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Birbalsingh slams unions at Edinburgh Book Festival

The London teacher who hit the headlines at last year's Conservative autumn conference over revelations of "chaos" in schools, and then found herself out of a job, has made another provocative presentation - this time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Katharine Birbalsingh, in a session entitled Can right-wing thinking improve state education?, said teachers' trade unions gave the profession a bad name, and that more competition between pupils would largely resolve schools' behaviour problems.

Ms Birbalsingh, a former depute head at an inner-city secondary state school, wrote a blog about her teaching experiences that brought her to the attention of the Conservatives.

Since resigning from her post in the wake of the controversy surrounding her appearance at the Conservatives' conference, she has been promoting her book, To Miss With Love, and her attempts to set up a "free school".

The ordinary public did not respect teachers, she told her Edinburgh audience, largely because unions fought so hard to keep bad teachers in the classroom; this led, in turn, to the best graduates being put off applying to join the profession.

"Unions give the reputation of teaching a bad name," she said.

She criticised lack of competition within and between schools, insisting that children who were not doing well were being failed by a "prizes for all" ethos and the absence of competitive sports.

"If you keep your standards high, children will rise to them - it's as simple as that," said Ms Birbalsingh, who admitted that she did not know much about education in Scotland.

She was not surprised by the recent riots in England: "These kids are simply behaving like they do in school," she said.

While she "loved" working with her former pupils, she recalled that some did not know how to shake hands or sit in a chair; she would not blame employers for refusing to give jobs to them.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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