Katharine Birbalsingh

A headteacher who was praised as a ‘star’ at Tory party conference is forcing ‘isolation’ on students whose parents can’t keep up with lunch payments.

A letter send to parents tells them that their payments are overdue and until their debats are repaid the child will be placed in ‘lunch isolation’

They will receive a Sandwich and piece of fruit only. They will spend the entire 60 minutes period in lunch isolation.

Only when the entire outstanding sum is paid in full will they be allowed into famiy lunch with their classmates.

A copy of the letter was posted on Twitter by journalist Richard Adams


The letters were sent out by Michaela community school, a ‘Free’ school in Wembley, north London.

Free schools were pioneered by the previous Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Katharine Birbalsingh, the headteacher at Michaela, was frequently praised by Gove and given a prominent speaking spot at the Tory party conference in 2010.

She told the Daily Mail, which first ran the story, that it was an attempt to encourage parents to “change their ways” and “support their children”.

But the mother who received the letter said it was threatening

I found the letter quite threatening. Isolating children for their parents not paying upfront is degrading. It’s embarrassing for poor families

Dionne Kelly, an unemployed care worker, told the Mail she had eventually paid the money by the time she got the letter, but her son had been punished anyway.

She has now moved her son out of the school.

UPDATE: A Twitter user has ‘corrected’ the letter


This is where Michael Gove’s “free schools revolution” and education “reforms” have taken us. Shameful

  1. I was going to post a long dissection of the issues posed to schools by non-payment of school meal bills, and the means and methods of resolving the problem. However, with a 1000 character limit, it would likely take me up to ten comments.

  2. Dear Me. I agree, but the message in the article is probably a little more important, no? Punishing a child for having poor/unfortunate/bad parents is pretty low, don’t you think?

  3. Dear Me – English MA holder finds only one error which is obviously a typo. Is this seriously your only concern?? Grow up. This is a terrifying punitive precedent. The psychological damage for the children is potentially massive. Shaming children scars them for life. What planet are people like this on? Educational sadism – the future under a Tory government unmitigated by Human Rights legislation.

  4. Headteacher needs to be sacked!. If this is tge beat action she could come up with. Dread to think what other punishments are given in this school.

  5. If all “me” finds wrong in the article is the spelling, they are a very sick individual 🙁

  6. Wow, punishing children because their parents are poor… Just wait workhouses are coming, debtors prisons. The right wing delights of the nasty party are only just getting started.

  7. Surely this is victimising children which is against the Children Act.. mental punishment for the failures of their parents whether could not or could afford lunch money, the ethos of this school is shocking.

  8. This story has made me feel physically sick. As others have said, the emotional damage to the children affected could be immense: literally life-changing in some instances. As a former teacher who went on to run Masters courses for amazing Inner London teachers, I really do believe that this Head should be sacked for this treatment of children in her care.

  9. Is the letter from the school genuine? I would imagine that any educational establishment would adhere to extremely high standards when it comes to corresponding with their students’ parents. The letter is so badly written that I suspect it may be a hoax. If it is genuine it speaks volumes about the quality of administration in the “free’ school. Gove’s ….er…initiative in action.

  10. Karen mulcahey says:

    This is unbelievable! This is back to workhouses for the poor. Punishment for being born into a less wealthy situation and for your parents misfortune. Punishment?! Isolating children so they can be pointed at and bullied and looked down upon by others, creating a caste of untouchables, a group of scapegoats to whom bullying and name calling can be directed because by excluding and drawing attention to them the state/ governing body has sanctioned this kind of divide and rule, blame game. It is truly disgusting and symptomatic of the whole Tory austerity agenda and ideological oppression and dismantling of the people at the poorer end of society. It is Inhumane and goes against all usually school rules of caring and sharing and equality and respect and also what we apparently believe to be British values of fair play etc please please bring on a kinder era.

  11. Ed Pari-Jones says:

    As a society I always assumed we would be trying to move forwards, with empathy and understanding, how utterly disappointing that we have taken a step backwards. If this what some of you call British values then as a Welshman I completely dissociate myself from them disgusting that this should be happening.
    Please remove this woman from her role as a headteacher as she has shown that she is totally unfit for that position.

