No one at Katharine Birbalsingh's school studies information technology. But they all learn about history, Shakespeare and French.

Auckland-born Birbalsingh, labelled by the British media as "Britain's strictest teacher", hands out detentions to kids who speak while hurrying in single file between classes at the Michaela Community School, a "free school" or charter school in a poor part of London.

They are allowed two minutes to get from one class to another because Birbalsingh believes every minute counts.

"You want to have order and structure," she said.

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"You want to make the most of every minute, because people are who are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds don't have access to the same knowledge and culture."

The Times outlined some of the school's draconian-sounding rules in a story which labelled Birbalsingh Britain's strictest teacher.

"No fighting, no lying. Break the rules and it's the isolation room," it wrote.

It also describes the school's lunch ritual. The students chant some of Kipling's words before moving silently to their tables. Over lunch they debate a set topic, for example, is Winston Churchill the most inspirational person you have read about in history?

The food is always vegetarian and there is a brief time allocated for eating it, the Times explained.

Other stories describe how students move quickly between classes in single file without saying a word - anyone who doesn't gets a demerit.

The Guardian wrote about the school's "no excuses" policy.

"Detentions are awarded for arriving one minute late to school, for not completing homework, for scruffy work, for not having a pen or ruler, for reacting badly to a teacher's instruction by tutting or rolling eyes, and even for 'persistently turning round in class' after being told not to."

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She believes children thrive on tough love.

Birbalsingh, 44, was born when her Guyanese father Frank Birbalsingh was on a postdoctoral fellowship in English at the University of Auckland. Her parents named her Katharine after Katherine Mansfield and gave her a Māori second name, Moana.

Katharine Birbalsingh reads with Hinalei Taumoe'anga, 6, at Bairds Mainfreight School. Photo / Greg Bowker
Katharine Birbalsingh reads with Hinalei Taumoe'anga, 6, at Bairds Mainfreight School. Photo / Greg Bowker

She told students at Bairds Mainfreight School in Ōtara today that her father was her inspiration.

"He grew up without any shoes, from a very, very poor background, and he changed his life," she told them.

"And all of you in this room can do the same thing, because when he was your age he read every single day, and he worked really hard, and now his daughter can fly across the world and do extraordinary things."

Birbalsingh presenting Duffy Books with author Alan Duff (in blue jersey), Bairds Mainfreight School principal Alan Lyth, left, and NZ Initiative chairman Roger Partridge. Photo / Greg Bowker
Birbalsingh presenting Duffy Books with author Alan Duff (in blue jersey), Bairds Mainfreight School principal Alan Lyth, left, and NZ Initiative chairman Roger Partridge. Photo / Greg Bowker

She will tell a seminar for teachers on Saturday that traditional teaching methods work best for students who don't have the basic "cultural currency" that middle-class kids take for granted.

"I'm a real traditionalist. I believe in the basics - lots of reading, writing and maths," she said.

Information technology is not part of her curriculum because "when it comes to IT, the children often know more than the teachers".

"You can cut certain things and spend that time in English and maths and science," she said.

She said some children came to her school at age 11 with a reading age of 5, but they all caught up within two years using phonics - learning the sounds that letters make in a word. It might sound boring, but she denied it.

"At primary school when it's taught well, using wonderful flashcards and pictures, the children love it," she said.

"We do times tables in song form - they absolutely love it. They do these funny movements when they're doing it.

"Children love learning, I think it's just a prejudice of adults that learning is boring. It's not, it's really interesting. It's the absence of learning that is boring."

• Katharine Birbalsingh speaks at ResearchED, Auckland Grammar School Centennial Theatre, June 2.