Why the UK’s strictest headteacher supports private schools

Rory Sachs:

I first catch sight of Katharine Birbalsingh through a set of ornate gold railings on the window near the entrance of the Guardsman Hotel at St James’s Park.

She is dressed in a flowing blue frock with floral patterning and looks somewhat perplexed. She has only tentatively approached the front door so I frantically wave in her direction.

Birbalsingh is relaxed and jovial as we settle down in the Guardsman’s dining room. Socially speaking, she has ‘quite a boring life’, she says.

Her schedule as head of both a Wembley free school and the government’s Social Mobility Commission is usually marked by a sense of urgency, and not the laid-back rhythms of a Liquid Lunch with Spear’s.

But today is the penultimate day of the summer school term, so Birbalsingh has been able to sneak away from a school trip to the Natural History Museum.

‘I’m not sure I ever really switch off – I live and breathe this stuff,’ she says, leafing through the copy of the Spear’s Schools Index I’ve handed her.