Birbalsingh has changed her tune since she was Head of Languages

Francis Gilbert's picture
IMPORTANT NOTE: "Katharine Birbalsingh has asked us not to name any of her previous schools in our blogs and comments  as the ‘Ordinary School’ featured in  ‘To Miss with Love’ is fictional."

Since reading her fictional diatribe against state education, To Miss With Love, and writing a review of it for The Observer,  I've been starting to investigate the truth about Katherine Birbalsingh and found out some interesting facts. Firstly, she was Head of Languages at a in South London when the school took part in the London Challenge, a scheme where schools collaborated to raise standards across the board. Secondly, in Teacher Magazine, I found this quote:

"Senior staff have very high standards for both the students and the staff. They have really led in a way that doesn't always happen in other schools," says Katherine Birbalsingh, head of languages.

I wonder if she stands by these words of praise for the good work the school did? Was she telling the truth about the school then? Or is her novel a more accurate representation of the school? I've contacted her and asked these questions. I have also contacted the headteacher at the relevant school and asked for his view. Perhaps, with a bit of investigation we might find if there is any "truth" to anything she says.

Perhaps most pertinently, is there anything in the most recent Ofsted report of a school which she was a teacher at for a number of years, which she disagrees with? The school, like her fictional school, Ordinary Comprehensive, in To Miss With Love, was judged "good with outstanding features".

I found this section heartening, I feel it's difficult for her to refute it, because it's based on hard facts and personal testimony.

"Students enter the school with levels of attainment that are broadly average. They make good progress and many, regardless of attainment or background, reach their personal challenging targets. Overall attainment is above average. The needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities are met well by teachers and by well-trained learning support assistants. They make very good progress. The GCSE standards attained over the past three years have placed the school in the top one third nationally on the basis of achievement.

These high levels of performance are initially underpinned by the good teaching and learning, which includes a high number of outstanding lessons. In the best practice, teachers generate excellent group work and private study that motivates students to think and learn for themselves. This gives them confidence and enables them to review and guide their thinking to indicate the next steps in their learning. Senior leaders recognise that there is more work to do to enable all students to develop these independent learning skills, but clearly a good start has been made. Learning has a very high status in the school and the vast majority of students are sympathetic to others who work hard or strive to improve their performance in any sphere of the school curriculum. Most parents are very supportive - one writes, 'The school has an excellent balance between education, pastoral support and extra-curricular activities.'

The atmosphere of harmony and tolerance throughout the school reflects the school's active approach to developing a good cohesive community. For example, it is reflected in the dramatic decrease in exclusions over the past three years. Personal development and well-being in the school is good overall. Aspects such as spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, students' health and safety, and their contributions to the community are outstanding. A Year 11 student stated, 'There is a great sense of community in our school; we get on with everyone, whatever their backgrounds.' Most students behave and engage well in lessons. They are well supported by effective pastoral teams who work closely with a host of outside agencies to provide excellent quality of care, support and guidance. Attendance is good and improving. Students have a good knowledge of how to be healthy and how to stay safe."

What is your response to this report about your old school Miss Birbalsingh? Unlike your novel, it is based on truthful personal testimony and a variety of different views, including inspectors' own judgements and the various stakeholders involved, pupils, parents, teachers, governors.


It would be great if anyone else has any other information to contact me at
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 15:14

Thank you Plodder for your most recent points, which I think are interesting and valid, and your more civilised tone, which I appreciate. There are some complex points about KB's book to be made because she's saying it's both fiction and not fiction -- and because an analysis of her career history reveals that she worked in a good, improving comprehensive. Until the LSN delved properly into her career history, it was assumed she'd worked in a "sink" school for years. She hadn't, she'd worked in a VERY GOOD school -- a point she is most emphatically not denying and which she is on record as saying is good. Therefore, her claim that all state schools are broken just doesn't stand up, even based on her own personal experience and testimony.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 15:20

BTW everyone: Ms Believer and Plodder are writing from the same ISP address, and I assume are the same person. Plodder/Ms Believer, I think you're making some good points (so I am reluctant to kill your comments), but you're not inspiring confidence with these silly games. Maybe just tell us who you are really?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 16:39

The book is BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week next week.

