The nature of the modern Conservative Party Conference is that its main arena is a bland speech-fest for senior party figures. The days of delegate debate have gone, and in its place is a parade of established statements from ministers or shadow ministers that occasionally inspire but more often induce somnolism. Thus, it was good to see that in the Conservatives' Education debate, some figures from the real world of teaching were put up to talk of their experiences. One of the best received of these was an inner city primary school deputy head, Katharine Birbalsingh. One of my colleagues who attended the debate was enthusiastic in his praise of Ms. Birbalsingh's forthright assessment of the school system and why, in her view, it is failing poor kids. Certainly she received an extremely warm reception. Her analysis may not be to everyone's taste, but there is no doubt that in claiming that education ideology now inhibits schools from really pushing the brightest of their pupils, and that over-concern of politically 'correct' doctrines now makes discipline even more difficult, she hit a nerve. Alas, poor Katharine. She has hit such a nerve that her school has asked her to work from home until it decides whether to discipline her or not.
Her school is, of course, entitled to take whatever action it sees fit if it believes she has in some way harmed their reputation, and Ms. Birbalsingh might have been advised to at least inform her head teacher of what she was planning on saying. But it would be a pity if ultra sensitivity to criticisms of the education system from within lead to disciplinary action against this teacher, thus inihibiting other teachers around the country from voicing their own thoughts. Education should thrive on open debate, and if Ms. Birbalsingh is continuing to do a good job at her new school, her desire to contribute to the wider national debate should not be a matter for rebuke. Otherwise we will find that the contributions of 'real people' become as bland and uninformative as those we already get from the politicians.
You can see Ms. Birbalsingh's speech here (scroll in to 1hr. 5mins), and read the predictable outrage of the Daily Mail at her treatment here.
UPDATE: The blogger 'Dizzy' has uncovered an interesting point about the 'executive head teacher' who is responsible for telling Ms. Birbalsingh to 'work from home' prior to possible discipline measures. The head is one Dr. Irene Bishop, who in her previous headship allowed Labour to launch their general election campaign from her then school. Seems like this might not be such a clear cut case of educational principles after all.....