Jamie Oliver’s latest endeavour, Dream School, intrigued me. I was wary of the idea of celebrity experts/amateur teachers and whether they could re-engage some of the 50 per cent of our students who leave school without five good GCSEs.
On the other hand I thought it would be fascinating to see if knowledgeable and successful leaders in their respective fields could inspire students.
Classroom discipline is not so much bad as non-existent. Talking is constant, students freely use mobile phones and laptops and often simply get up and walk out without explanation.
Everyone, from the villain of the piece David Starkey to the ever-friendly Jamie, struggles to bear the constant chattering, interruptions and distractions.
At first glance it is forgivable to take Dr Starkey’s view that these are over-indulged, undisciplined kids in need of proper respect for authority and someone to tell them to sit still, be quiet and do what’s asked of them.
But the behaviour is not confined to the classroom. And it’s not brains these children lack. It’s the basic ability to engage.
The social skills of group conversation, dialogue with another person, absorbing information from one source at a time, have receded before a wave of mobile phones, iPods, TV and video games.
We know better than ever how important the first years, up to age five, are in determining future academic performance. Maybe it’s time to look at how we integrate what were until recently basic social and relationship skills into the first years of learning.
The modern mantra of teaching, espoused by Jamie’s headmaster, is that you have to find a way to engage the student as an individual. But it is more than this.
The average child will start school having heard around 12 million words, but one from a deprived community will have heard only around four million.
In all the reforms politicians want to undertake, encouraging more top talent into the teaching profession and elevating the status of teachers have to be at the top of the list.