Conrad Landin

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To Katharine With Concern

READERS of this blog may be interested in reading my recent review of Katharine Birbasingh’s recently-released book, To Miss With Love.

I won’t repeat myself – it’s all plain enough from the review. But to jog your memory, Birbalsingh, a former London deputy head, shot to fame after speaking at Tory party conference.

Here’s her speech. It’s worth watching in its entirety – even if it is slightly disturbing that she seems to enjoy naming, projecting and shaming the children she then taught, and says a few things which rather contradict each other.

The following observances are probably better read AFTER reading my review.

When I logged onto Spinebreakers – the website which published my review (I sit on the editorial board) – to retrieve the link, I was somewhat disturbed I found the line “Katharine Birbalsingh is my hero” in the search results when I searched “To Miss With Love”.

This line came from another review on the site, which features teenagers’ responses to books of all genres and target audiences. The review’s author, Max, whom I have never met, makes some valid points; as you would no doubt take from my piece, I’m not saying the system is perfect.

It’s plain enough from looking at our two reviews side by side to see where we disagree.

And sometimes it’s not a case of simply disagreeing – the arguments made by Birbalsingh, and reiterated by Max, are sometimes fundamentally flawed.

On a slightly different note, back to Max:

So finally I will return to the beginning of my review, why Katharine is a hero. The answer, she dedicates 24 hours a day to her students, she cares for them, parents them and inspires her students.

Here we really have to be careful. Of course, she comes across as dedicated, but really, it’s hard to say for sure. That’s because this book really shouldn’t pass itself off as an autobiography: it’s fictionalised, and half of it could be made up. Anyone thinking about this question should read this Guardian piece by a former colleague, who highlights the conflicting arena of Birbalsingh’s work – her multiple identities, chick-lit paperbacks and exaggerations which could be seen as downright untruths.

Snuffy, the book’s teacher character, is certainly dedicated, but 24 hours dedicated to teaching whilst having two paperbacks on the go? It’s just one of many things which don’t add up.

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2 Comments

  1. Max says:

    Conrad,

    First let me say i enjoyed reading what you had to say but still fundamentally disagree with it.

    Let me start by saying that the book was a collection of writings from her blog, she did not by any means write it all in one go and at no point does she pretend that this books it exactly what happened over one year. In fact she states that the book is a collection of events that have taken place over her 15 years as a teacher and that she has just merged some of the experiences that she has encountered into a book spanning one school year.

    You also spoke about her betrayal of her own students, but one cannot forget that this book was originally going to be anonymous and that it was penguins who made the decision to change this.

    One also must not forget that this book was written before her speech at the conservative conference so she is not just trying to profit from her resent fame.

    As for her ‘flimsy’ argument lets look at the facts: Only 15% of white working class boys got 5 good GCSEs including Math and English last year and the national average for all pupils in England achieving five good GCSEs including English and Math (A* to C) was 46% last year. Surely this is proof of what she is saying.

    Or perhaps one could just look at the countless muggings committed by school boys each year, is that not proof that the school system is failing. Does these not facts help legitimise and go some way to proving Katherine’s writings. I for one believe it does.

    So i stand by what i said Katherine Birbalsigh is a hero.

    Max,

    P.s if any one want to join the debate, the quest is Katherine Birbalsigh a hero is now live on the spinebreakers forum.

  2. Max says:

    The forum’s address with the question is Katherine Birbalsigh a hero is here: http://spinebreakers.campaignserver.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=431

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