Why Jamie’s Dream School works for all the worng reasons

In his new show, Jamie Oliver wants to show education is best when you have inspirational people teaching inspirational things. As pure entertainment, it works quite nicely but as a comment on the current state of schooling in the UK, it falls short. Mikey Matthews has five reasons why.

1) Jamie Oliver
Say what you like about Jamie Oliver but the man is entertaining, and not many people can walk into a room of kids and command their respect straight away but he did. However, some of the things he says are so ridiculous it beggars belief. On meeting the students, he got them onside by telling them they weren’t failures; he is one of them. Then, when debriefing Simon Callow, he described them as feral – yep, feral – before going on to ask what had he got himself into. Are we supposed to believe Jamie was genuinely surprised that the students didn’t just fall into line? He must understand that it takes more than a few funny bearded men to inspire people to learn?

2) David Starkey
Seldom has man, in such a short period of time, managed to come across as so out of touch with the rest of the human race. He may have the entire alphabet after his name; he may have taught in some of the finest institutions in the world; but if you’re trying to inspire someone it’s probably not a good idea to tell them they are big fat failures within five minutes of meeting them. Anyone that has seen Starkey on Question Time will know that he is a caricature but he does makes for great TV. In fact, he was one of the only interesting things about this programme. Every episode from now on should involve Starkey lining the students up and setting them straight, like an erudite Simon Cowell, with insightful comments like “your sovereign ring is so big it could well have belonged to a former sovereign” or “you’re not listening to me so you must be a witch”.

3) Simon Callow’s beard
A truly wondrous sight. Goatee in style, short in length; nothing special you might think – aside from the fact it looked like he’d Pritt-Sticked a skunk’s back onto the bottom of his face. It was literally half jet back and half white. What they should have done is structured an entire lesson around that: famous beards from history; the beard’s influence around the world, that kind of thing. And if they didn’t like that, he could have just made up any old shit – the whole class would have been so distracted by his confusingly-hued chin warmer they wouldn’t have absorbed any of it anyway.

4) The pig guts
The dissection was probably the highlight of my week – you don’t often get to see a pig being cut up with a bandsaw until its entrails gush out all over the table. It was like watching Eli Roth’s Hostel, just without all the pot smoking and naked girls… both frowned upon in schools, apparently.

5) The students
I love them all already. I was worried that they would be starstruck and just sit and absorb everything they were told. However, within minutes of meeting Simon Callow, my worries disappeared – they had no idea who he was. Jamie may consider him one of the best actors in the world but, as they clearly hadn’t seen Thunderpants, these kids just saw some old bloke and described him as “proper posh”. Credit where it’s due, though: when Callow was confronted with one girl’s confusion over the location of Shakespeare Stratford he just nodded and agreed – Starkey would have placed her in the stocks. Henry won my heart over everyone else. When offered the chance to go sailing with Ellen McArthur he begrudgingly agreed to go, even though he already had plans that weekend. I’ve never really understood the popularity of the whingeing globe-circumnavigator – stand her up Henry, mate, stick to your plans.

*This was originally posted yesterday for the blog www.theweekinlists.com. I will be writing regularly for The Week in Lists but not on subjects that directly relate to politics. I have posted this here as it follows quite nicely with previous posts on education.

Back in the Gove

“Are you really saying to young people and employers today that dead languages are more important than business studies, engineering, ICT, music and RE?,”

Andy Burnham asked this question in the Commons on Monday. As a teacher, these are the type of questions that we want answered. This was the response from Michael Gove;

“I am surprised you have the brass neck to stand here and say working-class children shouldn’t study modern foreign languages, shouldn’t study science, shouldn’t study history and shouldn’t study geography”.

Now correct me if I’m wrong but Burnham wasn’t saying that working class children shouldn’t study modern languages, science, history or geography for that matter.

Maybe Gove is confused? Maybe in his world latin or biblical hebrew are modern languages. Languages that are at the cutting edge of business in this modern age? Maybe we missed the Apple launch of the next generation of iPad with dual dictionary capability? The dual dictionary that not only predicts english spellings but also latin? Steve Jobs was heard uttering the words Carpe diem as he showed off his new toy?

