‘This book should be banned’

A provocation? Incontrovertible? Iconoclastic? A landmark? This November, we are publishing our book, Battle Hymn of The Tiger Teachers. Here is what 20 visitors to the school (and readers of an early draft) say about the book:


“An engrossing read- full of keen insights sharpened by implementation in the real and challenging world of running a totally different school.  The ideas are pragmatic and philosophical, familiar and challenging- always passionately argued.”

Doug Lemov, Managing Director, Uncommon Schools


“Katharine Birbalsingh and her team at Michaela are inspirational teachers from whom we all have much to learn. This book is their testament and my gospel.” 

Michael Gove, MP, Former Secretary of State for Education


“This book should be banned. If a parent of a teenager gets hold of it, they’ll ask why their son or daughter’s school can’t be as good as Michaela. And the uncomfortable truth is, it can. Every school can. They just aren’t. And that could make a lot of educationalists’ lives very difficult.”

Toby Young, Director, New Schools Network


“Michaela has only been around for a couple of years, but already it has changed the way many people think about education. This book explains how, and shows the incredible things that can be achieved by a small group of people with vision, energy and passion.” 

Daisy Christodoulou, Head of Assessment, Ark Schools


“Visiting Michaela was for me a life-changing experience. The triumph of progressive, child-centred education and all the follies associated with it had led me to despair that our inner-city children would ever be able to obtain the knowledge that they need for a successful and socially integrated life. In Michaela I saw that this despair is entirely unjustified, that good teachers can instill knowledge and discipline into every child, and that a school can be a happy and fruitful home to children of all kinds and all origins. This book lucidly explains the philosophy behind Michaela’s approach, and its arguments are incontrovertible. Michaela is the model free school that all our schools should imitate.”

Roger Scruton, Philosopher


“One of the more baffling things about contemporary schooling is the idea that it’s wrong to tell kids stuff they don’t know and that strong discipline is restricting. This book confronts these kinds of claims with an insightful blend of evidence and personal testimony that is as compelling as it is heart-warming. What also emerges from the teachers at Michaela is a profound devotion to the children in their charge. One that views knowledge, high expectations and the privileging of community over the individual not as a form of restriction, but as a form of emancipation.”

Carl Hendrick, Head of learning and research, Wellington College


“The Michaela story is one that should make everyone sit up and take notice. The book captures the impassioned commitment of the staff, some of the challenges, plenty of the remarkable successes and lots of the practical details. It’s a provocation to anyone running a school but, more than that, it’s hugely impressive and inspiring.”

Tom Sherrington, Headteacher, Highbury Grove School, Islington


“Michaela Community school succeeds because the focus is on absolute achievement by every child – no ifs no buts. Katharine Birbalsingh’s leadership shines through on every page.”

Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall


“This book explains how the Michaela team are building a school which embodies a love of learning so consistently and effectively that it can be felt in every lesson, transition, and interaction. Regardless of whether you find their methods challenging or inspiring, this book prompts its readers to re-assess the biggest questions facing our education system today.”

Natasha Porter, Former Deputy Headteacher, King Solomon Academy; CEO, Unlocked Graduates


“These essays are an audacious, welcome and timely clarion call from the coal face of education. These dispatches from the front line of the culture wars, as played out on the streets of inner-city London, are as instructive as they are empowering. Michaela is a testament to the emancipation of human potential through an intellectually rigorous, canonical, disciplined education. Full of life-affirming common sense which is tangibly helping liberate young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, enabling them to desist from the poverty of aspiration and thereby fulfil their potential, and in so doing get the best education – and preparation for life – possible.”

Lindsay Johns, Writer, broadcaster and Head of Arts and Culture at Policy Exchange.