It's billed as "Revealing the extraordinary chaos, mismanagement and wrong-thinking that plague our education system".

Shane Rae's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 17:02

May I suggest Nick Hornby's 'May Contain Nuts' as a refreshing companion to KB's tome? Even Ms Plodder/Believer would probably enjoy.

Isabel Gittins's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 17:09

Can you all hand on heart say you would've chosen the local schools you did for your children if there hadn't been at least a core of middle class families choosing the school, regardless of it's headline results. In some areas a year 6 class of 30 can end up at over 20 different secondary schools. Would you be happy for your 11-year old really be the only one from their school and then be isolated socially or culturally? And will your child be the one who does change things & make the social mix of the school improve? And what of the curriculum of that school. What if they do not offer a broad range of subjects. What if the only Science on offer was a BTEC or none took a language to GCSE. I fear that you will never convince people unless you address these issues. Granted it is not all schools but if it is the only one you'll be offered in the current system would you stand by your principles?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 17:42

To Isabel, my son will be one of the few middle-class children next year at his local comprehensive; most of the other middle-class children have migrated away from the local comp. I don't see it as a problem at all. Children are children no matter what social class or ethnicity they are; I don't see that he will be isolated in any way at all. A good friend of his is going there from a very different background. And as for the notion that certain comprehensives have a very different curriculum offer, that's nonsense; all LA schools are obliged by law to offer the "basic" GCSEs that you will find in the E Bacc.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 17:43

I've given up on Plodder/Ms Believer and I am trashing his comments as he/she/teacher/parent is clearly a joker.

Andy Smithers's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 17:53


It is great that you have chosen a local comp.

It should be noted however that your track record would indicate a move to another more suitable school would be on the cards if your son struggles with any aspect of the school.

Unfortunately most do not have this option.

Michael Keenan's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 18:15

Please don't give these people the satisfaction of winding you up. There are important arguments going on here about how education is changing and they are being drowned out by the publicity driven drivel that is being spoken about Katherine Birbalsingh and Toby Young (and, watch this space, Jamie Oliver coming in just around the corner).
We are not all bad teachers. Not all schools are bad. Ofsted is horrible but it is inherently not a bad thing, certainly not the way Katherine Birbalsingh describes it. However, there is definitely no such thing as bad publicity. Katharine Birbalsingh is on a publicity drive to sell her book. Toby Young is on a publicity drive to sell us this idea of his Free School saving the educational lives of children having to go through the hell of their local schools (but if there were 445 applications for September and families who applied have begun hearing if their child got a place, what do they do if they don't get in? Will Mr. Young set up another Free School to cater for those poor lost souls?). Jamie Oliver is on a publicity drive to sell us his idea of celebrity teachers being the answer. I have no doubt Plodder and Mrs. Believer will turn out to be someone from the Telegraph or the Mail trying to show us how loony leftie this site is and it will probably end up in a book as well!
Our education system is not perfect but I started teaching around the same time Francis mentions in one of the posts at the top and they really were bad times. This government is doing their best to take us back to those bad times - if you are lucky, they will give you £14 million to start a new school. Most of us are not and if like me you work in a deprived part of a major English city, you will be seeing first hand these children are already being let down and forgotten about. Playing publicity/political football with the lives of children - Katherine Birbalsingh, Toby Young, Jamie Oliver, Michael Gove, you should be ashamed of themselves.

Oliver Stone's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 18:39

I agree Michael. Not all schools are bad. I'd go further. Most are very good. But there's much we need to address. I teach at a school which is good. I know we can make it better. How do you discuss this without scaring informed families about potential 'weakness'? We need to avoid the polemics of Ms B but also we need to not pretend that there's nothing wrong. Help please.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 19:12

In my experience most parents know quite a bit about the strengths and weaknesses of their local school. There isn't much you can disguise between Ofsted, league tables, the school gate and in some cases the local press. I think the important thing is for governors and the head to be open, and not defensive, about areas that need to improve and to make clear to parents what they are doing. I have always found holding open meetings for parents very helpful ( and as a chair of governors I give all parents my personal e-mail address so they can contact me directly). I have been at some meetings that are very difficult but in the end they can start to build trust and also give parents confidence that concerns are being acted on, even if it does sometimes feel that change is not happening quickly enough. And of course the direct feedback from parents is very helpful for the governing body.

