Katharine Birbalsingh’s book To Miss With Love, a chronicle of secondary school life through the eyes of a teacher based in inner city London has caused uproar for a variety of reasons. Many have expressed doubts concerning the veracity of the story. Others have seen the author as blatant careerist and against the teaching profession. In my view, this book is part of a growing wider debate about education and as such it should be read, if nothing more than to have a wider appreciation of the issues at stake outside the experience of our own institutions/classrooms.
On its own merits, the book resonated with me on many levels, both professionally and personally. I grew up London and attended schools in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. I have also worked in four different schools (State and Independent) and I am fortunate to speak/engage with a wide range of educators across the UK and I readily recognise both the positive and negative aspects of Miss Snuffleupagus’ school. The tiredness. The moments of intense frustration. The ‘highs’ that you cling on to when the going is really tough were recognisable. As a result, I was gripped; I was saddened when Furious could not find the wherewithal to make a positive change, elated when Dopey achieved his ‘C’ grade in English and disturbed with Magical’s treatment by Ofsted. I certainly do not agree with all Miss Snuffleupagus’ conclusions (and have expressed my concerns to the author in private and nothing a healthy dose of Giddens, Marx and a visit to some of the History classrooms I have seen could not cure) but it does not mean that I cannot consider the book for what it is; a situated and substantive account/story of the problems within education. Charlie Caroll’s book ‘On The Edge’ highlights similar positives and negatives (sometimes in a more brutal fashion) of educational institutions across England. What they both indicate, in conjunction with the recently launched Purpos/ed movement, is that many educators feel that there is a something not quite right with education in our society and we should do something rather than just accepting the status quo. Ignoring this message on the basis of party/ideological/political posturing obscures what really matters and gets us no closer to helping young people like Furious achieve their potential.