Katherine Birbalsingh – resisting religious splits ++

Katherine Birbalsingh, known as Britain’s strictest head teacher with an outstanding educational record in her school, is facing legal action over a ban on prayer rituals. She defended the policy, arguing that it was vital in order to “maintain a successful learning environment where children of all races and religion can thrive”.

  Previously, the court heard there had not appeared to be any great appetite for prayers at the school, where about half of the pupils are Muslim. Last year, however, a growing number of children began praying during their lunch break, increasing from a single child to 30 in a matter of days. The prayer sessions led to growing segregation between non-Muslim and Muslim pupils in the playground, and that a number of Muslim children were observed by teachers applying peer pressure to other Muslim children, encouraging them to be more observant. In one alleged incident described to the court, a child who had never previously worn a headscarf was pressured to wear one. A Muslim girl was said to have dropped out of the school choir after she was told by other Muslim children that it was haram (forbidden), while a number of other children were told they were “bad Muslims” for not praying and had begun to pray, according to written arguments before the court.

  Birbalsingh defended the “the culture and ethos” of the school where “children of all races and religions buy into something bigger than themselves: our country”.

  She was born 16 September 1973 in Auckland, New Zealand, with an academic father, grew up in Toronto, and was a Socialist Worker Party member (far left) at Oxford.

  She is Virgo at befits a perfectionist teacher, with a singular and complicated chart. She has a lucky, confident Jupiter in Aquarius square Venus opposition Mars Moon in Taurus. Her Jupiter is in a confident trine to Pluto and Mercury which in turn are in an unyielding, tough-minded square to Saturn. She also has two yods of Pluto sextile Neptune inconjunct Mars (Moon) and Saturn sextile Mars inconjunct Neptune – a curious mix of idealism from Neptune and hard-driving determination from Mars with a dollop of argumentative zealotry from Mercury conjunct Pluto.  She is a divisive and controversial figure though she does get results in a school where most of the pupils have English as their second language.

  I would have to admit to a personal bias in this argument since I am allergic to almost all organised religion and especially dislike the bullying, coercive streak amongst certain Muslims to which the UK – and elsewhere – appear not to have found an adequate response.  

  Politicians’ inability to grapple with voters’ concerns about immigration, ranging from an overloading of the welfare system and housing provision, to fear of terrorism and criminality as well as an insidious or overt shift in the culture has the risk of opening the doors to far-right populist candidates.  In 2001 then Tory leader, William Hague spoke of Britain being at risk of becoming at some point unrecognisable, which evoked a horrified response tagging him with the Enoch Powell stamp.

  The Home Secretary recently criticised ‘do-gooders’ who stopped the deportation of violent criminals back to their home country. Detention Action is one charitable organisation concerned with the welfare of immigrants, whose activist member on a plane helped block the deportation of a Jamaican criminal, involved in a shoot-out on a Birmingham street, who has convictions for gun and drug-related crimes.

 Detention Action, 24 July 1997, is a Sun Leo opposition Neptune and Uranus – so idealistic and defiant – with the can-be-fanatical Uranus Neptune taking centre ground.  There’s also a stubborn Mercury square Pluto and and a hard-edged, maybe victim-focused Mars opposition Saturn. Except in this case the victim was the perpetrator.

  Not sure the astrology adds much to this argument – continuing on from the previous post 3 December 2023 – Europe: clash of cultures. 

  But it is rapidly becoming the key election issue. Like the Post Office scandal it has been brewing for years without it breaking through into a MUST FIX issue.   

Add On: Follow on media thoughts on the court action Telegraph.

“There’s a vital principle at stake in the case: whether ‘rights’ culture is allowed to trump social cohesion.”

“Birbalsingh is asking everyone to give up something, not to insist on everything, so we can all get on. We all need to compromise.”

“On one hand is what the French call laïcité: an agreement to leave religion out of certain areas (like the classroom) so that people of all religions and none can rub along together.

Against this we have the grievance industry, preaching minority rights. Claiming that “freedom of religion” somehow compels schools to open prayer rooms, or drop whatever may offend a minority – like Macbeth or Sunday study or plates that touch eggs – even if they are within majority national culture.”

28 thoughts on “Katherine Birbalsingh – resisting religious splits ++

  1. There’s a video on YouTube – and I never knew who she was, nor was interested in her, even though I saw that title “Britain’s strictest teacher” and just rolled my eyes, thinking this is really not worth my while and something to celebrate – titled “The Virtue of Traditional Education | Katharine Bribalsingh”, and by 00:50 her main gist is when you fall, you pick yourself up. She is basically mocking? people who’ve had alcoholic parents and saying stuff like she doesn’t care if your life was more difficult than someone else’s, and saying all that in a pretty theatrical way. It is a bit eyebrow-raising.

