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Anyone got any opinions on the Michaela School?

(625 Posts)
noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 13:43:17

My Twitter is currently full of talk about Michaela as the teachers there have released a book today and are holding a conference explaining what they do. It's a no-excuses school where kids walk the corridors either in silence or chanting Shakespeare, behaviour is expected to be perfect including no slouching. Everything possible is done to reduce workload of teachers - no marking in books, lessons are all joint planned and taught uniformly, no differentiation, they write their own textbooks.

Does anyone's kids go there? Anyone decide against sending their kids there? Does anyone know how it is viewed in the local community?

kesstrel Sat 26-Nov-16 14:10:50

I've read lots about this: every blog I've seen from someone who has visited the school has been largely positive, even if they were expecting not to like it when they went. I don't know about the local community, although I have seen one post from someone who said she moved house to get into the catchment.

What I like about it is the emphasis on learning and retaining a great deal of subject knowledge. Even for people who don't value subject knowledge that much, and prefer an emphasis on 'skills', it seems to me that for pupils to be able to think critically and write well, they need to have a good, deep knowledge of what they are thinking and writing about.

Have you read the headteacher's book about her previous experience in schools where a lot of promising children ended up lost to street culture? It's a really good insight into why Michaela has been designed the way it has. As a black headteacher, in a school with a majority of black children, she wanted to do everything she could to prevent that happening. The school's culture reflects that, but it seems that a lot of the school's (white) critics aren't interested in understanding those reasons.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 14:32:02

As a traditional-style teacher I approve of the idea of teaching knowledge explicitly and love the idea of the school explicitly seeking to reduce teacher workload. I also like the idea that values such as being kind and appreciating others are explicitly taught.

But the idea that black children need a different type of school to white children, and that school involves militaristic-type drilling is unsettling - I know that KIPP schools in the US have been criticised on this basis.

I also don't understand how it works in practice. For example I had a Y11 student burst into tears in one of my lessons recently - personal issues. I let them go to the toilets to mop up, sent another student to look after them and arranged for a pastoral teacher to pick them up later. I don't understand if at Michaela I would have been expected to impassively issue demerits for slouching and not paying attention.

kesstrel Sat 26-Nov-16 16:00:01

Noble I don't think they actually do militaristic type drilling! grin Nor do I think "black children" need a different type of school. I do think, however, that it is reasonable to have a sensitivity to the culture and level of socio-economic disadvantage your students are coming from, and to adapt how you deal with certain issues to take account of that.

For example, take Michaela's policy of "family lunch" where an adult sits at the table with each group of children, and they spend part of the time discussing a sort of "topic of the day". Plenty of people have denounced this as draconian and an infringement of children's freedom and time to socialise. But I suspect that these people mostly come from backgrounds where they had plenty of practice in this type of conversation with their parents at home.

What I'm getting at is that it's fine for such people to prioritise their own children's freedom and social time; less so, in my view, to denounce a school that is providing something different that less advantaged parents appear to want. (And I suspect there are plenty of white parents who would approve of such an approach to lunch time as well - I certainly would).

I don't understand if at Michaela I would have been expected to impassively issue demerits for slouching and not paying attention.

Oh, definitely not: they're not monsters. I'll see if I can dig out some links to some of the blogs I've read.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 16:07:32

I don't think they actually do militaristic type drilling!

I read that they jog to their PE lessons at a remote playing field chanting French verbs (or something like that). But you know what I mean? Rigid orderly fashion with lots of uniformity.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 16:13:48

Nor do I think "black children" need a different type of school

No, I'm sure that many children would benefit from such a strict culture, regardless of race. It's the idea that such schools need to be set up to help black children avoid gang culture that's problematic, and that's what has been criticised in the US - these schools for black children (and some white kids whose parents like the idea), normal schools for white middle class children whose parents talk to them at dinner.

Actually in the U.K. it's white FSM children who overwhelmingly underperform - perhaps schools like Michaela will be proposed as a solution to that issue? Put the poor kids in strict schools?

IrenetheQuaint Sat 26-Nov-16 16:16:21

I read a blog once by a French teacher at Michaela and what he (said he'd) managed to achieve with his Y7 and 8s was quite amazing - lots of proper conversations and jokes with a firm grammatical foundation. I'd be fascinated to read an independent analysis.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 16:21:00

Given the amount of school time dedicated to learning and the effort the teachers put into designing the curriculum, I would be surprised if their results weren't astonishing.

70ontheinside Sat 26-Nov-16 16:21:37

I am absolutely fascinated by it. I would love to visit but I am afraid to ask for a day off for it and even more afraid I will have a huge breakdown and refuse to leave...
I work in a school with a few discipline issues, can you tell?

IrenetheQuaint Sat 26-Nov-16 16:24:35

Learning Spy blog from 18 months ago:

Wonderflonium Sat 26-Nov-16 16:34:45

One thing I worry about with this school is their ideological opposition to a spiral curriculum. They say they teach the stuff right the first time so it is retained.

I worry that in Y11, they just will have forgotten what they learned because that is how memory works, and their results will tank. That's game over for them, if they get bad GCSE results in the first cohort.

