Head of ‘strictest school in country’ made Social Mobility Commission chief

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A headteacher of a school dubbed the strictest in the country has been made the chairwoman of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission.

Katharine Birbalsingh is taking over the role from Dame Martina Milburn, who resigned on May 5 2020 telling Boris Johnson the role needed expanding to effectively tackle the issue.

Ms Birbalsingh said she would use the position to develop a society that “provides an equal chance for all”.

She has been praised by Liz Truss for maintaining “high standards” as the founder and head of Michaela Community School in north London, a free school which has been described as Britain’s strictest school.

Year 7 pupils at Michaela, in Brent, London, are taught how to sit properly on a chair, how to walk to lessons quickly in single file, and how to concentrate on the teacher, to instil good behaviour as soon as they arrive.

New students are also encouraged to keep their shirts tucked in and to pick up crumbs from the floor after eating as part of a boot camp, which teaches pupils how to “behave in the Michaela way”.

Ms Birbalsingh will remain the head of the school while on the commission.

In 2010, she told delegates at a Tory party conference that educational standards have been “so dumbed down that even the teachers know it” and that schools are bound by too many targets that prevent them from teaching properly.

Minister for Women & Equalities Liz Truss said: “This country has incredible potential and to unleash it we must harness the talent of all our people, regardless of background or where they live.

Conservative Party Conference
Liz Truss praised her “high standards” (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“I want Katharine to focus on education, enterprise and employment so we can level-up opportunity across Britain and give everyone the chance to succeed.

“By expecting high standards and not indulging the soft bigotry of low expectations she produced amazing results at Michaela school and gave those children the best chance in life.

“She will bring that same attitude to the commission and be a loud champion of equality of opportunity.”

Ms Birbalsingh said: “As we recover from the pandemic, this is the moment to develop a culture in our society which provides an equal chance for all.

“From education, to early years in the home and onto the world of work, improving social mobility is more vital than ever, and I look forward to taking up this important role.

“My immediate priorities will include developing a sound evidence base from which change can flow.”

Her predecessor Dame Martina warned the Prime Minister in her resignation letter that the coronavirus crisis is likely to make social mobility “harder than ever”.

Alan Milburn, who resigned from the position in December 2017 in protest at Theresa May’s government, criticised a lack of “meaningful action” on the issue.

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