As the old saying goes, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
Of course the problem with this saying is that it disregards the inert skill and years of training that goes into becoming a good teacher; simply trying and failing in an industry doesn’t make a person capable of teaching. And the same mistake seems to be being made by our trying-to-change-the-world chef of the week, Jamie Oliver, in Channel 4’s Jamie’s Dream School.
It’s too early to guess whether or not the series’ ambling eventual revelation is going to be that actually, teaching is a pretty specialist and under-appreciated profession, but for now Jamie is out to prove that being taught by experts is the answer to all of education’s problems. Twenty teenagers who have been chewed up and spat out by Britain’s education system, and have failed to achieve the minimum standard of five GCSEs at grade C or above, are enrolling in the Dream School to be educated by experts in their field. Yep, you’ve guessed it – ‘expert’ equals ‘celebrity’.
The list of these celebrity teachers is impressively wide-ranging, not that the students are in any way fazed by them. Simon Callow is teaching English and Drama, Rolf Harris is on Art, Robert Winston is doing Biology and Ellen MacArthur is teaching – wait for it – Expeditions. The idea is that by introducing new and exciting subjects to the syllabus a passionate spark for learning will be ignited in these young people, which rightly goes to highlight the limitations of our current academically-exclusive schooling system which has no room for the practically-minded. But a few days of sailing with world record-breaking MacArthur doesn’t go down too well with student Henry who, in typical unenthusiastic teenage style, had wanted to do something non-descript that weekend instead.
The rotten egg of the box is History teacher David Starkey, a no doubt highly-respected Cambridge academic who is used to the eager ears of high-flying university students. With the old-fashioned idea that schools ought to be tough and ruthlessly disciplined, his first announcement to his class of budding pupils is to remind them all that they’re failures. Second is to call a boy fat. Starkey might have a PhD from Cambridge under his belt but understanding the basics of common sense and good manners are apparently too complex for his narrow, snooty mind. It goes without saying that he loses any ounce of respect from the get-go and his lacklustre lesson is too sterile to regain. But it’s the headmaster (the only real ‘teacher’ in the whole show) who sees sense, rather than Jamie, saying that in the real world Starkey’s behaviour would be grounds for dismissal, to which the irate Starkey responds by throwing in the towel and denouncing an entire generation as failures unable to pay attention.
Of course, teaching teenagers is no mean feat, as Simon Callow sighs with exhaustion and Rolf Harris aptly expresses his disappointment in not being able to give the necessary level of attention to all twenty students. But as the programme makers fail to point out small but important details like the fact that state school teachers have to manage classes of over thirty, it becomes increasingly obvious that Jamie’s Dream School is a rose-tinted view of the world, with misdirected criticisms and no real intention of trying to improve or re-jig Britain’s education system.
But I don’t have time to worry about that – I’ve got a whole list of averagely non-descript things I want to do with Henry this week.