allergies?

  3. Brian

    Punishing Parents through the children harks back to the dark days of the 50’s & 60’s. Teachers were then a respected profession, albeit because many parents were not otherwise interested in their children’s ‘day’ and a blind eye to authority offered convenience. It would be heartening to think we had moved on from accepting professional arrogance metered out on children in the name of righteousness, but it seems educationalist are trying to reassert their judgmental control through abuse. Abuse it is, no less than the physical punishment so liberally applied decades ago. If these schools have a problem with discipline or the inability of the parents to fulfill their responsibilities, they must use non-abusive remedies. This is a moral issue as much as any and if allowed to continue the result will be damaged children.

    1. DAV

      Perhaps an ASBO ASAP? This woman is clearly unfitted to be let loose anywhere near a school, let alone be a head. I wonder what her training and qualifications are in education?
      I think we should be told. Does anybody remember her as a student teacher? Can they remember what she was like? What has been her career trajectory so far? Is she, in fact, breaking the law by punishing the children of parents who have not paid for their meals – paid presumably in advance, that is.

    2. Jackie Cairns

      I think the parents still sending their kids there need to see a shrink, There is NO way i would send mine there if they done this to them, I would be straight don’t to the education and tell them, If nothing was done i would change schools. That’s child abuse.

  4. David

    This head represents authoritarianism gone mad. The “Free” part of Free School is surely ironic?

  5. David Goldthorp

    I’m glad she wasn’t my teacher she looks scarey enough just from her picture.

  6. Christine Cullen

    When I talk to parents about the implications of academies and free schools, they are often completely unaware of the disadvantages their child is likely to suffer under these regimes, and definitely have no idea how the funding works without sufficient oversight, to the disadvantage of LEA schools’ budgets. Teachers and teachers’ unions have been warning about this for years, and still the Tory “education” policy juggernaut keeps rolling on. Parents who do not inform themselves and have not insisted on LEA oversight have made their children into guinea pigs and victims.

    1. Kenneth Billis

      Yes, and far too many of them shouldn’t even be put in charge of an empty room.,

  7. philippajanebrown777

    Mike, your change to a smaller font size makes my reading of it nigh on impossible. To magnify the page means losing half of the page vertically so I have to go to and fro on every line. Could you please revert back to your reader friendly font? I find it very frustrating as I respect and admire your posts but they are no good to me in small print AND I can’t share what I can’t read. The sharing aspect is crucial as you know. Thanks for your good work and hope to be able to read it again soon!

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I haven’t changed the font size.
      I recommend that you check your own settings.

Comments are closed.