  12. Hey, I also have an English MA and agree that the message of the article is more important than the spelling. However, you might be reading into ME’s comment that they don’t care about that message, but there’s no way you can know that from a throwaway comment on the article-writer’s spelling.
    There are quite a few spelling and general technical errors in the article, family and debt are misspelled, a singular parent is mentioned rather than the plural implied by the context of the headline, there are missing full stops, incorrect tenses, and capital letters missed where there should be. But never mind, because the reporter’s concern is not about a demonstration of their (no byline) own education, but the unlucky children who get to attend this school. I feel they are all being hard done by, not just the poorer kids. This article is not the only example of typo-riddled writing. Have a look at that school letter!

    Free schools make no sense.

  13. Rules are very, very strict at the school but they pride themselves on challenging any negative treatment of the kids whether it’s from bullying, stereotyping, stigmatising or any other harm. This intention to punish the kids for a parent’s inability – for whatever the reason – to keep up to date with lunch payments, flies in the face of their self-professed support and nurture of the kids. Very unimaginative and cruel way of dealing with the problem I think.

  14. Like Ros, the letter makes me feel physically sick. The message seems to be that if your support network lets you down, through no fault of your own, those in power will punish you by reducing your rations, humiliating you and putting you in solitary confinement. Actually quite disturbing.

  15. This Head Teacher should be prosecuted for class discrimination and child abuse… and anything other laws her behaviour breaks. She needs to be taught a lesson in how to treat people properly. People in positions of authority need to set an example and all the more so where children and young people are concerned. She should also be trained in people skills and attend an emotional intelligence course. She is totally devoid of emotional intelligence and proper authority!

  16. The teacher would be better to ask the kids to volunteer to help fund raise by doing car washes at lunch time or something to make a float which will cover late lunch payments….then delayed payment would go into the fund and they wouldn’t need to punish anyone for anything and the kids would be helping themselves, their school and their peers. Isolating children for actions or inactions of their parents is disgusting. I’d rather home school than send my kids to school knowing they’d be punished for my lack of ability to pay for their lunch. The whole thing reminds me of the film matilda….are we sure she isn’t actually Mrs Trunchbull! Either way she’s a bully.

  17. This head is a disgrace to the teaching profession she should be sacked and banned from working with children. How on earth can someone who chose working with children discriminate against them in this way?

  18. ugotta b kidding says:

    What next? Making the kids sweep the school chimneys or clean the school toilets to cover the cost of their sandwich and fruit? That’ll teach them!

  19. Bam Jackson says:

    I came from a family classed as a problem by authorities, I have two brothers and we were singled out at school because of the state of our clothing, the school paid for any school trips and everyone knew this, there was no such thing as free school meals that I can remember and we were supposed to go home for meals but there was no point so we amused ourselves for the hour. All our school friends were aware of our difficulties and in later years we were told by our then headmistress that we all passed the 11+ exam but that we could not be allowed to go to grammar schools because of our social status. There was no intention to be cruel to us, it was just the way things were in the fifties. I can assure you that if this headteacher is punishing children in this way it is out and out cruelty, she should know better and to return to this sort of treatment in the 21st century is just sheer CRUELTY.y siblings smd I have all been successful but be assured the scars never go away. SACK HER!

  20. This is the school where children are forbidden from speaking at each change of lessons. They must walk to their classroom in silence. No socialising – because normal interactions are deemed to be dangerous. Birbalsingh truly is a believer in the Victorian principle that children can be seen but not heard. Why the heck she ever went into teaching is beyond me. She clearly doesn’t like children.

  21. Peter Mason says:

    Why shouldn’t the parents be allowed to use the benefit they get for their children’s upkeep be used to buy fags and booze for themselves? The kids will probably appreciate the isolation so that they can concentrate on their iphone etc.

  22. They are also removing the role of parent governors so Tory school dictatorships / businesses will continue with less regulation

  23. I’m sure Childrens services in Brent will be interested. Punishing children for parents inability or unwillingness to pay is unjust and potentially abusive.

  24. £75 a week what school is this our school lunches are less than a tenner and they are really fine, she is only 1 week overdue come on are you having a laugh or what.

