Katharine Birbalsingh

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Katharine Birbalsingh
Katharine Birbalsingh, January 2011 (cropped).jpg
Birbalsingh addressing a Learning Without Frontiers conference, London, January 2011
ResidenceLondon, England
EducationMA, French and philosophy, New College, Oxford
EmployerMichaela Community School, Wembley Park
WebsiteTo Miss with Love

Katharine Moana Birbalsingh (born 1973)[1] is a New Zealand-born teacher based in the United Kingdom.[2] She is the founder and headmistress of Michaela Community School, a free school (charter school) established in 2014 in Wembley Park, London.[3]

Birbalsingh is the author of two books, Singleholic (2009) and To Miss with Love (2011), and editor of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way (2016). She also hosts a blog, To Miss with Love, where she writes about the education system. In 2017 she was included by Anthony Seldon in his list of the 20 most influential figures in British education.[4]


Birbalsingh was born in Auckland, New Zealand, the elder of two daughters of Frank Birbalsingh, a teacher of Indo-Guyanese origin, and his wife, Norma, a nurse from Jamaica.[5][6] Birbalsingh's father and grandfather were both educators. Her paternal grandfather, Ezrom S. Birbalsingh, was head of the Canadian Mission School in Better Hope, Demerara, Guyana.[7] Her father (born 1938 in Berbice, Guyana) obtained his MA in English in London in 1966, specializing in Commonwealth literature, and worked as a supply teacher in Birmingham and London.[8]

Frank Birbalsingh moved to Toronto, Canada, in 1967, where he worked again as a supply teacher, joined the faculty at York University in Toronto in 1970, and obtained his PhD in Canadian literature in 1972. He held several other positions over the years, including a fellowship at the University of Delhi, India, and a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (1973–1974),[9] where Birbalsingh was born.[10]

Birbalsingh grew up mostly in Toronto, but moved to the UK at age 15 when her father was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick (1989–1990). In 1996 he was promoted to professor at York and in 2003 became professor emeritus.[9] When the family returned to Canada, Birbalsingh decided to stay in the UK. She graduated from Oxford University after reading French and philosophy at New College.[6][11]


Teaching and blogging[edit]

While at Oxford, Birbalsingh had visited inner-city schools as part of a scheme the university runs to encourage state-school pupils to apply, and after graduation she decided to teach in state schools herself.[6] From 2007 she wrote an anonymous blog, To Miss With Love, in which—as Miss Snuffy—she described her experiences teaching at an inner-city secondary school.[12][13] In 2010 she was the assistant head of Dunraven School, Streatham, south London,[14] and that year she joined St Michael and All Angels Academy in Camberwell, also south London, as vice-principal.[15]

Birbalsingh is a supporter of the traditional teaching methods described in E. D. Hirsch's The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them (1999). She writes that the book "opened [her] eyes" to what was wrong in schools, and argues that education should be about teaching children knowledge, not learning skills.[16][6] Responding to the removal of Michael Gove as education secretary in 2014—Gove was also a supporter of Hirsch—she said it was a tragedy that his work would not be completed.[17][18]

Conservative Party conference[edit]

Birbalsingh came to national prominence in October 2010 after criticising the British education system at that year's Conservative Party conference, and speaking in support of the party's education policies.[12] Referring to a "culture of excuses, of low standards ... a sea of bureaucracy ... [and] the chaos of our classrooms",[17] Birbalsingh told the conference: "My experience of teaching for over a decade in five different schools has convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the system is broken, because it keeps poor children poor."[19] As a result she became the target of racist and sexist abuse on social media.[17] After the speech Birbalsingh was asked not to attend the school at which she taught while the governors "discuss[ed] her position".[20] She subsequently resigned "after being asked to comply with conditions that she did not feel able to comply with", according to The Sunday Telegraph.[15] The school, St Michael and All Angels in Camberwell, London, was closed shortly thereafter and reopened with new staff and a new name.[21] Alan Johnson, a former Labour minister of education, read on BBC Radio in February 2019 his history of the school from its foundation in the 1880s to its closure in 2011.[22]