Isabel Gittins's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 21:52

I am sorry you have censored the Plodder/Believer comments as even Francis felt they/he/she added to the debate. It seems to me that you all want to justify your politically driven ideology, rather than working for and with schools for real and sustained improvement or debating the opportunities and challenges presented to schools at the present time. You may be right Fiona that comprehensively educated people will increasingly make their way to prominence, thus proving the ideal. But I fear that those from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, including certain well documented ethnic groups will still be hugely under-represented. I am a firm believer in comprehensive education but I would be deluding myself if I believed that everything is ok. Listening to opposing views is a starting point for finding solutions.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 22:52

I am sorry you think that, but maybe you are not reading what many of the people on this site are saying, which is that they are working for and with local schools for sustained improvement. Many of our contributors have pointed to examples in other countries where comprehensive systems deliver fairness and quality across the board more effectively than we do, which is not surprising since in many parts of the country we don't yet have a comprehensive system.
I agree with you that poor and disadvantaged young people will still struggle, in comparison with their more affluent peers, to get represented at the 'top tables' as it were, but is that really all to do with schools or are we missing a much bigger point about society in general, about poor housing , poverty, family breakdown, parents who struggle? I think we may expect too much of schools but blaming them is much easier than actually looking at the deeper reasons for our failure to meet those young peoples' needs. I doubt the political solutions currently on the table for schools will really address these problems and will probably make things worse as early years funding gets cut, programmes to support families and extended services gradually disappear. Meanwhile young people will get segregated increasingly into different types of schools of varying status, and offering different subjects and qualifications. It could all be very different...

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 22:07

Dear Isabel, I am glad you are firm believer in comprehensive education and I agree with you that we need to "work for and with schools for real and sustained improvement or debating the opportunities and challenges presented to schools at the present time". I simply trashed Ms Believer/Plodder's comment that he/she weren't one person, which they patently were because they were writing from the same computer! But then again, for all I know, you are him back again writing from a different computer! But you're writing some worthwhile stuff so go ahead!

Isabel Gittins's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 23:41

Fiona, the countries cited with successful comprehensives are very often less culturally diverse places with a smaller gap between the poorest and richest. I don't believe they compare well with our most diverse inner cities where wealth & deprivation often sit side by side. You are right about the wider problems in society but schools are often the only point of stability so there is a moral imperative to the best we can. How will a variety of schools cause more segregation than we have already? There are grammars, partially selective, faith & academies already. Free schools are a fairly small addition to the mix, and possibly politically driven. Comprehensive schools as they are now have significant freedoms now to be creative and entrepreneurial. Funding may well be cut but schools can direct it to their specific priorities. Schools are already offering different qualifications & subjects, so what will change? The present government places emphasis on a particular set of subjects but I hope all heads, whatever the category of school offer a curriculum which meets the needs of their students. There are challenges and opportunities with the Education Bill but I would rather make the most of the latter.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 08:36

I totally agree that there is a moral imperative to do the best we can Isabel.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 09:17

One aspect of the current situation that we are trying to improve is the 'segregation we already have'. I agree that free schools are a fairly small addition to the mix, although not if you live in a community where you feel a new free school will threaten existing provision, as we have seen from some of the comments by parent groups on this site.
However the existing segregation is one reason why Melissa and I were actively involved campaigning for changes to the Admissions Code of Practice during the passage of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act. I believe the the Code was much improved as a result and wait with some trepidation to see what Michael Gove will do with it ( it should really be consulted on alongside the current Bill).
Meanwhile we have always had concerns too about the way the curriculum was being degraded in some schools, in response to the league tables, in effect creating shiny new secondary moderns and grammar schools by another name. I note that Professor Wolf has aired similar concerns today. The schools concerns will now of course be publicly rebuked , but they were only responding to the perverse incentives built into our system of school accountability.
I don't believe resolving these issues has anything to do with whether we live in a more or less culturally diverse society. It is a matter of having a big vision for the sort of education system we would like, then pushing through the policies necessary to achieve that. I don't think the sort of fragmented, semi selective, do your own thing model of schooling currently being promoted will provide the answers.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 00:54

Francis I hope you have not kicked a couple or some house mates off this website (whatever permutation they are)!