    I don’t have children who go to school anymore but if I couldn’t afford it and was on benefits the school paid for them but this £75 a week no wonder there is more poverty in the UK, I just can’t believe the school is charging that amount be it a private school and I could afford it I bloody well wouldn’t pay it, I would put them to a snack bar instead.

  25. Andy Farrer says:

    Salvation Army style food kitchen outside the skool gates shud result in national and international press coverage to demean Mr Smith.
    Any dirt on his life so far please post here.

  26. She should be sacked full stop.There may be mitigating circumstances why the parents are behind with the payments.What if the parents are disabled or unemployed & have been sanctioned & lost benefits through no fault of their own. No way should a child be punished because his/her parents are poor.They may already be under peer pressure because of this & by punishing them this headmistress is drawing attention to them.This shows a lack of feeling & consideration for the children in her charge.

  27. Science shows us children who are hungry can not concentrate in lessons . So not only will they be punnished for parents . They will then also be punnished for not concentrateing in lessons and the quality of their work . Now tell me how that is an emviroment children would want to be in .

  28. This headteacher’s behavior is appalling. If a parent can’t or doesn’t pay dinner money, most self respecting schools would provide lunch for this child for however long.
    I think the headteacher, if she is qualified, has achieved her objective of removing the child from the school. It won’t do to have ‘poor’ children in a ‘Free School’.
    Parents are misled by government spin that these schools are better than state schools. It’s all part of dismantling the Education system and moving schools towards privatisation.

  29. Nigel whitehead says:

    Surly the legality of this is questionable as it would appear to be both child abuse and extortion.

    Possibly even amounting to demanding money with menaces

  30. I do not have words to describe how despicable this woman is.she certainly is not fit to work with children.theresa May will probably give her a gong in the honours list now.i sincerely hope that even the hardest of conservatives can see this woman is not an asset but a liability.

  31. I think Me is just pointing out what a terrible educational establishment it is on the level of academic standards as well as a deeply uncaring environment for children. It should be closed immediately on grounds of mental abuse.

  32. At seventy years of age I am reminded of a similar story that has effected me all my life. At my school those who were considered poor qualified for free school meals. My widowed mother and I were such a case. Every Monday when the weeks dinner money was collected I was singled out in front of the entire class by the teacher as the sole recipient of free school meals. No attempt at discretion just a loud “Are you still on freebees, Foote? across the classroom.
    I can empathise with those children at that school who will suffer the same humiliation and how it will affect them.
    I hasten to add that I went on to have a fairly successful career but, non-the-less, I still think back to those days with shame.

  33. fiona allen says:

    I’m presuming that £75 is for the term’s payment, and these parents are a week behind with that? In any case the concept of “lunch isolation” is disgraceful; identifying a child as having parents who – for whatever reason – have fallen behind with payments is opening the child up to all sorts of bullying. And children can be vicious!
    Furthermore – starting children off on the life path or associating food with rewards and/or punishment is a spectacularly effective way of giving them the start of an eating disorder.
    This is a dreadful way to treat children, and this “star” teacher should be bitterly ashamed. I hope the governors discipline her severely.

  34. I don’t think it’s £75 for the week but rather that the amount owed is £75 and the deadline for any overdue amounts has passed. Anyway, that aside this treatment of the children is abhorrent. It isn’t their fault. A better approach would be to say that until the amount outstanding is paid they must bring in packed lunches to avoid it adding up even more. That should happen well before it gets to £75 as well; in order to help parents budget better, not in this bullying, punishing way. And the isolation?!?! No, no, no.

  35. It sounds like the school is asking for the lunch money in a lump sum and in advance for the term – which will make their job easier – BUT would be very difficult for many families on the bread line to find. To stigmatise and punish children because their family do not have the money at hand to pay in advance is a disgrace – not only should the head teacher be sacked but it should be standard rule that these new academies (privitised schools) are not allowed to punish children for reasons of non payment and weekly payments must be an option.

  36. Inhuman and degrading Treatment. Not sure she is a fit and proper person to be anywhere near children.
    Someone start a petition.

  37. She is clearly not fit to be a teacher let alone a head teacher. This is typical soulless Tory thinking. If I were on the board of governors, I would be chastising her sorry ass right now. Some people get through life with no moral compass at all. She is one of these people.

