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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