Express & Star

Mark Andrews: Katie struggles with inflation, Rishi's smoking legacy, and why super-head is wrong to stop children from praying

There is a great deal to admire about Katharine Birbalsingh, the self-styled 'Britain's strictest headmistress'. Her no-nonsense approach to teaching has transformed the lives of thousands of children from tough inner-city backgrounds. Her Michaela Community School in Wembley produces consistently excellent results, opening up opportunities that her pupils would never have dreamt of had they been left to languish at a bog-standard inner-city comprehensive. Her rejection of divisive identity politics means that pupils focus on what they can achieve, rather than being encouraged to nurse perceived grievances.


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But for all that, I think she is very wrong about her ban on Muslim children saying their prayers during their break times, and I am saddened that the High Court has upheld her right to impose this rule. Freedom of religion is a fundamental pillar of any liberal democracy, and I don't see how stopping children from practising their faith does anything to foster the 'culture of kindness' which the school is supposed to be about. More than that, it sets a chilling precedent which could come back to bite many of the people who are celebrating the ruling this week.

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Meanwhile, Katie Price is getting over her bankruptcy by booking herself in for her 17th cosmetic procedure. Which I'm sure will be a big comfort to her creditors.

This time she is making her breasts smaller, just two years after a previous procedure to give her 'the biggest boobs in the world'. I suppose when your career is based entirely on this kind of procedure, it must become a bit of a habit. But I can't help but think it would be sensible this time around if the operation included some kind of pump – a bit like the lumber adjustment in car seats – so she will be able to inflate and deflate without the need for surgery in future.

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If you get the chance to see the Drop the Dead Donkey stage show, which finishes at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre tonight, I suggest you do. An enjoyable trip down memory lane, there is also topical humour for those who missed out on the original.

What you may have forgotten was that the Channel 4 series was accompanied by a novel called Drop the Dead Donkey 2000, which painted a dystopian vision of what the UK would be like at the turn of the Millennium: It forecast Sebastian Coe would be Prime Minister, and that dissident smokers would hide in the roofs of their offices to carry out their filthy habit.

Well, it's a few years later than scheduled, but this week Rishi got his way having got his incremental smoking ban passed in the Commons. I wonder how many of the MPs who voted for the new laws then nipped out for a crafty fag afterwards.

I suppose, as he approaches the end of his time in office, the Prime Minister wants to create a legacy. But given that it may well mean that, a quarter of a century from now, we will see 40-year-old blokes hanging outside the newsagents, hoping for an obliging 50-year-old to go in and buy their cigs, it does seem rather a strange legacy.