Strict schools appeal to some parents

It should be evident by now that a school which is ideal for one child is a disaster for another (“What It’s Like to Study at the Strictest School in Britain,” Time, Apr. 20). Although I have reference to Michaela Community School in Wembley Park, which is an impoverished section of north London, I submit that my remarks are equally relevant to schools in this country.

Founded in 2014, Michaela is built on order and discipline, to the extent that some liken it to the British army.  Everything is timed and regimented.  That includes behavior at lunch time and between classes. Students get demerits for failing to follow the rigid rules, like not sitting up straight at their desks and not tracking the teacher with their eyes.

Michaela is one of about 400 free schools in Britain. They are like charter schools here: independently operated by non-profit groups.  That means teachers design their own curriculum and create their own textbooks.  Rote learning characterizes instruction. Group projects are absent.  Ofsted, the government’s independent regulator, gave it a rating of “outstanding” in May 2017.  How students will perform on the national exams known as the GCSEs that all students in the country take at age 15 or 16 remains unknown.

So much of Michaela in London reminds me of Success Academy in New York City.  Both schools are highly controversial. But they can be just what some students need and want. Yet the same can be said of their opposite, the controversial Summerhill School in Suffolk, England.  In the 1960s, Summerhill captured the attention of the public by rejecting the model of rigid, joyless schools.  It was “child-centered,” which meant that the authority of teachers and most school rules were eliminated.  It too had its vocal supporters.

My point is that what works so well for some students can destroy other students. That’s why I have long advocated parental choice.  Parents know the needs and interests of their own children. Let them choose.  I know all the arguments against parental choice.  But in the final analysis, I maintain that it is still the best way.

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2 Replies to “Strict schools appeal to some parents”

  1. Not sure that parents know what’s best for their children.

    At a minimum, there are some extremely unconcerned/dysfunctional parents who can barely feed, house and clothe their children, let alone research school options and provide daily transportation to a non-neighborhood school.

    More generally, in my opinion, most parents — at least most working parents who have little/no opportunity to regularly volunteer at their children’s schools — have relatively little idea what actually goes on at the school. How could they? What would be the source of their info? What their children tell them — very unreliable?

    Even with a school like Michaela or Summerhill (where its unique approach has attracted a lot of publicity so relatively concerned parents will generally know how it differs from a regular neighborhood school), I think that many parents will not be sufficiently expert in what is “good” for their children to make an informed school choice decision. Much more likely, the parents’ decision will be based on the parents’ overall attitudes towards what a good school should be like rather than on what kind of school is best for the particular needs of their children. In other words, parents who like discipline and order will opt for a Michaela while parents who like creativity will opt for a Summerhill rather than deciding based on the unique personality or needs of the child. Or, parents’ decisions will be based on what their friends or relatives say about particular schools — if Parent A’s best friend or sister says his/her child did well at School X, then Parent A will send his/her child to School X.


  2. Labor Lawyer: I agree that there are some parents who do not know what is best for their children for one reason or another. But they are in the minority. Who besides them knows better? I’d rather err on the side of letting parents alone decide rather than rely on some outside agency. In New York City, which has a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children, there is a wait list of 50,000 to get into charter schools. The demand is greatest among black, low-income families. So apparently, even they are involved enough in their own children’s education to learn the available options.


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