  38. Louise Cross says:

    There are far too many people that feel entitled and that the world owes them something. Pay for your kids food or send a packed lunch. My kids packed lunches cost £3 per week. I don’t think it’s fair to isolate the kids but I do think it’s the responsibility of the parent to either provide food or send the money to pay for food.

  39. why, oh why, are people so surprised??? this is not an exception to the norm……THIS IS THE NORM IN TODAY’S SOCIETY

  40. School bully.lessons will be learned I suppose.obviously getting paid too much. Sneering at poor people.

  41. Kids should not be punished for this these days all familys are struggling working or not and 75 quid what the hell they eating for that per month …alot of parents dislike the free schools academy schools because some feel they are becoming more business run the learning environment students with health or special schools dont matter theyre needs arent met they not supported or looked after … its all bout money ..
    Weve all moaned bout state schools but least for most them the priority was the kids most schools was about community spirit not money

  42. yes it is the norm for most not all people to get benefits spend it on cig’s booze and gambling, and they wonder why they cant feed their Children.

  43. The evil heartless cow,what damage psychologically could be done to a child forced into. that situation through no fault of their own.

  44. So many judgemental bastards on here.You make me sick.Any wonder why todays society is the way it is.

  45. Free Schools were designed to segregate the “nice” children and jeep out the poor types.
    This is just a bit more of the same we’ve seen with ridiculous fussy uniform regulations and haircut exclusions.

  46. If in doubt rather than read all the facts carefully, note where the article was published quickly turn it into the usual Tory bashing. (I am a Labour voter)
    Look carefully at the letter, that was printed out on a single printer, not by a computer producing multiple copies. No school would allow such a poorly written letter to be released, regardless of the content. I may be wrong, but to me it looks it was printed on a sheet that was already creased.
    As Beaverbrook said; ‘ Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story!’

  47. Oh look … training the future generation to be cowed into mass conformity to serve their future bosses! She is praised for speaking at the fascist scum party conference but signs a letter (presumably typed by her secretary) where the grammar and spelling are appalling.

    Me is right, it IS important to bring this to public attention, and is far from trivial. Why?


    If she cannot either be bothered, or is personally unable to, do something as simple as correcting her secretary’s errors, then will she be bothered to oversee the care and safety of the children in her charge? She is at the head of a team in loco parentis … and would probably call it neglect if parents displayed the same level of supervision.

    This woman cares only for herself. Heaven help the children!

  48. Anne Cartwright says:

    Re the previous message: I am not anonymous but prepared to stand up and be counted.

    The grammar nazi in me is apologetic for the comma in the wrong place, it should have been placed after ‘unable’. This point is valid but trivial.

    I am an ex PA/Secretary at the highest level who went on to be a Teacher (let’s give Teachers their rightful due). As a supply teacher through choice I taught in many schools amongst some of the most talented and caring people I’ve ever met – it was a privilege to work with them.

    I’ve also worked with some who made me cringe at their obvious climb up the greasy pole, caring more for money and status than the welfare of their charges. These made me ANGRY! One such person I had great delight in reporting to their headteacher as it was one of my daughter’s teachers I accidentally caught out in dereliction of their duty.

    The Chair of Governors has the final responsibility in such cases and they should do their job.

  49. Perhaps Ofsted should be presented with a copy of the letter in order to see how much the wellbeing of the children matters for this ‘star’ head teacher. And it happens in UK

  50. So 2011 she says deprived black children are not getting the help they need and now she wants to heap on more humiliation??? I remember coming from a poor home and having to line up at the end of the queue after paying children got their dinner first …. It is damaging and humiliating. I would go without rather than stand there being laughed and pointed at… so would go all day without breakfast or lunch. Statistics show a hungry child does not concentrate so well, so in certain areas children go to breakfast club and all children get free school meals, surely the amount of input and publicity this school seems to have in the press it should be aiming higher to assist the children rather than going back to 19th century rules ?

  51. Krishna hames says:

    This person should never have been a headteacher let alone a teacher.
    She appears to have masses of personal issue so!

  52. Reverend Myra Dillistone says:

    Either this head teacher is an alien or her head has been smashed against a wall. She obviously does not know what she is doong.ng.

