Daily Mail

I’ll carry on fighting to defend our way of life. If parents don’t like it, their children can go elsewhere

- by Katharine Birbalsing­h HEADMISTRE­SS OF THE MICHAELA COMMUNITY SCHOOL, NORTH LONDON This is an edited version of a statement put out by Katharine Birbalsing­h yesterday

ASCHOOL should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves. The court’s decision is therefore a victory for all schools.

At Michaela, we embrace small-c conservati­ve values. These enable us to make extraordin­ary academic progress. But they also promote a way of living in which gratitude, agency and personal responsibi­lity, refusal of identity-politics victimhood, love of country, hard work, kindness, a duty towards others and self-sacrifice are fundamenta­l to who we are.

Multicultu­ralism works at Michaela because we have a clear identity, which anyone can sign up to - if they are willing to compromise.

Michaela is a school that works miracles in London’s inner-city. But our families choose us not just because of the extraordin­ary learning and access to social mobility that we provide. They recognise that our traditiona­l values create an environmen­t that is a joy to be in. Our children are friends with each other across racial and religious divides.

At the two ‘Welcome Events’ that all parents must attend before sending their child to Michaela, I run through everything that makes Michaela different from other schools: constant supervisio­n, silent corridors, no prayer room, easy ways to get detention, strict uniform etc. If parents do not like it, they do not need to send their children to us.

Ever since the idea of Michaela began in 2011, our detractors have railed against our strict rules and traditiona­l values. Their patronisin­g thinking goes like this: ‘Ethnic minority families cannot possibly know what they want for their children. Those choices must be made for them.’

LAST year, we watched our Muslim pupils put under pressure by a tiny number of others to fast, to pray, to drop out of the choir, to wear a hijab.

I watched one of my black teachers be racially abused and intimidate­d, another teacher had her home nearly broken into, and yet another had a brick thrown through her window.

In 2014, 30 per cent of our intake was Muslim. It is now 50 per cent. We are over- subscribed.

If our families did not like the school, they would not repeatedly choose to send their children to Michaela.

There is a false narrative that some try to paint about Muslims being an oppressed minority at our school. They are, in fact, the largest group. Those who are most at risk are other minorities and Muslim children who are less observant.

What does it mean to be the headmistre­ss in a school which tries to uphold our shared British values, when different constituen­cies within our diverse society want sometimes opposing things in the name of their religious commitment­s?

It means asking everyone to compromise.

We teach Jehovah’s Witnesses Macbeth as a GCSE test, even though it has witches in it. We offer Christians revision classes on Sundays.

We tell Hindus our plates will have been touched by eggs.

And we don’t have a prayer room for Muslims.

At Michaela, we expect all religions and all races to make the necessary sacrifices to enable our school to thrive. The vast majority do so without complaint.

People of all faiths tell me that Michaela is more Christian, more Catholic, more Islamic, more Jewish or more Hindu than schools they have seen elsewhere. This is because our robust yet respectful secularism is allied to those traditiona­l values that all religions share.

We eat vegetarian food at lunch to enable us to break bread across racial and religious divides.

It is more of a challenge for a multicultu­ral school to succeed. One need only look at the schools that top the ‘Progress 8’ chart [which measures the progress pupils make between the ages of 11 and 16]: the vast majority are faith schools of one religion.

Secular schools must be allowed the same right that religious schools have: the right to unity, the right to reject division. Everyone is welcome in our community - but it has its own identity which we invite everyone to belong to.

SO WE sing ‘ God Save The King’ because our country and our flag unite us. If we are saying that being an ethnic minority AND being British are incompatib­le, then as a nation, we are in deep trouble.

For 25 years I have been in school at 6:45am, working 12 to 15- hour days, always with mainly brown and black kids from the inner city. Our detractors’ narrative: that I hate children, that I hate Muslim children, despite more and more Muslim families choosing our school over the years and my own grandmothe­r being Muslim, is clearly nonsensica­l.

I have chosen to stay with the Michaela project and I continue to fight to defend our way of life. Why? Because I believe in something bigger than myself.

 ?? ?? Standing firm: Headmistre­ss Katharine Birbalsing­h
Standing firm: Headmistre­ss Katharine Birbalsing­h
 ?? ?? Secular ethos: The Michaela school in North London
Secular ethos: The Michaela school in North London

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