'Strictest school' gets top marks from Pisa chief

Andreas Schleicher praises controversial Michaela School's teaching, discipline and behaviour, but says he would not send his own children there

Claudia Civinini

Michaela Community School, founded by Katharine Birbalsingh, has got government approval to open a new school in Stevenage

A secondary dubbed the UK's "strictest school" has been given a glowing report from the man in charge of the Pisa international education rankings.

Andreas Schleicher published his blog on the Michaela Community School today and presented the north London secondary – which has attracted controversy for an uncompromising approach to discipline – as an example of "teacher-directed instruction". 

"In every classroom that I observed, teachers made learning goals explicit, structured their lessons clearly and asked engaging questions that stimulated higher-order thinking," the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development official behind the Programme for International Student Assessment wrote.

"No time was wasted, because students knew exactly what to expect. There wasn’t any of the rote learning that people often associate with teacher-directed instruction; all students were challenged at every moment to find alternative ways to solve problems, and to communicate their thinking processes and results succinctly." 

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Mr Schleicher, who has previously suggested that schools in England are held back by rote learning, was visiting Michaela at the suggestion of schools minister Nick Gibb, who recently tweeted his pride at the free school's first GCSE results.

However, the Pisa chief said he would not want his own children to go to the Wembley school, admitting he had "trouble" with its silent-corridors policy.

But even here, Mr Schleicher said, he understood that the approach removed "the space for the social ills that overshadow learning in so many schools".

"What is noteworthy is that no one here is yelling or imposing discipline through external pressure," he added. 

Mr Schleicher wrote: “The children I met appeared happy and confident. And that…chimes with one of the main lessons from Pisa: a positive disciplinary climate is one of the best predictors of better education and social outcomes.”

Michaela founder and head, Katharine Birbalsingh, told Tes that a “real connection” was made with Mr Schleicher and that she was surprised to find out they agreed on most education topics.

“It’s interesting because I have always imagined him to be quite a progressive, and yet he and I agreed on most things – nearly 100 per cent," she said. "We just agreed on and connected in terms of our beliefs of what is right in education.

“This points to an often false divide that’s made. People say of Michaela ‘oh, you are these extremists’, and actually when you come, you just find a well-rounded school…or just a school, that’s all we are.”

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Claudia Civinini

Claudia Civinini

Find me on Twitter @claudiacivinini

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