Book Review: To Miss With Love, Katharine Birbalsingh

I like Katharine Birbalsingh, and the way she acts as a whistle blower in education. She says that she gets private emails from teachers who are being treated badly and who are suffering, the same as I do. I had very high hopes for this book.

Perhaps that’s why I was so disappointed then, and not because the book isn’t actually that good. The book is split into a diary like form, that has a chapter for every half term, and I all most abandoned reading it completely in the middle of Autumn Term Part One.

To speak generally, what I didn’t like about it were two things: the first, is that large amounts of it are very obviously fiction ( I find the ‘choo-choo’ story very hard to believe), and secondly, that most of that fiction is created to make Miss Birbalsingh look like the greatest teacher on the planet. I wasn’t interested in reading 300 pages of why she is so great. I wanted to read about what it was really like, and how various people have suffered because of the vast problems with education.

Saying that, I persevered, and did find some parts that I enjoyed. I agree with several of the points that she makes throughout the book, including her view that students on interview panels is a ridiculous idea:

“If children believe that they are the one’s who choose their teachers, what does this tell them about where they are in the pecking order?” “Since when were the children in charge?”

And similarly, her views on school governors, which I had not thought about before. Students can be on interview panels when that is out of place, but for a longer period of time, random members of the public can govern schools, who’s duties includes hiring the headteacher.

“Imagine the reaction if I went to deutsche bank and asked to be on their board of directors? I should think they would first ask about my background in banking. Schools? Anyone will do.”

Her views on Ofsted are similar to mine, which are similar to most teacher’s views. An Ofsted version of an outstanding lesson is not actually an everyday outstanding lesson, and that the whole process of observations during inspection are wildly inaccurate ways of measuring the quality of teaching in a school.

“…it’s so impossible to get a damn 1 on a lesson. Even 2s are getting more and more difficult to get. And all “outstanding” means is having the ability to perform like a seal, doing things which aren’t even necessarily best for the children when an inspector is in the room.”

“All that matters is the grade that some stupid inspector gives you for one solitary fifteen minutes of a lesson out of a lifetime of lessons.”

She also details the absurdity of teacher’s being made accountable for student’s behaviour, successes and failures in relation to results:

“Results are not the children’s successes. They’re ours.”

There are several occasions when she berates struggling teachers though, suggesting that there are a number of them who do no work (by that she seems to mean not a 60 hour work week) and who use mental illness as a way to delay losing their job.

“There’s a minority in every inner-city school who sit around and do nothing. And why not?...who’s going to care?”

I find this quite contradictory: she acknowledges that the work load is too high, that behaviour is too bad, and that the way in which a teacher’s performance is judged is all wrong. Yet, she says that those who are incapable of working under these conditions are not working hard enough and are faking mental illness.

Aside from that one point, she is very accurate, and you should read this book to hear her points about the system and why it doesn’t work. Just try to gloss over the parts that are an ego trip though.


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