    Is this the kind of teacher education worker for the 21st century? You tell me. Or does she need to be tossed into whole other profession and be gone from teaching? I’m not even sure she is aware of what she is saying or that she is someone who is supposed to be celebrated. It’s as if seeing an act which is unaware of the consequences of his or her words.

    She might have issues, just as everyone else, and is trying to purge them from herself through her work and teaching philosophy.

    I’m looking at that Mercury–Pluto conjunction and possible Moon conjunct Mars, and I’m not sure those are the aspects you’d wish in a teacher, professor, or head teacher.

    • I responded to this below. Yes she sounds over the top but the point about not making excuses because of damaging parents seems perfectly sensible. The New York teacher who teaches kids of crack addict parents drummed into them that the only thing that would save them and get them a decent life was themselves. Get into school with clean, ironed clothes, homework done and work to make a life that is different from their parents.

  2. Non statutory government guidance for schools on religious education in 2010 states:

    “Section 78 (1) of the 2002 Education Act states that all pupils should follow a
    balanced and broadly based curriculum which ‘promotes the spiritual, moral,
    cultural, social, mental and physical development of pupils and of society, and
    prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later
    life’. Learning about and from religions and beliefs, through the distinct
    knowledge, understanding and skills contained in RE within a broad-based
    curriculum, is essential to achieving these aims. Exploring the concepts of
    religion and belief and their roles in the spiritual, moral and cultural lives of
    people in a diverse society helps individuals develop moral awareness and
    social understanding.”

    I’d say the phrase ‘religions and beliefs’ plural suggests we learn about everyone, and do not favour one particular group.

    There is no legal requirement for any school to provide a prayer room in the UK.

    The Education Act 2002 dates from a Saturn in Gemini opposite Pluto in Sagittarius year, in the previous Saturn/Pluto cycle. May 2002 had one at 20 degrees. Possibly the Jupiter/Saturn square at 17 degrees in August will highlight more around these contentious issues? Saturn is in ‘religious’ or spiritual Pisces, and Jupiter in Gemini – words, young people, education. They make a t-square with UK Mercury, 17 Sagittarius – more potential religious and education themes there. And maybe quite honest and outspoken – or Sagittarius’ idealogical and turbulent side on show too? Hopefully, mutability results in flexibility and reason.

    Learning about others’ beliefs and customs is positive. Otherwise, I do not think any religion should prevail at school, and that they should be secular and focus on education.

  3. All parents and pupils know it is a secular school. I personally think that all schools in the UK should be secular. And that is the only way to integrate people of different cultures and faiths. And if Christians aren’t allowed to wear crosses or crucifixes to work or make the sign of the cross or pray silently outside abortion clinics, then neither should followers of Islam impose their prayers or practice Sharia law. You can’t commit honour killings or forced marriage. Both of which are illegal in the UK but until recently both were wilfully ignored by the police for fear of offending the Muslim Community.

    You cannot emigrate to another country claiming persecution and then persecute those that are of different faiths or those that practice another branch of your faith. Everyone must learn to find common ground otherwise anarchy rules. Fanaticism in every religion has caused nothing but intense suffering and countless deaths. Why it isn’t classed as a hate crime is beyond me!

    • Absolutely agree Linda. It’s bizarre that women in Iran and Afghanistan are fighting against the religious structures that limit them, and girls in this country and other European countries are insisting on buying into that culture.

  4. I do have a faith and attended Catholic school for that reason. If you want prayers at school attend a faith school. I did not realise that Katherine is a New Zealander, I am proud of her achievements.

  5. Hey Marj, this does not happens at school this happens at w0rk!
    It’s disgusting. Muslims need to pray 5 times a day. It’s ridiculous. Christian schools It’s expected morning or before lunch not every day of the week. After work you see kyslims praying at the train station – on the floor under the stairwell. In shops. At hospitals. I wonder about this, its time off actual work.

  6. Hey Marj, this does not gapped at school this happens at w0rk!
    It’s disgusting. Muslims need to pray 5 times a day. It’s ridiculous. Christian schools It’s expected morning or before lunch not every day of the week. After work you see kyslims praying at the train station – on the floor under the stairwell. In shops. At hospitals. I wonder about this, its time off actual work.

  7. Thanks for openly expressing your own point of view as well as the astrology, Marjorie.
    It looks like this may be a test of Charles’s wording of “defender of faiths” rather than of “the faith.” Did he need Parliament to approve that change?

    What’s the required date of the next UK election?
    What’s the current view on chances it will be held earlier?

