Write off this academic year and start again in September, says top head

Christopher Hope
·3-min read
Katharine Birbalsingh, headmistress of Michaela Community School in Wembley, spoke to Chopper's Politics podcast with Christopher Hope
Katharine Birbalsingh, headmistress of Michaela Community School in Wembley, spoke to Chopper's Politics podcast with Christopher Hope
Chopper's Politics Podcast: Birbalsingh, Esler, Riley-Smith
Chopper's Politics Podcast: Birbalsingh, Esler, Riley-Smith

Ministers should consider writing off this academic year and ask school children to repeat the schooling from this coming September, a leading headteacher has said.

Katharine Birbalsingh told Chopper's Politics podcast, which you can listen to on the audio player above, that learning from a screen was no substitute to teaching in a class with children picking up as little as 20 per cent of what they would normally learn in a classroom in online lessons.

Miss Birbalsingh, the headmistress of Michaela Community School in Wembley, north London, is a highly influential headteacher who came to national prominence in October 2010 after criticising the British education system at that year's Conservative Party conference.

She told the podcast: "India has actually said that they're just writing the whole year off and all of the kids in India are going to redo the year.

"And I actually think we are arriving at that point in this country. And it's something we should consider, that all children should redo the year.

"So it's really bad for the kids up at A-level and at GCSE level. And that's not just the exam groups this year, it's the exam groups last year.

"So our current year 12s who never did the GCSE last year have suffered and now they're suffering again for their A-levels.

"The current year 13, the exam group year thirteen, are obviously suffering and then suffered last year. Then there's the current year 10 and 11. So you've got four year groups there who are in a dire situation.

"Then you've got the same thing happening around about year six, so the current year sevens never got prepared for their SATs, so they're in trouble.

"Then you've got the current year sixes who are also in trouble. You've got two more year groups there.

"You go back down to reception age where children are learning how to read, and those are the ones that really concern me. Those kids, you've got reception, you've got year one, the kids in year one who never really did the reception here properly, they are also behind."

Ms Birbablsingh added that learning from a screen was no substitute to teaching in a class.

She told the podcast: "For an online lesson, they probably manage about 20 percent of what they would normally have accessed. So in terms of the actual lesson, the teacher cannot give as much content.

"They just can't, because of the awkwardness of being online, muting, un-muting, getting on, etc. The minutes just aren't the same. So a minute is like half a minute.

"And so you end up able to teach about 50 percent of what you would teach in a normal lesson. But of that 50 percent, they're really only remembering maybe a third or so of that 50 percent."

Listen to the full interview with Katharine Birbalsingh, plus conversations with writer and broadcaster, Gavin Esler and The Telegraph's US Editor, Ben Riley-Smith on Chopper's Politics Podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.

Do you think the Government should write off this academic year and start again in September? Let us know in the comments below.