(Also, if it's not spiral, how can you connect old learning with new topics?)
Maybe I have misunderstood what they mean and they do revisit content to keep memories strong and connected.

kesstrel Sat 26-Nov-16 16:44:30

I believe that the main reason for the strict behaviour is to maximise learning time as much as possible. The school takes the view that many of their children are behind where they should be (due mainly to the primary schools they attended). They want them to catch up, and not just catch up, but to fly. The whole way the school operates is oriented toward that.

The goal is to maximise the learning time; the rationale is that children in private schools have advantages they never will, but one thing they have is a Spartan approach to learning. Work hard, never give up, practice.

That's a quote from a blog by Tom Bennett, after visiting the school.

It's the idea that such schools need to be set up to help black children avoid gang culture that's problematic,

Well, there are a lot of black parents who don't see that as problematic, and I don't blame them. I suspect if I were in their position, I would feel the same. When wealthy people find their children are getting sucked into a bad culture, they have other options, such as boarding schools.

However, I feel I should stress that I don't think that's part of Michaela's mission statement; it was more my own deduction from the book I mentioned earlier. Personally, I think all children would benefit from a Michaela-style ethos; but there are an awful lot of parents who disagree.

Put the poor kids in strict schools? I would like to see all schools sort out their behaviour problems, as a priority. But I suspect that many poorer parents, who are often saddled with the most chaotic schools, and who know that they don't have the resources to help their children outside of school (tutors, revision guides, financial support for extra years of study) may have more cause than I do to be anxious for their children to attend a school that maximises their chances to learn. I have the resources to pick up the pieces for my children (and I have had to do so), but others are not so fortunate.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 16:52:31

Some interesting excerpts from the Michaela book just posted on Twitter.

kesstrel Sat 26-Nov-16 16:57:43

Wonder Pupils are expected to do a lot of revision at home, as homework. Also, everything they need to know is in their knowledge organisers, and so will be available to them to use for GCSE revision. The school also says it uses spaced practice and testing. I'm sure they will be on top of making sure whatever revision is needed in Years 10 and 11 gets done! This is a link about the curriculum:

Wonderflonium Sat 26-Nov-16 17:06:57

Maybe I have got the wrong end of the stick then.
I just wonder if they really mean they won't revisit topics in lesson time because once they are taught, they are taught. I feel like you need a closer look at things a few years later to get more out of the topic and make new connections. Let's see, they're only up to Y9, now, right?

kesstrel Sat 26-Nov-16 17:11:44

Yes, Year 9. I guess we'll find out in about two and a half years!

CauliflowerSqueeze Sat 26-Nov-16 20:37:28

Parents are very happy for their children's schools to be extremely strict as long as their own children aren't on the receiving end of any discipline.

kesstrel Sat 26-Nov-16 21:00:50

By the way, Noble, if you are interested in reading more about the school, but don't want to get the book, there are quite a few blogs around by Michaela teachers. Pragmatic Education, Reading All the Books, Bodil's Blog, To Learn is to Follow, Tabula Rasa, are some of them.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 21:03:03

I follow quite a lot of them on Twitter, kesstrel but obviously they are all very vocally in favour of the school (possibly a bit culty!). That's why I was interested to hear if anyone had a child there, or knew the school but didn't work there.

EvilTwins Sat 26-Nov-16 21:31:51

I follow a few of them on twitter too and some of them are vomit-inducing in their evangelical smugness. I haven't visited, and remain open-minded but one teacher did post a video of a daily equipment check and implied that this is something no other school does, which just made her look a bit of an idiot.

noblegiraffe Sat 26-Nov-16 22:30:52

Crikey, the head really kicks off at about 1 hour into this video:

She at least has a very clear vision for what she is trying to achieve and is exceptionally passionate about what she is doing.

A call for a revolution.

TreehouseTales Sat 26-Nov-16 22:40:14

I used to teach philosophy and ethics. I loved going into a classroom with a general direction but free to divert if they brought up some interesting thoughts. I liked responding to the class. I cant imagine enjoying teaching to a script someone else wrote as surely that's not teaching...

our local school seems an incredibly similar model (often in the local news for it) and I really don't want to send my daughter. I'd hate for a rule to be enforced without any understanding of the circumstances. I do like the idea of intelligent conversation. I'd be curious to visit the school - or see where the students end up.

leccybill Sat 26-Nov-16 23:21:07

I visited a school recently which operates a lot like Michaela.

It unnerved me a little. And, dare I say it, even as a old-hand teacher who bemoans the lack of discipline and need for 'putting on a show' on a daily basis... I found the lessons boring as hell.
The students seemed hypnotised. Obedient, compliant, docile even. They worked in complete silence. No-one fidgeted, yawned or looked unfocused.

I came away impressed on some level, but would I want to teach somewhere like that? Not a chance.

kesstrel Sun 27-Nov-16 06:15:22

Treehouse Having read a lot of blogs, I haven't encountered anyone mentioning teaching from a script at Michaela...have I missed something?

TreehouseTales Sun 27-Nov-16 09:06:39

Not an actual script - but uniform lessons that are the same and predone is pretty much scripted in my book. It wouldn't be teaching to me. (A heck of a lot easier yes....but no real skill of teaching, knowing your subject, class, how you like to teach, what works best, finding ways to make topics different or more enjoyable etc.)

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