Jamie’s Dream School

You have to hand it to old Jamie Oliver: he’s not shy about a challenge. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first episode of Dream School but gave in and tuned in for the second helping. So what does Saint Jamie of School Dinner know about running a school? Well, nothing but he’s well known for having an incredibly successful career following an incredibly unsuccessful school career so he can empathise with the students who have also failed at, or been failed by, school. When it came to his cooking lesson he made a good fist of it (B+). Others were not so lucky.

 David Starkey, privileged, highly intelligent and passionate about his topic wasn’t a huge success. In fact his behaviour was such that, were he a newly qualified teacher in an ordinary school, he’s have been in serious trouble. Calling a kid ‘fat’ and then whining that he didn’t start it is not very professional or indeed mature. Jamie, bless his little turkey twizzlers, handled Starkey incredibly well and although the historian insisted that the students were ‘feral’, Oliver didn’t give up and got him back in the classroom. Mark: F. See me.

 Alastair Campbell equally came a cropper. After humbly showing the class a TV clip of himself in pitbull mode and talking about how fabulous and brilliant he was, he got the students debating. Except it wasn’t proper debating with the proper debating rules that most schools use. The rules are there for a reason: they stop the discussion from becoming a bun fight where anyone can join in. More importantlly, it also stops the debate becoming personal. Campbell’s debate ended up being very personal and a student walked out in tears. Mark: D- (at least he didn’t call any of them fat.)

 Jazzie B of Soul ll Soul fame ran a brilliant music class. He didn’t assume that the students would love him because he was famous. He didn’t assume that his topic would be inalienably interesting to all of them. He praised their efforts and challenged them to do more. He established good behaviour and maintained it consistently. This is a man who obviously knows teens and knows how to capture their interest. Mark: A+

 Photographer Rankin also had a good connection with the students and drew the best out of them and, as with Jazzie B, he didn’t assume that he was the star of the show. Mark: A

 Teaching isn’t as easy as it might seem.

 A lot of comment on the programme has focussed on the poor behaviour and attitudes of the students so I’d like to say a word in their defence. The voiceover told us that several of these kids had been rejected by their chaotic families and were living in council flats alone. Now imagine being rejected by those you love, being alone and vulnerable and not seeing much of a future for yourself beyond alcohol, drugs and the job centre. There’s no one in the world who will stand up for you or to be on your side.

 Now, are you ready to get yourself up in the morning, go to class, sit still, listen and learn?

 And what happens to thes youngsters once the programme finishes and all the fuss has died down? I can only hope that the producers will continue to support the students and that the celebrities might find it in their hearts and busy schedules to be there for them.

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Spending cuts: how much do they know?

I’m running a series of briefings for teachers about the future of our services and what they need to be doing right now. We were about to launch a really exciting new phase of projects in school but of course, this has now been changed and we’re still waiting to see what the replacement will look like.

Sprinkle liberally

 I planned to talk about these changes and link them to the wider picture in education by talking about the white paper. I had an emergency PowerPoint on the white paper courtesy if the DfE but I thought the teachers would know what was in it and I’d only need to chat briefly about it.

 Wrong.

 ‘So who’s read the white paper then,’ I asked cheerily.

 Silence.

 ‘Who knows the things in the white paper that will affect your day to day working life?’

 A tumbleweed rolled by.

 So I spent more time than I intended on informing the group about the white paper and how it will affect their schools: changes in behaviour management, a greater focus on bullying and synthetic phonics (luckily the two are not inter-related), exclusions, academies and free schools. Their head teachers are probably well-informed but sometimes the infromation doesn’t always filter down to the class teachers.

 The other aspect of the changes they weren’t entirely aware of were the cuts in local authority staff. My lot know that my post has been deleted but I don’t think they yet realise the implications of this. When they need me they pick up the phone and ask or drop me e-mail and I help to the best of my abilities. It’s my job.

 A head teacher phoned me this morning and explained that some of her parents were very anxious about a certain policy the school had just redeveloped and how she wasn’t sure what to do.

 ‘Would you like me to come and run a workshop for your parents?’ I said.

 ‘You’ve just sprinkled magic fairy dust over my day!’ she replied.

 I think this means she was pleased. And it solves everyone’s problems: the parents are reassured and informed, the staff can get back to teaching and I’ve got the knowledge at my fingertips to run sessions like these.

 It will be interesting to see how schools react when they don’t have the support of staff  whose job it is to translate government policy, share their expertise with schools and be there for them. Sometimes just for a chat and a bit of support and maybe to sprinkle a little fairy dust on someone’s day.

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