    • What’s the required date of the next UK election?
      – Late January 2025

      What’s the current view on chances it will be held earlier?
      – Current political expectations are that it will be held in late autumn 2024, after the party conferences and a possible Autumn Statement with more tax cuts, but before winter (which would impact old people turnout)

      It looks like this may be a test of Charles’s wording of “defender of faiths” rather than of “the faith.” Did he need Parliament to approve that change?
      – Yes, a new Royal Titles Act would need to be passed to authorise the King to issue a new Royal Proclamation with the new title.

  8. The entire situation is about not integrating people of all ethnicities into the greater society especially economically which is at the root of every issue in America, but now the majority is not only resentful but under the influence of Trump they want to literally alter history so their children won’t feel guilty.

    America’s relationship with its minorities has always been fraught with double standards and cognitive dissonance but America has saved its most schizophrenic relationship for African Americans.

    Oh well maybe tomorrow it will be better.

  9. In certain parts of the US there usually strict conservative Christian who will mandate bible reading and prayer. A Jewish, Buddhist and agnostic can sue on First Amendment grounds but the blowback in not worth it. Big cities rarely have that problem. In my New York state small town, people rarely discussed religion partly because no one was too fanatical.

    • “can sue on First Amendment grounds but the blowback in not worth it”

      A Jew, a Buddhist, and an agnostic walk into a bar. The judge says “watch your step, you’re supposed to wait til you’re called you to testify.”

      Virgoflake and Nicole, I’ve met many people raised in Catholic schools who are sharply focused, logical thinkers, often without use for traditional religion.

  10. It would seem that here we have religious zeal added to typical clique/gang/ bullying behaviours of adolescents. Not pleasant but requiring exceptional leadership to deal with this. The headmistress seems to me to enjoy her title of the toughest teacher, rather too much- mercury conjunct pluto.

    • She reminds me of a New York teacher who taught kids with crack addict parents and she was very strict and hammered into them (verbally) that it was only hard work that would get them off the streets. Insisted they turn up in clean shirts.
      Also a Scottish headmaster from long ago, pre-comprehensive, working with disadvantaged kids and he really made a difference. She would need to be an oddball and obsessive to get the results she does – and I am Scottish enough to believe that the root of all advancement comes from education. Slumping out of school semi-literate or illiterate is no help to anyone.

  11. Thanks for looking at this Marjorie. It is so important, and has been brewing for a long time, as you write. Many strands to what’s emerging, and I am also afraid of a populist far right response – a noticeable theme in Europe already. Reading about this case, I wondered about the many instances of mass hysteria in schools and communities across the centuries:

    “Last year, however, a growing number of children began praying during their lunch break, increasing from a single child to 30 in a matter of days”

    I decided to look at the date for the first Salem Witch Trial, 1 March 1692 (Library of Congress timeline). And there’s Pluto at 27 Cancer. Pluto enters Leo in September 1692 GC. Perhaps this is an example of Pluto’s transitional phase, in the opposite signs we see now?
    The special court that held the trials was then dissolved, with further arrests prevented, on 29 October that year. Neptune was in Pisces back then, Jupiter in Taurus then Gemini, Saturn in Sagittarius, and Uranus in Gemini. Jupiter and Uranus were conjunct in Gemini that summer, opposing Saturn.

    “Cousins Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Parris, ages eleven and nine, respectively, began to enter trance-like states and to suffer from convulsive seizures in January 1692. By late February, prayer, fasting, and medical treatment had failed to relieve their symptoms, or to quiet the blasphemous shouting that accompanied their fits. Pressured to explain, the girls accused the three above-named women of afflicting them.

    A recent epidemic of small pox, heightened threats of Indian attack, economic uncertainties, and small town rivalries may have all primed the people of Salem and its surrounding areas for the mass hysteria that fueled the witchcraft trials.” (Library of Congress, Today in History – March 1st.)

    • There’s a very good, in-depth podcast called ‘Unobscured’ on the subject of the Salem witch trials. Abigail Williams could well have been orphaned and then adopted, she wasn’t necessarily a close relative of the Parris family. The ever present threat of raids by Indigenous Americans, the so-called ‘Indian Wars’, the proximity of Salem to its frontiers, as well as children who had witnessed their parents’ slaughter caused deep trauma to the community.

      Mary Beth Norton in her book, ‘In the Devil’s Snare’ argues that letters and communications from the period in Salem show an intense alarm and fear of death due to these threats. The wars made everyone think of death and the fearful attitude in the town allowed hysteria to flourish and spread. As a Puritan community, the people believed that the devil, active in the world was punishing and disciplining them and this fear, coupled with economic hardship, food shortages and a harsh winter made fertile ground for scapegoating.