Fiona I do not think what you are doing is wrong in principle. To support a local school, especially one judged as in some way at fault, to the depth of your own children, is a morally supportable position. But I do not think that it should be a matter of authority vested in levels above tax paying parents. Do you think there should be a local abortion authority, a local pub authority, a local plumbing authority, a local housing authority (in the sense you are told WHERE and IF to abort/have water/a drink/a place to live)? Which equate to rationing the provision against your will?

It's a woman's choice right? You chose to live where you do in London? You choose if you and where you drink? You might get a bore hole or buy bottled water even if you have a tap?

These examples may seem facile or even offensive: but I am trying to make a point about the limits of what the intervention of the state can do. It is best to push power down to the lowest levels and then intervene to raise the level where it is at the bottom.

I do think that the upper class and middle class (we could say the both are rich/privileged) both have a duty to assist the other parts of society i.e. lower classes, by civil participation. I would argue they would but government has got in the way.

Free schools should result in altering the dynamics of schools so that the social classes do mix. You gave the example of Albeta CA schools but glossed over the nature of choice there. Schools are more accountable there since they know if they do not deliver the children and parents upsticks! A class analysis of the Alberta schools would be very illuminating.

There is a debate to be had here on the whole nature of our society but I am sorry I don't can't write more now.

I will flesh out my profile later so you can see I am not a troll - but I did vote Tory last time!

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 09:23

Ben, I am not sure if you are actively involved with any schools at the moment but I can assure you that in many existing schools the 'social classes' do mix already. That is one of the great things about comprehensive education where it works well. Unfortunately the media prefers to present a very partial picture of schools in certain contexts. Other than than, I am not quite sure what your point is, or that we disagree fundamentally on local autonomy. Most schools are very autonomous now, power rests in the hands of the governing body which is often largely made up of parents, staff and other members of the local community. In my experience the local authority has a very limited role in decision taking at school level - another myth that needs to be busted . One of the great paradoxes of the Labour academies is that many are very tightly controlled by the 'chains' that run them and, from conversations I have had with friends who work in or for these groups, they often seem to interfere in a way that an LA would not dare to do .

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 08:34

Thank you Ben for this comment. I am glad that you feel our principles are right: a great education for ALL children, great local schools for all.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:17

We seem to have strayed off-topic. Perhaps we should begin another thread about local autonomy. However, here are my comments:

Fiona is correct about local autonomy in Local Authority schools: governing bodies run LA schools and there are laws governing the composition of these bodies. Nevertheless, LA schools must follow statutory requirements to follow the national curriculum.

There are, however, no laws that control the composition of governing bodies for academies. Once a school becomes an academy, the elected members of the governing body lose control and the private sponsors are allowed to appoint a majority of its governors. This removes local autonomy.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:26

Francis: I would suggest that comments should be allowed from either Plodder or MsBeliever. Contributors are more than capable of engaging with diverse opinions. There must, of course, be community standards and as long as these are followed then all could contribute. However, the problem of multiple identities could be solved by allowing only one contributor from one ISP address.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:41

Point taken. Plodder/Ms Believer is and always has been welcome to submit views to do with the topic in hand.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 10:59

Back on topic now: Toby Young quotes from an article in which Francis described some schools as being unfit for learning. The key words here are "some schools". The difference between Francis's comments and those of Ms Birbalsingh is that that her views are used to "expose the failings of the comprehensive school system". It is not true that the entire comprehensive system is failing since there are many good comprehensive schools.

The difficulties faced by a small number of schools should not be used to denigrate an entire system. That is not to say that these difficulties should not be addressed. However, there should be a sense of proportion. To use these incidents as symptomatic of a "broken system" is misleading and unfair.

When I was a teacher I, too, faced indiscipline. I have been sworn at and had pupils refusing to do work. I, too, have had to stop fights and deal with bullying. But I can counter these with far more examples of pupils learning, working co-operatively and being comfortable in the school.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:08

Janet, thanks for pointing that out. The main thing is to fight for great local schools for all.