Birbalsingh's first publication was a chick-lit novel, Singleholic (2009), published under the pseudonym "Katherine Bing".[6] Her second book, To Miss with Love (2011), was based on her blog. It was chosen as Book of the Week and serialised on BBC Radio 4.[23] She is also the editor of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way (2016), which describes the education philosophy of Michaela Community School.[24][25]

Selected works[edit]

  • (2016) (ed.) Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way. John Catt Educational. ISBN 978-1909717961
  • (2011) To Miss with Love. Penguin. ISBN 978-0670918997
  • (2009) Singleholic (writing as Katherine Bing). Hansib Publications. ISBN 978-1906190156

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For year of birth, Birbalsingh, Katharine (25 March 2018). "@Miss_Snuffy" Twitter.
  2. ^ "New Zealand-born woman dubbed 'Britain's strictest teacher' ignores IT and teaches French". New Zealand Herald. 30 May 2018.
  3. ^ Adams, Richard (16 June 2017). "Britain's strictest school gets top marks from Ofsted". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Katharine Birbalsingh". The Seldon List 2017. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  5. ^ Dindayal, Vidur (2011). "Dr. Frank Birbalsingh". Guyanese Achievers USA & Canada: A Celebration. Trafford Publishing. pp. 43–46.
  6. ^ a b c d e Wilby, Peter (27 February 2012). "Katharine Birbalsingh – undaunted by free school setback", The Guardian.
  7. ^ Dindayal 2011, p. 43.
  8. ^ Dindayal 2011, pp. 43–44.
  9. ^ a b Dindayal 2011, p. 44.
  10. ^ Naidu, Janet (July 2009). "Frank Birbalsingh And His World of Literature", Guyana Journal.
  11. ^ Griffiths, Sean (13 November 2016). "Is this the strictest teacher in Britain?". The Sunday Times Magazine. pp. 14–21.
  12. ^ a b Odone, Cristina (31 January 2011). "Katharine Birbalsingh: The Fearless Woman Who Told the Truth About Teaching". The Daily Telegraph.
  13. ^ "Diary of a despairing teacher", The Daily Telegraph, 10 October 2010.
  14. ^ Dindayal 2011, p. 46.
  15. ^ a b Barrett, David (16 October 2010). "Teacher loses job after exposing failures in our schools". The Sunday Telegraph.
  16. ^ Birbalsingh, Katharine (2015). "How Knowledge Leads to Self-Esteem", in Jonathan Simons and Natasha Porter. Knowledge and the Curriculum. London: Policy Exchange, pp. 36–42.
  17. ^ a b c Weale, Sally (5 September 2014). "Katharine Birbalsingh: I regret telling Tories education system was broken". The Guardian.
  18. ^ For Gove, see Abrams, Fran (25 October 2012). "Cultural literacy: Michael Gove's school of hard facts". BBC News.
  19. ^ Katharine Birbalsingh's speech, Conservative Party conference, October 2010, courtesy of YouTube, 00:00:34.
  20. ^ Paton, Graeme (7 October 2010). "Tory Teacher 'Sent Home From School'". The Daily Telegraph.
  21. ^ Vasagar, Jeevan (3 February 2011). "Out of control – the academy criticised at Conservative conference". The Guardian.
  22. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002r6k see also https://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2019/02/must-listen-on-r4-the-secret-history-of-a-school-st-michael-and-all-angels-camberwell-0 and https://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/feb/03/katharine-birbalsingh-school-chaos
  23. ^ To Miss With Love, Book of the Week, BBC Radio 4.
  24. ^ Birbalsingh, Katharine, ed. (2016). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way. John Catt Educational. ISBN 978-1909717961.
  25. ^ Ashford, Katie (26 November 2016). "Teaching is workload-addicted. Teachers seem to believe hard work equates to love for one's pupils". TES.

External links[edit]