Jamie’s Dream School: things get political

My favourite thing about Jamie’s dream school is the same thing that drives teachers and parents: the kids speak their minds. It doesn’t matter if they’re speaking their mind to Jamie Oliver, Alastair Campbell or the prime minister, they don’t stand on ceremony and if they think it they say it.

In the final episode, the students received their final report and loose cannon David Starkey was sensibly teamed with everyone’s favourite youth worker, Jazzie B.  Within seconds, Starkey continued his run of inappropriate comments while repeating Simon Callow’s equally charmless remarks to a student. Now Conor might be a giant gob in a tie but he’s still just a kid and he shrank visibly as Starkey gleefully told him he’d make a great stand up comedian… if he ever turned up on time. Nice. Uncle Jazzie quickly stepped in and told the poor teen that he could do whatever he wanted if he set his mind to it. The grin on Conor’s face said it all as he said, “do you really think so?” The musician then tried to engage Starkey in some intelligent adult dialogue but was bulldozed by the historian who clearly loves the sound of his own voice to the exclusion of all others.

Jazzie B: A+ as usual. A model student.

David Starkey: you’re excluded.

Alastair Campbell was also in trouble. He told a student that she couldn’t come on the visit to Downing Street because she had had an almighty outburst in his class. Campbell likes dishing out the arguments but doesn’t like it when someone argues back. I think he was actually most upset by being called a f****** P**** but it’s nothing most of the country hasn’t thought at one time or another.

Eventually all was sorted out and a remorseful Angelique meekly went along to meet the PM. (By the way, have you noticed that David Cameron’s hairline seems to be sliding inexorably toward the back of his head revealing more and more of his eerily smooth face?)

Conor, Starkey’s nemesis, stated that he felt that our school system was stuck where it was forty years ago.  I think Conor might have a point but this was not explored or debated by the PM as he dismissed the comment out of hand. What a pity. Perhaps the PM could do with listening a little more to those who have just spent most of their lives in the state school system. In fact this goes for all politicians: listen to those who experience the systems you want to change (are you listening, Lansley?)

Once outside Harlem, the most cantankerous of all students and the subject of a stand up row with the headteacher a couple of weeks ago, summed up the visit.

“He listened to the things he wanted to listen to and didn’t listen to the thing she didn’t want to listen to.”

You said it.

Although to be fair it’s probably the same with most senior politicians regardless of political allegiance.

At the end of the programme Lord Jamie of Custard admitted, “ Cor lummy cripes swipe me Mary Poppins, it’s bleedin’ hard being a teacher innit, geezer.” I may have embroidered that a little but the meaning is the same.

I think what he realised was that many teachers are inspirational and energetic but it’s not always easy to teach large mixed classes successfully.

At the end of Dream School we learn that many of the students had given to internships, back to studying or to a course or apprenticeship. Brilliant, I wish them the best of luck in everything they do. If only these amazing opportunities, small group teaching and one to one support was available to all students.

Perhaps that’s what Conor meant when he said that the school system was outdated.

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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