The political persecution of Katharine Birbalsingh
She was ‘suspended’ last week, after delivering an electrifying speech at the Conservative Party conference on the state of Britain’s ‘broken’ education system.
And it’s not just ‘broken’.
Ms Birbalsingh has helpfully since elucidated her meaning and explained that it is, in fact, ‘fundamentally broken’.
Fundamental: adj. of, affecting, or serving as a base or foundation, essential, primary, original (OED).
This didn’t go down well with Dr Irene Bishop, the Executive Headteacher of St Michael and All Angels Academy in Camberwell, who appears to have taken it all rather personally.
What Ms Birbalsingh objectively appropriated to state education in general, Dr Bishop subjectively ascribed to her school in particular.
Or, rather, to one of her schools. For her leadership of the St Michael and All Angels Academy is part-time, perhaps only one or two days a week, because her primary allegiance is to St Saviour's and St Olave's School, which also has a Church of England foundation in the Diocese of Southwark.
And if you compare the sparse and bleak website of St Michael and All Angels with the vibrant and technicolor one belonging to St Saviour’s and St Olave’s, you might detect a slight indication of the relative pride and shame.
Of course, one shouldn’t judge a school by its website.
But one does.
And it is doubtful that Ms Birbalsingh is the webmaster for St Michael and All Angels.
It would appear that Dr Bishop has welcomed a prime minister, a mayor and a monarch to her favourite school.
There is no indication on the St Michael and All Angels website that she has yet invited anyone to judge for themselves whether or not Ms Birbalsingh has a point about it being ‘totally and utterly chaotic’ with a lack of discipline in black boys in particular which keeps the ‘poor children poor’.
Ofsted, of course, are able to invite themselves.
And their findings tend to vindicate the perceptions of Ms Birbalsingh.
According to the statement issued last week by the academy’s sponsors, Southwark Diocesan Board of Education, Ms Birbalsingh ‘will return to work’ today.
His Grace is rather doubtful about this.
At least, she deserves a little ‘clarification’ before she does so.
The Diocese’s statement was a very public and utterly humiliating rebuke to the deputy headteacher. Certainly, that is how the media interpreted it.
Ms Birbalsingh was criticised inter alia because she had ‘used pictures of children from our school and made reference to them by name’. The Diocese said: ‘We are concerned by this and in particular by the way in which the pictures have been used.’
Well, it transpires that not only had Ms Birbalsingh secured the necessary permissions of the children and their parents to use these photographs, but she did so with the full knowledge and consent of the headteacher.
The confusion or lack of communication is perhaps a consequence of having a part-time ‘flying’ Executive Headteacher who doesn’t know what the full-time ‘on-the-ground’ headteacher is doing.
The statement of the Diocese does not indicate at all that Ms Birbalsingh had secured the permission of her headteacher. Indeed, it rather suggests that she had not.
The omission of this salient fact from this press release is, at best, an inadvertent imprecision or, at worst, evidence of collusion and cover-up.
If the latter, it is a resigning matter either for the Executive Headteacher or the academy’s Chair of Governors. If the statement were simply an inadvertent imprecision, one wonders whether the helpful and obliging ‘on-the-ground’ headteacher might today have the integrity to explain to the ‘flying’ Executive Headteacher why he saw fit to grant such permission if it be a serious breach of child protection regulations.
Or at least speak up to restore the personal integrity and professional standing of Ms Birbalsingh, who has had her reputation unjustly trashed by Dr Bishop’s precipitous decision to send her home last week.
Dr Bishop is concerned with perceptions, inaccurate generalisations and educational equality. Ms Birbalsingh is concerned with facts, reality and educational inequality.
It is not so much a clash of civilisations as a collision of conceptual ideologies.
For the ‘Blairite’ Dr Bishop, ‘all schools have high aspirations for our young people whatever their background’: her creed is beyond question. For the Tory Ms Birbalsingh, the children born into disadvantage face an almost impossible struggle to get out if it, and the education system cannot facilitate social mobility as long as its ‘essential, primary’ foundation is based upon the dogma of 'equality', which makes few demands on pupils and bludgeons teachers into making excuses for their failure, especially for the young black males.
It is fortunate indeed that Ms Birbalsingh is of Indian-Guyanese-Jamaican heritage: it makes her racially untouchable, and her gender facilitates the reception of her damning critique. If she were a lesbian, she’d have a discrimination hat-trick and her school would urgently be looking to settle out of court. Certainly, no English white male could have got away with saying such things at a Conservative Party conference without being accused of racism or of affirming the ‘nasty party’ leitmotif.
His Grace would like to remind everyone that St Michael and All Angels is a Church of England school.
It is sponsored by the Southwark Diocesan Board of Education
Its Chairman of Governors is Canon Peter Clark.
It includes three other clerics on its Governing Body, and doubtless others who profess to be Christians.
Its Executive Headteacher is positively effusive about the importance of the Christian faith in education; indeed, she says it ‘raspberry ripples’ its way throughout her whole ethos (play the 'welcome' video).
So, could we please have a ‘statement of clarification’, exonerating Ms Birbalsingh from the suggestion that she ‘used’ the photographs of children without acquiring permission?
And an apology would also be appropriate.
All she did, after all, was to tell the truth.
Or is Dr Irene Bishop simply going to issue the same riposte to this as Pilate did?