      Those who were accused, tended to be the wealthier members of the community – the East side – and the accusers from the more impoverished areas in the west of the town. The sheer hardship, the precariousness of the harvests, the smallpox outbreaks and the ever present threat of horrific slaughter gave rise to a collective psychological nervous breakdown in a sense. So a high-strung mutable emphasis involving the outer planets you mention makes sense.

      Thanks for the astrological insights, Jane.

      • Thanks for that fascinating history VF. Interesting, too, about the ‘wealthier members of the community’ being accused. I seem to recall that this applied to the Cathars too, certainly in the beginning. The Inquisition made a tidy sum from seizing the property of wealthy Cathars…..

  12. I’d happily support no religion in schools. I went to a Catholic school and the amount of praying, bowing and scraping to a rather cruel, patriarchal deity I had zero belief in could have been better spent learning stuff that was actually useful.

  13. Allergic to religion. Hahaha.. ninety nine percent of earthly problems caused by religion. If only none of us had been taught it from childhood. Brain washing by all religions.

    • “… something bigger than themselves: our country.”

      What does everyone think of this statement?

      Is it normal?

      Is it anachronistic? Is it, in the end, meaningless, unimplementable loftiness? Is it nationalistic? Is it striving for unitedness in all humanity? Is it differentiating between “we” (our country) and “they” (other countries)? Why is a country bigger than its people? Why is that something to strive for? What does it all mean? Does she even know what she is saying?

      I have so many questions.

      I also wonder if official psychology has research, and a bunch of it, showing how much damage schooling imprinted on children, and especially of the stricter kind, and what does all that research show.

      • What I took her to mean and heartily applaud her for – is if you choose to live in a society/country then it requires a degree of compromise of some of your individual demands. Just like being in a relationship but on a wider scale – you can’t have it all your own way. For a society and a country to work, everyone has to assimilate which does not mean giving up your identity but it does mean respecting and being able to mingle with others who hold different beliefs.
        ‘In a fair and decent society everyone should have a ring fence of freedom around them which extends only in so far as it does not impinge on the rights of others.’ Not an easy line to draw but essential.
        Strict education? I’m Scottish, and along with Indians and Chinese, education (pre-SNP) was always the bedrock of all progress. Laissez-faire, can’t-have-competition-since it upsets the snowflakes really does not work. I have tried to work with people who came out of the ‘progressive’ schools who let kids suit themselves and they were a nightmare, no use to anyone themselves included. Which does not mean it has to be academic or oriented towards university. There should be a greater focus and value put on technical and craft education.

        • I think this attitude is what’s been lost, certainly in the US, especially in the Bible belt and more conservative regions, where the quality and integrity of education and learning have been sacrificed to the Bible-thumpers’ demands of incorporating their right-wing, intolerant views into public education (e.g., creationism).

          I grew up in Virginia, then the edge of the south, and had a mixed education, with my teacher mother pulling me out of public school and putting me in private school when she knew I ‘d have a bad teacher. That was when there was still more separation of church and state in the US.

          However the best, most tolerant education I received was at my Church of England public school in Oxford, where religious diversity was respected and taught. Our weekly religion classes in Sixth Form were stimulating discussions about the world’s religions. I remember our headmistress, who taught the class, saying, “I’ve never met such a bunch of cynical young ladies.”

          We were — but actual religious belief and practice weren’t forced down our throats, though as borders we did have to attend a religious service on the weekend and prayers daily, where few paid any real attention.

          I always said CofE boarding schools were especially adept at turning out seasoned, yet ethical agnostics.

        • Marjorie, this stinks! As a born and bred Kiwi, I can’t believe this…. Jane’s posting with that singular, odd sentence about the growing number of children praying, is horrendous! My parents insisted on us having private education (i.e the nuns/priests!) (early 1950’S) so this resonates horrifically with me, hellfire and brimstone etc which I subconciously believed well into adulthood, despite travelling the globe….. In the late 1950’s a lot of Indians people emigrated to our shores, but they never mentioned religion, imposed their rules, etc, thus are completely integrated and adored immigrants. However qualified, attractive and sociable KB may appear to be, its just More of the Same! I find it shocking…her vocational indicator (which is always the planet rising in front of the Sun) is Saturn in Cancer – kids of course…. Neptune is focal in her chart.. religious mania? I’ve been doing astrology for well over 50 years and find this out of order, and appalling. Thanks for shedding light on it…..

          • Maggy I’m not sure if I’m reading you right but are you suggesting that Katherine Burbalsingh is the cause of the religious problems at her school? It is the opposite – she has been taken to court (by parents?) because she has banned prayer rituals at her school so that religious differences don’t interfere with learning.

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