Graham Mellor's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 13:53

Having scanned through all the comments in this thread its good that Janet brings us the voice of reason - this is exactly the point - sweeping condemnation is neither accurate nor helpful. More interesting is why some schools do better that others in similar circumstances. I'm no expert but I believe recent evidence indicates the most effective tool for improvement, alongside leadership and management, is collaboration - both within and between schools. That is, local collaboration not competition. Free schools are a market intervention at least partly based on the view that competition is a good thing for driving up standards. I don't think so, and certainly competition between schools on uneven playing fields is positively damaging. It sickens me when I look at the New Schools Network website and see all these offers of free stuff from business people on the pretence they are doing something for the local community - why on earth haven't they been supporting the existing schools????

Tanino Cinà's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 17:36

Surely parents should have as much, as wide and as varied a choice as possible for their children?

Is it not desirable to be able to choose between M&S, TESCO and so on when one opens his front door? Is such a settlement not preferable to the metaphorical soup kitchen of the comprehensive system that some would like to force upon all parents?

The myth of the public sector unions defending the interests of the consumers was debunked years ago, it is clear that the trade unions and their acolytes seek only to ward their interests, to the dismay of parents, tax payers and students.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 14:21

Schools are not like supermarkets. If a shop closes through lack of custom then the customers can go elsewhere. However, if an undersubscribed school closes there may be no room in other schools for its pupilsl.

The ability to choose between schools may be possible in a city, but in a town or village there will only be enough pupils for one school. This, then, needs to be the best possible school for the local children.

The "some people" who wanted to force the comprehensive system on parents in the 60s/70s were middle-class parents who realised that a system which damned 75% of boys (and more girls) into a secondary modern school was unfair (and likely to work against their own children). This policy was supported by the Tories and it was Mrs Thatcher, as Secretary of State for Education, who closed more grammar schools than any other Minister.

I should be grateful if Tanino could provide a link to evidence which shows that teaching unions do not defend the interests of their pupils. The interests of pupils are best served if teachers are well-rewarded thereby attracting the best candidates into the profession. I am sure that Tanino is not suggesting that teachers should be low paid and that their Unions should accept this.

Tanino Cinà's picture
Mon, 07/03/2011 - 01:35

I would like to thank Miss Downs for her courteous and polite answer.

Miss Downs mentions a hypothetical situation in which one school is under subscribed and the other schools in the area are all full. But would such a settlement not indicate that there are too many schools? If you have five empty bottles of 1l each and only 4.5l of lemonade you’ve evidently bought too many empty bottles, have you not? If students from the “full schools” were to leave in order to fill up the failing school the consequence would be of under subscription to the schools that were once full. Such matters always arise, schools do close because nobody wants them, it would be counterproductive and emotional for them not to close. To enable groups of teachers and/or businessmen to open new schools would be healthy for the system as it would probably mean weaker schools being edged out of the “market” were it not for the fact that, according to my understanding of the government scheme, these schools cannot open in areas where supply already outstrips demand.

I'm sure Miss Downs is aware of the inaccurate nature of her assertion with regards to Mrs Thatcher and grammar schools. Mrs Thatcher didn't close any grammar schools, she merely devolved competences in such matters to local authorities which then proceeded to close grammar schools.

The teachers unions will, undoubtedly, maintain that they exist to protect the consumer, in the name of altruism (altruism in virtue of the fact that they are the suppliers). If the fast food workers union told you that it has its customers’ best interests at heart you would laugh and I believe a similarly healthy cynicism should be adopted when scrutinising the teachers’ unions.

One cannot know the true intentions of the teachers’ unions and it would not be desirable to generalise, there are many teachers of noble intentions. We must recognise, however, that the vested interest [we cannot know whether a teacher genuinely - in his heart - believes that increasing teacher salaries will benefit the education of future generations but we can know whether the same teacher stands to benefit financially from such increases] of the teaching profession is to be paid as well as possible in exchange for as little work as possible, as is for all people. Let us avoid complicated debates about morality and nobility which lead nowhere in favour of an open, frank and perhaps cynical debate about the teaching profession. I shall end on the following note; American teachers are paid better yet than their British counterparts yet the American education system is worse (listen to Gore Vidal, Milton Friedman, Geoffrey Canada and many more for further information). French and Italian teachers are paid much less, however, yet both France and Italy have education systems that compare favourably to the education system of the United Kingdom. It comes as no surprise that teachers seek better wages but I have just given you examples of good education systems with badly paid teachers and bad education systems with well paid teachers. To suggest that all our education system needs is better paid teachers is almost as folly as saying that all it needs is amelioration in matters architectural (which has been said). However, I believe in meritocracy and if Miss Downs is suggesting a payment by results scheme to favour the deserving at the expense of the undeserving I would not exclude a hypothesis whereby a consensus emerges.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 07/03/2011 - 13:13

Just as schools aren't supermarkets, then children aren't lemonade to be poured into bottles. The point I was making is that if an underscribed school is forced to close then where are the children from that school supposed to go if there are no spare places locally?

