Classroom Secrets: it’s all work, work, work

BBC1 programme Classroom Secrets is a clever idea: stick some cameras in a Year Four (eight and nine year olds) classroom and invite the parents to watch the results. Maybe we should do this for every child. It was interesting how one set of parents thought their moppet would be quiet and diligent in class. He wasn’t. And how another believed their daughter was probably being led astray by other children. She wasn’t.

I can’t count the number of times in the past when I’ve said I was deputy head of a primary school and had the response, ‘Oh how sweet! That must be fun. Not like working with teenagers.’

No, not like teaching teenagers (I’ve done both) but different. In the past, along with other colleagues, I’ve taught small children who have bitten, screamed, sulked, ran off, hidden and kicked and it’s not always easy to get the parents to support their children.

One aspect of behaviour that emerged in the programme was that fact that children came into school tired on a Monday morning and not able to concentrate. We’re then shown a child eating a croissant slathered in Nutella for breakfast in front of the TV. That’s an awful lot of quick release sugar for a child’s breakfast resulting in a peak of energy followed by a dip and lack of concentration in class.

Too much sugar for a child's schools day breakfast!

But these are issues that every school has to deal with. It’s important to engage parents and children in learning about healthier lifestyles. This includes the importance of a good balanced breakfast based on the eat-well plate and why sleep is so important (the NHS recommend ten hours a night for a nine year old child.) It’s also important for schools to support parents in how to manage their child’s behaviour. Parents can’t be expected to know all the answers. Unless children are well rested, healthy and safe they will always struggle with their Latin. Are you listening Mr. Gove?

And the outcome? The parents were able to see exactly what their children were like at school and they and the teachers began to understand each other better.  The teacher changed her behaviour management style in class and the parents put their kids to bed earlier. Result all round.

Ps I’m not commenting further on the teaching and behaviour management of  that schools as I’m sure there will be enough comments elsewhere…but please stop going on about work, work, work.

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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