Burnham was making a legitimate point about the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Not once have I heard an opposition MP complain that those aforementioned subjects weren’t important, or shouldn’t be studied by working class children. The complaint is that the process of introducing such a measure as the EBACC was so fudged, that it wasn’t fair to schools or students. Students that are being judged against something they had no control over since they took their options 2 years prior whilst in year 9.

The other complaint now, is that, just with BSF, Gove is once again not listening to people at the coal face. Questions have been raised about the modern importance of subjects such as ICT, business studies, engineering, etc. Those legitimate questions have been cynically manipulated to argue that you can’t have have both sets of subjects. It’s the old Bushism, you’re either with Gove or you’re against him. You either believe that ICT is worthwhile and hebrew isn’t. In which case you some how think that working class children are thick. His axis of evil seems to consist of business studies, ICT, engineering and subjects considered ‘vocational’.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of those subjects and how they are as much academic as they are vocational; or even comment on the fact that having a vocation is somehow now wrong. A child can study any subject that they want to. I know of schools that offer 2 GCSE options in year 9, again in year 10 and once more in year 11. The school timetable can be altered to fit everything in.

My major gripe is once again levelled at Gove. No one is saying that history, geography, science, english, maths, french or german aren’t important. But that’s the argument he seems to want to have. When is he going to answer the question about latin having more importance than ICT? Maybe he can’t? Maybe he should Ask Jeeves, maybe he should search on Wikipedia? Maybe he should seize the day and answer the bloody question?

Gove needs to work on his defero, Burnham is adept at asking the questions that should see Gove put firmly in his locus.

Top Trumps – Labour Leadership 2010

September 1st 2010 is a significant date in the diary for many reasons. For most schools in Britain it heralds the start of the new academic year. It marks the 25th anniversary of the wreckage of the Titanic being discovered. Uzbekistanis celebrate the 19th year of independence from the former Soviet Union. For Ed, Ed, Dave, Andy and Diane the 1st of September takes on a special significance as it marks the day in which the Labour leadership ballot begins to drop. Throughout the month, Labour party members will be voting in their thousands until the 25th when the results are announced.

Regular readers of the blog will know that this isn’t the first time I’ve strayed from the subject of the coalition. As I’ve stated before you can’t separate the coalition from the Labour leadership election because the winner will have a direct impact on the success or failure of the Con-Dems. If the correct candidate is elected, then they will have the challenge of trying to form a credible opposition.

When I was growing up, my friends and I used to argue about who would win in a fight…who would win between Optimus Prime & Megatron; Dalglish & Kendall; Stallone & Schwarzenegger; Thatcher & Kinnock (ok I made that last one up). Optimus was a truck but Megatron was a plane; Kendall had Sharp but Dalglish had Rush; Stallone had Rocky but Schwarzenegger had The Terminator; Kinnock had Hattersly but Thatcher had Tebbit. We loved nothing more than debating the minute details of each opponent. Sometimes we would fall onto the statistical debating cards, Top Trumps, to assist us.

Well, in a throwback to those salad days, my friends and I were in the pub the other day sharing stories of our complicated lives. During one of our discussions, two of my more troubled friends started to debate the leadership election. As the debate grew to include all of the table, it became clear that we all seemed to share different views of the candidates.  One area where we were all in agreement was on the importance this election has on the country. We just couldn’t agree on how best to judge the candidates…who would win? David has more support from MPs but his brother has the overwhelming support of the Unions; Diane is a woman, the rest all look the same; Well, just for fun, I’ve made these cards to help me choose and I hope they help you decide…the Cameron card is also included in the pack. (Cards not to be used for serious debate…watch out for the ‘special’ election reform referendum pack soon).

Ed 'I'm not David' Miliband

Ed 'I almost lost my seat' Balls

Diane 'I'm a woman' Abbott

Andy 'I'm northern' Burnham

David 'I'm not Tony but by god I want to be' Cameron

David 'I'm not Tony or Gordon' Miliband