“This book is compulsory reading for every teacher before entering the classroom. These rich testimonies come from the teachers of Michaela who describe themselves as ‘tiger teachers’, giving  poor children access to  knowledge, rigour, testing and competition.  As Wole Soyinka says “A tiger does not shout its tigritude, it acts.” These teachers are words made flesh, they see their students flourish in a context that sees our children and teachers primarily as scholars, just like they do in good Independent schools. Those of you who still believe that a knowledge rich Curriculum is not for the likes of poor inner-city children, should read this book and repent for your sins.”

Dr Tony Sewell CBE, CEO, Generating Genius


“Contrary to those who imagine that a knowledge-based curriculum and knowledge-through teaching are oppressive, my overwhelming impression on visiting Michaela was one of joy – joy in the teachers at being able to teach the subjects they love, unencumbered by bureaucratic irrelevance; and joy in the pupils, as secure knowledge gave them confidence, fluency and freedom in wholly new worlds. This is emancipatory education. I have rarely felt so optimistic about what state education might finally achieve for all.” 

Christine Counsell, Director of Education, The Inspiration Trust


“The beauty of the Free School programme is that without it, there would be no Michaela. Love them or hate them – and there are plenty of people who do both – they bring something fresh and unique to the English schools system. And in this fascinating book, they set down exactly what they do and how they do it.”

Jonathan Simons, Head of Education, Policy Exchange


“This is an inspiring and thought-provoking read. The staff at Michaela have deconstructed English secondary education, and rebuilt it from the ground up, thinking only about what schools should do, rather than accepting what they usually do.”

Andrew Old, Teacher and Blogger


‘The core root of the word “prejudice” is to pre-judge something. And it would be wholly wrong to pre-judge what is going on at Michaela School. If, like me, you haven’t visited the school, then read this book. It is packed with evidence-informed examples of pedagogy which is inspiring remarkable learning in Michaela’s students. You dismiss the Michaela project at your peril!’

John Tomsett, Headteacher, Huntington School, York


“Michaela is an inspiration. I stood in the middle of those kids and felt I was watching a revolution in education – giving kids the facts, the knowledge, the grammar, the confidence to achieve anything in their lives.”

Boris Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs


“Michaela is a trailblazer for a new kind of school: one that actively invites scrutiny, challenge and debate about its methods; that walks every word that it talks; that understands exactly what it wants, but isn’t afraid of installing updates whenever necessary; and that for once lives up to the hype surrounding it. Its obsession with detail, consistency, civility and high standards is a landmark for any other school that thinks it already does these things. This book is utterly consistent with that philosophy. Few schools would be so open about their methods and values, and here teachers and school leaders can find the blueprint of Michaela’s ambitions laid out in a series of personal accounts, written by the people who made it happen. This book, like the school itself, should catalyse debate across the UK about why and how we choose to teach our children.” 

Tom Bennett, Behaviour Advisor to the Department of Education, and founder of researchED


“This book explains how this iconoclastic Free School became unashamedly knowledge focused. You meet the pupils – they are happy, well behaved and incredibly knowledgeable. This school is driving social mobility every day.”

Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for School Reform


“Pioneers get shot at.  As you read, don’t look to simply agree or disagree.  Let the use of research embedded in classroom practice, experiences of the people who teach there and the anecdotes lead you along the Michaela way.  Knowledge is power, pedagogy is traditional and no frills, discipline is no excuses and workload is reduced as impact not effort matters most. Its mission is to do things differently, to do things better, to make a difference to young people’s lives and futures.  Told with missionary zeal, this is their story. Michaela may be marmite but we are a better school system for its existence.”

Stephen Tierney, CEO, The Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust


“This collection of essays provides some fascinating insights into the Michaela world and what can be achieved with leadership, determination, and a willingness to challenge the status quo.”

Dame Rachel de Souza, Chief Executive, Inspiration Trust


“Michaela has re-written what is possible. I feel privileged to be a Headteacher in 2016 learning from their examples.”

Janella Ajeigbe, Headteacher, Churchill Gardens Primary Academy

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
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3 Responses to ‘This book should be banned’

  1. Looking forward to your November event.

  2. NWMaths says:

    Can’t wait.

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