Tuesday 17 May 2022

Churchill Quotes And Sideshow Birb

Signwriters know they need to check, re-check and triple-check: before committing any inscription to paint, they must have it right. Not for them the luxury of software to wipe off the odd howler, the availability of the Delete key. No stray apostrophes, no mis-spellings, and no misattributions can be allowed to pass their all-consuming gaze.

My wordsh? Nevah!

But then come those who have decided they are right, and that is an end to it. So it was that headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, darling of the Tory Party, appeared before the cameras with, in the background, the words “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it’s the courage that counts - Winston Churchill”. Ms Birbalsingh added a commentary.

Katharine Birbalsingh

We believe in children being courageous, in all of us being courageous, and the point of that Churchill quote is to say, ‘look - don’t think hooray, I got the eight that I wanted on the GCSE, it’s all done, because success is final, and don’t think when you fail at something, that failure is fatal’. It’s about being courageous all the way through”.

But here a problem entered, and the Tweeter known as Otto English had bad news. “Britain's strictest Head teacher [Katharine Birbalsingh] has a fake Churchill quote on her school wall. Nowhere in the canon of Churchill's writing or speeches did he say this. Suggest you get some paint”. So how did that strict head teacher respond?

Now they are calling for apologies for any mistake we make as a school. We make several mistakes a day. We learn from them and move on. I suggest you all do the same”. It wasn’t her mistake - it was made “as a school”! So did she learn from it? Was the Churchill attribution duly erased? Did anyone take responsibility for the howler?

Also, who had called for apologies? “Lots of people. You can call me a poor leader all you want. My successful school would suggest otherwise. I won’t bow to the mob and give you the repentance you want. Indeed I raise an eyebrow at it”. Quite apart from the defensiveness, no-one has called her a poor leader, or indeed demanded repentance.

It’s just not a Churchill quote. Got that? Er, no: “It is the essence of the quote. For us not to be distracted by meaningless nonsense and have the courage to be stoical, determined and seek to do good. But too often we are interested in the wrong things. And children, in particular the most disadvantaged, suffer”. Cue chorus of Climb Every Mountain.

And it’s still not a Churchill quote. The International Churchill Society has researched all of his writings and speeches, and has concluded thus. So it was that Ian Betteridge told Ms Birbalsingh “If the children in your school’s history classes used a made up quote and tried to argue it was ‘about the essence’ rather than factual accuracy you would fail them. Yet, as so often, it’s fine for you. What a terrible role model”. Would she now own up?

You jest. “Well of course it was a mistake! Isn’t that obvious? It is the insistence on a crucifixion that is disturbing and weird”. No. Just no. What is “disturbing and weird” is the very public meltdown of someone who so many students, and their parents and guardians, look up to, to whom they look for leadership, to tell them what is right - and what is not.

Instead, she just ends up morphing into Sideshow Birb. Sad, really.

Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by becoming a Patron on Patreon at



  1. GSCE History fail

  2. You've clearly not dealt with some of the signwriters round my way. Mistakes are common, but I suspect the poor standards of English taught in schools since the 1990s are to blame - the client knows no better than the signwriter.

  3. Silly girl.

    All she had to say was, "I got it wrong. Let that be a lesson to you."

    I'm glad she doesn't teach my kids.

  4. "Nothing more tragicomic than the fragility of the cocksure idiot." - Wynston Cheurchills

  5. Anonymous@13:34. Signwriters and grocers were making mistakes long before the 1990s; I started noticing the dreaded grocer's apostrophe almost a soon as I had learned to read in about 1959. :)

  6. To RodJ @ 16:41 - very true, I doff my cap to you Sir.

  7. RodJ - you are the spirit of Keith Waterhouse AICMFP.

  8. I used daily to pass a signwriting operation near the bottom of the Great South Face of Stamford Hill which proudly proclaimed to the world that they did “Vans and Canap├ęs”.

  9. I wonder how she feels about rapist Tory MPs…

  10. Katharine Birbalsingh loves to be known as Britain's strictest headteacher but is there any evidence to prove that she deserves the title? The school certainly appears to issue a large number of detentions but the very fact that they keep having to issue so many detentions would suggests that the policies are not really working.

    Many schools now rely heavily on isolation rooms to deal with disruptive pupils but this merely brushes the problem under the carpet pupils who miss a lot of lessons due to being in isolation can be a real problem when they return to lessons because they are often way behind the rest of the class.

    Katharine Birbalsingh claims her school is successful but the criteria she uses is a measure introduced by Michael Gove when he was attempting to turbo charge the move towards free schools and academies. The measures looks at progress made from when a child starts secondary school to when the child takes GCSE's. The measure is quite easily to manipulate because very often pupils who come to this country not speaking English will perform badly in primary assessments but once they have mastered English they then make rapidly progress.

    If Birbalsingh's school has target recruiting pupils who have recently moved to the country it is easy to see how she achieves good figures in the Progress

  11. I know quite a few teachers, good ones too. Their view about discipline? Not really necessary. The most effective teacher is the one who enters the rowdy classroom, says "Right, less of that, let's get on with things" and does so. Taking time to obsess over punishments detracts from teaching and serves no healthy purpose. Or as one put it: get them in, get on with it, get on with them.

    Birbalsingh seems to be little more than Toby Young with hair, another opinion-haver with little qualification other than friends in the right places, whose decision to play teacher comes from the same "How hard can it be, what are the lefties whining about?" place that his free school movement sprang.