The supreme ideas-driven head teacher. New Zealand born teacher Birbalsingh burst onto the national stage when in 2010 at the Conservative Party conference she said, “The system is broken because it keeps poor children poor” with a “culture of excuses, of low standards” and a “sea of bureaucracy”. Overnight she became the hero of the Conservative right. She fought to establish, against heavy local resistance, Michaela Community School, a free school in 2014. The children are driven very hard, all must read Frankenstein and Antigone, and silence reigns in the corridors. Yet she believes deeply in character education, and wants all her students to be appreciative, polite and kind. The school has a renowned “no excuses behaviour policy”, and recently received an outstanding rating from Ofsted in all categories. Look out for the school’s students being amongst the most improved in the country when it receives its first GCSE results in 2019. If every state school was like this, the independent sector might close down.

The Seldon List 2017


These 20 figures, ten women, ten men, encompass those who I believe are having or will have the most powerful effect on our schools and universities. Some are household names, many are not. They all should be. Education at every level is riven by major disputes, and now more so than ever. The list of 20 contains those with pungent views on these debates, which include: whether we should be educating young people to lead a good life or merely for jobs; whether a traditional academic curriculum is suitable for all and whether it is right that it fails a third or more; and whether the state or the market should be dominant in deciding the content and delivery of education.

Reducing the figures to just 20 was agonizing: a further ten at least were very close to inclusion. Next year’s table will drop 10 from here. The key factor in the selection is who is setting the agenda for education, whether leaders of individual institutions, politicians and administrators, or academics and writers.

As education affects all of us, far more than we may think, these 20 contain some of the most influential figures in the country today.

Sir Anthony Seldon

Sir Anthony is one of Britain’s leading contemporary historians, educationalist, commentator and political author. Anthony Seldon is currently the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham University. He was head of Brighton College and of Wellington College, two of Britain’s leading independent schools. He is author of over 40 books on contemporary history, including the inside books on the last four Prime Ministers, politics and education, is co-founder of Action for Happiness, honorary historian to Downing Street and a Director of The Royal Shakespeare Company.



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