Celebrating Britain's 101 Most Influential Asians 2022

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Katharine Birbalsingh


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KATHARINE BIRBALSINGH CBE, the headteacher of Michaela Community School in Wembley, is dubbed “the strictest head mistress in Britain”.

According to the academic, her disciplined approach to teaching is the key to achieving success. It includes a boot camp where kids are taught to keep their shirts tucked in, pick up crumbs after eating and learn how to “behave in the Michaela way”. The school also has a strict detention programme, with students told off for things such as lateness, not having the correct equipment and breaking uniform rules.

Birbalsingh said this ultimately turns “rude, surly and miserable” kids arriving in Year 7 into more “well rounded” individuals when they leave. In October last year, Birbalsingh has been appointed as the government’s new Social Mobility Commissioner. She got the spotlight at the Conservative party conference in 2010, where she gave a speech about Britain’s “broken” education system. Birbalsingh received a huge applause but also created a political stir, for which she lost her job.

In 2014, she founded Michaela free school. The school has been described as outstanding” in all areas by Ofsted inspectors. Also in 2019, more than half of all GCSE grades were level 7 or above.

Birbalsingh was born in 1973 in Auckland, New Zealand, the eldest of two daughters of Frank Birbalsingh, an academic of Indo-Guyanese origin, and his wife, Norma, a nurse from Jamaica. Birbalsingh’s father and grandfather were both educators.

Her paternal grandfather, Ezrom S Birbalsingh, was head of the Canadian Mission School in Better Hope, Demerara, British Guiana.

Her father (born 1938 in Berbice in what was then British Guiana) obtained his MA in English in London in 1966, specialising in Commonwealth literature, and worked as a supply teacher in Birmingham and London.

Birbalsingh grew up mostly in Toronto, with brief periods in

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