  53. Disgusting. The children should never be punished. As for paying for the dinners, the parent has ordered it and should pay up. If I couldn’t afford my kids school dinners I wouldn’t order them and instead I would send a packed lunch. You wouldn’t order and take something from a shop without paying.

  54. I think she should be arrested and quizzed for abuse, if I was one of those parents I would want something done about abusing that poor child, if we did this as parents I am sure social services would be on our cases???

  55. A disgracefully reprehensible and shameful way to discriminate against a child. This is also against the Human Rights of a child to deny play during their lunch and to be segregated from other children This should be reported to Social Services and the Police and to the parent’s MP

  56. At the end of the day whether the parents are poor, forgetful of just feckless- not providiing a child with a school lunch is neglect. It is NEVER the child’s fault what the parent fail to do and that is the point. Make all school meals free and put 1p on the Income tax rather than let children go without. It is all very well talking about parents abdicating responsibility but the children haven’t done wrong so we should never, ever make children pay for adults failings.

  57. No one has picked up on the fact that the letter was penned by Barry Smith, deputy head. It strikes me that the wording is unbelievably blunt and possibly this guy was calling out his own school for their policy, knowing the letter would get a rise from the parents. Good on him, if so.

  58. Paul Goldsmith says:

    Just shows the caring face of Mayism and the rest of those heartless tories. Its not the child’s fault but true to form they attack the weakest

  59. Clearly in line with biblical education policies:
    “The iniquities of the parents shall be visited upon their children, yea, until the third generation”.

  60. Colin Wignall says:

    As a school governor I would feel that this is abuse so the headteacher should be suspended pending an investigation.

  61. Lisa Griffiths says:

    We pay enough taxes a healthy meal should be provided free of charge to all families!! Everyone should be treated equally, we dont know what stress families are under to not be able to finance a school meal means they are struggling and need support not pumishment!

  62. Rebecca Elliott says:

    I used to be a Headteacher. Never should children be punished for the actions of their parents. Children should come first but these days they come a poor fourth to budgets, targets and political oneupmanship. This person is obviously a sadist and capable of harming children. She should be sacked but no doubt, if she gets amazing results, the Governors think the sun emanates from her anus and will protect her. Shocking.

  63. Poor people should have fewer children i.e. one maybe? if they can’t afford to feed them.
    Having children is a luxury not a right!

  64. This head teacher is absolutely right.
    The school in question has ‘family lunch’ in which children and members of staff sit around the table and eat their lunch while talking to each other. How many schools do that?
    The children in lunch isolation get help with reading and catch-up work.
    I was fortunately able to read a separate article in which the head teacher explains her motivation for this initiative; it is a much fairer and more balanced account than this attempted hatchet job.
    She points out, for example, that children coming in to the school unable to read catch up by the end of year 8.
    She also asks why poor parents who pay up for their childrens’ lunches should be expected to pay more to subsidise those who don’t pay.
    What really bothers me is the large number of commenters on here who feel they can insult or pass judgement on the basis of a flimsy and biased article.

  65. Selection by the black door. Humiliating those on low incomes to remove their children after being humiliated in this way. Let me guess the school is an academy or free school. If this was an LA controlled school the letter would never have been sent in the first place. It is well known I education that those just above the free school meal threshold under perform at school as they are hungry most of the time. It’s something that we should ashamed of as over 1 million now rely on food banks with over 300,000 of those being children that are quite literally starving to death.

  66. The Education and Inspections Act of 2006 does not allow schools to impose disciplinary punishments for anything other than a pupil’s own conduct.

  67. In fairness to the author it does appear English isn’t their first language. That aside, it does seem ridiculous that a child would be punished for something outside of their own control. I imagine there’s more to this story but can’t be bothered clicking the link to read the likely more balanced article. Finally @Hilary, congratulaions on your educational achievements, you and your family should be very proud however proofreading/editing is obviously not your forte.

  68. Dominic Purdue says:

    Dear Nathan, you are welcome in the Tory Party. Would you like to oppose Mrs May? We need more people like you. I bet you own an iPhone, the latest model too. By the way isn’t your name John?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


Comments are limited to 1000 characters.