I take Tanino's point about Mrs Thatcher - she didn't actually sign the death warrants for grammar schools but left it to local authorities to decide. Most local authorities decided to end selection.

As far as education in France is concerned:

‘'The French education system is more and more dichotomous, with an increase in pupils failing at school, with little chance of obtaining a baccalaureate. The system is saved thanks to its elite, but the social inequalities continue to increase’', says Eric Charbonier, responsible for the [OECD PISA) study in France.

Many of the characteristics of unsuccessful systems identified in the study – doubling up of years, emphasis on testing, and lack of autonomy for schools - are all present in France. Indeed, France is the champion of re-sitting of school years, with 38% of school pupils who do so."

Which brings us neatly back to Ms Birbalsingh - her alter-ego Snuffy favours re-sitting of school years which the OECD has shown to be ineffective. It's a pity detractors of UK state education don't spend more time studying academic inquiries into education instead of regarding a novel as evidence-based research.

Wm F McCormick's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 13:35

I followed the link in your March 4 ,2011 peice (Left-wing nutters go bonkers over West London Free School) which was supplied to support the contention that Fiona Millar took 4 1/2 months to respond to questions put to her.
The statement "you haven’t replied to my request that you apologise on the Telegraph website" would seem to indicate the article's author is the one guilty of unresponsiveness and making misleading comments.

MM's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 16:57

I am a parent of a former student. ------- (name redacted) was not a bog standard comprehensive. They are actually very selective. They have to sit a test to gain entrance. They also gave preference to children who play a musical instrument. Who generally pays for a child to have music lessons?
They claimed to take on a fair percentage different abilities. There were three bands of low, average and high. The low band was for children who achieved level four in their year six sats ( which is the national average) average was level five and high was a mix of level five and six. Hardly a bog standard intake or comprehensive.
My son is now in his second year of university - we left after his g.c.s.e's. He gained 15 in total and bizarrely enough one of the few he failed was her french class.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/03/2011 - 17:36

MM, it seems like the school did pretty well by your son.

Tanino Cinà's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 09:23

Once again, I should like to thank Miss Downs for her response and apologise for taking so long to reply.

Of course children aren't lemonade but let us not be apocalyptic in our considerations of the closures of schools, schools close because, say, factories close so people leave the town, children leave their schools during reconstruction, schools close because nobody applies, schools can be merged so some students have to stop going to one building in favour of another, et cetera. I do not know how many children have to travel to reasonably (or unreasonably) distant schools because their local schools have either recently been closed or are full but I really don't think the number is considerable and, at any rate, surely these children and their parents could constitute demand for the innovative free schools? There are people that travel one or two hours to get to school all over the world (indeed I was reading about an African boy who walks 10 miles back and forth each day - and smiles), surely it's no disaster.

The French system has its shortcomings, by the way, I do not deny it, but I should suggest that you go to France and talk to a French state schoolboy about history, about science, about literature (they probably won't have the misfortune of knowing Carol Ann Duffy, but they'll know Racine, a name foreign to most A Level French students), ask them the present participle of a verb, ask them about Waterloo (which I do not believe features in current British curricula) and you'll see a degree of culture you simply don't encounter in British comprehensives. With regards to re sitting school years, why, I think that if parents want to encharge the state with the education of their offsprings the state should make sure that students reach a minimum standard. Such standards are not met, in some cases, by people with three A Levels so I do think that much could be done in this respect. The proponents of the comprehensive system should embrace the state forcing students to retake their school years until they are proficient in mathematics, the English language and a few other subjects, what of those poor students who get no GCSEs and are doing nothing at the age of 16?


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