There's a school really making waves in the world of education and those waves are rippling out to broader shores.
The Michaela Community School was founded with the intention of bringing the values of private education to a deprived corner of north-west London. As a former teacher myself, I know the backlash these traditionalist methods receive from a hefty proportion of the teaching community. Learning by rote certainly isn't a method encouraged on PGCE courses yet Michaela's head teacher (or should I say, headmistress), Katharine Birbalsingh believes this is the way forward. Boris Johnson visited the "incredible school" last Tuesday and raved about seeing the kids "learning stuff off by heart... huge screens of poetry, their times tables...yards of Shakespeare."
Perhaps its no surprise that the school receives acclaim from the current government, after all Birbalsingh received a standing ovation at the 2010 Conservative Party conference after she decried the state of English education.
So is this the sort of school a teacher would like to work in? Well, Joe Kirby, the school's assistant head teacher has recently explained that the school is replacing "setting, chasing, checking, marking and logging homework with revision, reading and online maths." What's that? The abolition of homework! This is revolutionary stuff. Michaela has clearly noted that common teaching practices, such as homework, can result in heavy workload, burnout and high teacher turnover. The most recent statistic is that 4 in 10 new teachers quit within a year.
What fascinates me most about education is the huge variety of approaches put forward, applied and tested by teachers and others in the sphere in order to reach the same goal. Progress for all students. At the State of London debate last week, Boris pinpointed education as the way to improve the lives of Londoners, and made a direct link between quality of education in the capital and social mobility. Boris then enthused about Michaela as the inspirational school that is "fighting the complacency of the educational establishment." He noted that the school takes children from "every minority in London, every socio-economic group" and enables them to "glow with optimism about what they could achieve at that school."
So how do they do this? With a strong emphasis on discipline and traditional subjects and by benchmarking children. Michaela's website reads "in the best private schools, children know where they stand in comparison to their peers. At Michaela Community School, we believe children have a right to this information." Michaela boasts a longer school day, featuring extra-curricular activities. In place of a regular canteen are tables for students to eat, chat and clear together; the school is committed to developing "the whole child".
These approaches are clearly working for this particular community, but could and should they be rolled out to all? The ideal is surely for our education system to allow and recognise the very specific needs of not only every child, but every local area and every school, enabling great teachers to not only get on with their job - teaching - but to create a well-suited nurturing ground in which do to so. Aspiration and success are certainly what we want for all our young people - the debate is simply about how we best inspire and enable this.