After watching Jamie’s Dream School it struck me that the most outrageous thing about the first episode wasn’t Starkeygate; though his attempt to get the class in line by labelling them failures and verbally abusing one of the pupils was pretty shocking behaviour in a someone of his standing. No, for me, the most outrageous thing was the fact that anyone thought roping in celebrity experts was an acceptable replacement for qualified teachers. Yes, these people are experts in their field, but that does not make them experts in classroom management, behavioural management, learning styles or any of the other specialist areas that various teaching professionals receive training in.
My wife and I, both fully qualified teachers with experience of teaching in challenging schools filled with exactly the kind of disaffected pupils featured in the program, quickly came to the conclusion that had Jamie Oliver and the producers asked quality teachers from across the country to lead the subject teaching in the school, free from the restrictions of the National Curriculum and exam syllabuses, they would have grabbed the kids attention straight away.
Watching the lessons that were presented was largely dull. Simon Callow’s Drama/English/Shakespeare lesson largely consisting of him talking to the kids rather than them doing. As an English/Drama teacher, I can say with confidence that any half decent teacher could have come up with a better lesson off the top of his or her head. Indeed, Callow seemed to be winging it, while David Starkey totally ignored the need to adapt his lecture style teaching, seeming surprised when the students showed their disinterest. That he then resorted to verbally abuse to try and gain control shows how dangerous it is putting untrained staff in front of students. Ellen McArthur’s yachting lesson doesn’t count as it was more like a school trip than a proper lesson so the pupils were always going to be more receptive to what was on offer.
It was left to Robert Winston and Rolf Harris to provide active lessons that engaged the students, Robert Winston’s dissection lesson making a few of the students vomit it was so exciting. Rolf Harris, of all the celebrities, was the one who seemed most like a real teacher, reflecting at the end on what went well and what would have improved his lesson, even though, judging from the work produced by the students, his was perhaps the most successful of the early lessons. A pity then that Sam Woollaston in his review of the first episode decided to dismiss his efforts simply on the basis that ‘there’s no getting away from the fact he’s Rolf Harris.’
The producers of the show were never going to go for putting real teachers in front of this class as it would not make such good telly. Sad really, as that’s just what these kids need, teachers to take an interest while providing proper behavioural management and hitting a wide range of learning styles. And its seems I’m not the only one who thinks real teachers, while not necessarily good telly, are exactly what these kids need. In fact I heartily endorse Suzanne Moore’s closing thoughts, themselves largely quoted from Dream School Latin expert, Mary Beard:
The wonderful Mary Beard, who also took part in Dream School, is actually a teacher, albeit at a much higher level, and had the modest aim of getting the kids interested in Latin. Her verdict will not push the right buttons these days. What would have helped these kids the most? “Not, I suspect, a raft of new education initiatives, not any major structural reforms. Just a bit more money in the system . . . to give teachers and kids a bit of space, to fund a little more individual attention, and to pick up those falling through the net.”
That’s not rocket science is it?
No it’s not. More money in schools spent on more teachers and facilites would mean lower class sizes, which would mean more teacher time available for each student which would in turn lead to improved results. No, not rocket science. Not rocket science at all. Fair play to Alistair Campbell, another of Jamie’s faculty, for pointing out on his blog ‘that teaching is hard, really hard, and teachers need support – financial and moral – not endless criticism.’ One thing is certain, it’ll take more than the teaching supergroup assembled for this programme to deal with the complex problems in education today.