Thursday, 3 March 2011

Jamie's Nightmare School

Love Jamie. He's great. Have (most of) his books. The cheat's banoffee pie is a current favourite, as is the grilled salmon. Do I have a problem with the fact he is now trying to 'save education'. Not really. He's a TV person, fundamentally. Jamie's Dream School isn't a real school, it's a TV show about education. And really, if he isn't going to make a mainstream TV hit out of the problems faced in schools every day, who is?

After the first episode I felt a little cheated. TV's own reliance on TV people hurt the format and destroyed any chance that the experiment, if that is what it was, could actually be valuable in itself. Rolf Harris, lovely man, is not a trained educator. Nor is Simon Callow nor David Starkey.

Ah, yes, Starkey. He was completely in the wrong to call that large boned, genetically challenged boy 'fat'. Of course he was. But what I found interesting was the headmaster's response to that 'crisis'. (This is a made up school, isn't it, can't it just have its own made up rules and have it so everyone gets called fat?)

The headmaster watched a tape of the incident and established what we already knew - that Starkey had cast the first stone. (Starkey makes a living out of casting the first stone. Did you hear him on R4's Any Questions lately?) The headmaster then started wringing his hands and warned that a disciplinary process might be called for.

Of course, he was right. But was it just editing that caused us to have the impression that the headmaster wasn't at all bothered with the way the children had behaved in that class, either before or after 'fat' was uttered by a man with more qualifications than those children have sent text messages.

The phones were going. The chatter was constant. Girls were nipping out for a chat. The boys were rolling their eyes.

Starkey was like a rabbit in the headlights, utterly unable to cope with what was happening to him. He was being run over by a 20 teen truck. He is, as Jamie pointed out, a man who expects to be listened to. He'd brought with him £30 million's worth of ancient Britain bling, but the kids couldn't have been less impressed. They hardly gave it a glance.

Actually, I felt sorry for him. But as he himself pointed out, it's the kids who are really being harmed. Their lack of discipline has left them incapable of learning.

Apparently the kids do go on a positive journey in this programme. Many of them get the wake up call needed and look set to rejoin the education process (they were all chosen because, like 50 per cent of their contemporaries they failed to gain the five basic gcses needed to go on to A level).

But will the programme influence government, decision makers or teachers - including those like the TV head who seem more interested in teacher behaviour than that of the kids? Don't bet on it.


  1. I spent several years training in the 'advanced driving' that 20 kid truck. Unlike medicine or accountancy, where the skills are clearly different to everyday, people (and the media) often assume that training as a teacher is purely to do with subject and woolly phrases like 'inspiration'. With teaching, it's more like training as a dancer: a lot of graft and it looks easy. Before you get to that point, a teacher needs training on classroom management. In plain speak, keeping things orderly by disciplining misbehaviour and rewarding good behaviour: it doesn't have any flash tricks or jargon, it's hard graft and requires brains, emotional sensitivity AND toughness. Without it, even a genius will struggle in a room of 20 kids.

    Starkey lashed out because he was being challenged without adiquate support or practical training- he was used to being 'the big man' and listened to and felt suddenly humiliated; interestingly, why many students lash out too. Good school discipline is about ensuring that students and teachers know the rules and not only obey but use them to their advantage. An icy glance from me and the class falls quiet, because they KNOW that if they continue there will be a discipline measure (fair, possibly merely a lost breaktime or negative mark) - because I have that skill, I don't need to shout or humiliate, and the room is calm and productive.

    Every good teacher knows, you start by creating a positive environment (disciplined, calm) then start to teach. The calm room is worth much, much more than however many millions worth of blingy gadgets.

  2. Great points, thanks Perdita. Did at one point consider teaching as a career -- but doubt I would have had the patience.