I must admit I had a slight doubt at the back of my mind. Having read so much about Michaela Community School, and being a great fan of everything for which they stand, I was slightly worried that the reality would not match my expectations.
But as soon as I was walking down the corridors, I knew I was not going to be disappointed. A calm, purposeful and studious atmosphere is present throughout the school. Notices around the corridors proclaim that ‘silence is golden’, and I have never experienced a more ordered and civilised school environment. I witnessed one changeover between lessons, and it is (or should be) the envy of every school in the country. Pupils walked steadily, silently and purposefully to their next lesson. Wonderful. I often think of how much time is lost at the start of lessons when pupils arrive chatting loudly, in completely the wrong frame of mind for the serious business of studying.
In the classrooms, I saw pupils working hard in exercise books, on impressive artwork, or enthusiastically demonstrating their French abilities. They were using the subjunctive, something which I never learned to do in five years of studying French up to GCSE. Perhaps my teachers thought it was too hard for me. It certainly wasn’t too hard for the Michaela year sevens.
Lunch was the greatest illustration of the civilised culture of the school. Typically school canteens are fairly raucous and rowdy places, but not at Michaela. There is a seating plan, and pupils fetch the food and serve it up to their table. It is a wonderful opportunity for learning good manners and consideration, qualities which were abundantly in evidence on the table where I sat. Even better, Joe Kirby spoke to everyone and suggested topics for conversation, and lunch finished with ‘appreciations’ where pupils and staff could publicly thank others.
My grateful thanks to Katharine Birbalsingh and all the staff at Michaela, particularly Joe Kirby, who spared time during his busy day to show me some of the resources used in the English department. It was an unforgettable experience that gives me much food for thought.
On the sign outside, the school proclaims that it has a ‘private school ethos’. I think that is giving private schools too much credit. Michaela is going further than private schools typically do, in its determined and admirable creation of a civilised, ordered community.
And if you don’t believe it really is that good . . . go and see for yourself!