Birbalsingh school to close as pupil numbers plummet

28th January 2011 at 00:00
Parents eschew academy after teacher's Tory conference rant

A south London school that came under attack in Katharine Birbalsingh's Conservative party conference speech is to close because of falling pupil numbers.

St Michael and All Angels Academy in Southwark saw a significant drop in its pupil preference figures after Ms Birbalsingh, the school's then deputy head, railed against England's "broken education system" at the conference in October.

Only 16 families selected the school as the first choice for their children starting secondary this September. The deadline for applications was shortly after Ms Birbalsingh's speech, although numbers had been dropping for at least the previous three years.

The school will close fully by the summer of 2013 and will be replaced by a newly built academy run by education charity Ark.

Ms Birbalsingh's speech identified her as the author of a blog, "To Miss With Love", which recounted her experiences teaching in a number of schools, including St Michael and All Angels, where she said violence and poor discipline were rife. She also complained that teachers were afraid to discipline black pupils for fear of being accused of racism.

Ms Birbalsingh received a standing ovation by conference delegates, but was suspended from school following her comments.

The French teacher soon left her role at the school and St Michael and All Angels suffered from claims by the media that it had acted "scandalously".

The school had been enjoying a change in fortunes at the time of the speech, with a 19 per cent increase in the number of pupils gaining five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, up from 27 per cent to 46 per cent.

An Ofsted inspection in December said the school was making good progress. However, this was not enough to keep it open.

Speaking to The TES last month, Irene Bishop, head of the nearby St Saviour's and St Olave's School and executive head of St Michael and All Angels, said Ms Birbalsingh's speech could not have come at a worse time.

"We were at the point when parents were choosing where to send their children when she made the comments," Dr Bishop said in December. "Some people just believed what they read in their local newspaper, but other parents phoned up to see if what was being said was true."

Dr Bishop said last week that despite the improving results and promising Ofsted inspection, there was not enough time to change local opinion of the school.

"It is desperately disappointing, particularly for the staff who had worked so hard. They really have done everything they possibly could," Dr Bishop said.

"Perhaps if we had been here 18 months ago, it might have been different. But there has been a school on this site since 1640, so at least there will continue to be one."

'TO MISS WITH LOVE' - From the blog

- November 2008

"Why do white middle-class people always feel sorry for the rest of us? We're too poor, too black, too underprivileged to make something of ourselves. To allow us to live with dignity and accept the consequences of our decisions, whether bad or good, is seen somehow as cruel."

- June 2008

"I'm in a meeting with our Director of Finance, Ms Believer, and she mentions that her daughter, 15 years old, in Year 10, goes to Infamous School. Ms Believer is white, middle class, in her forties, conservative in her dress, and very good with numbers and money. So I am somewhat astonished to hear that her daughter goes to Infamous School. Everyone knows this school is like Vietnam."

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