DREAM SCHOOL: A RETHINK

I posted recently a piece entitled “Dream School and Real School”, about a radio interview I’d heard with one of Jamie Oliver’s “Dream School” pupils. I tweeted too: how cutting-edge am I?

Based on what seemed to be encouraging evidence of a turnaround in the attitudes and self-belief of this particular “problem pupil”, I thought that good old Jamie had found yet another successful formula; that’s why I wrote: “Dream School rules”.

I did however admit in my blog that I hadn’t yet seen any of the programmes. I have now corrected the omission, watching most of the last episode. That was enough to make me feel that my enthusiasm might have been misplaced.

A Coren summing-up

 

Victoria Coren, writing in The Observer last Sunday (17 April), summed the series up superbly and I could not improve on what she wrote. Admittedly, anyone with the surname Coren starts with a credit balance in my book, as I was and remain a massive fan of her dad’s writing. I’m glad to see that Alan Coren’s brilliant torch has been passed on safely.

Coren jr. ended her piece thusly: “The vaguely happy ending wasn’t enough to undo the message of the previous six weeks. Half the kids were still interrupting, swearing and self-justifying. The cleverest girl, who had won a science trip to Arizona, a further education scholarship and a tour of Cambridge University with an encouraging David Starkey, is now, we learned, ‘auditioning for TV dramas’. What sort of conclusion are we supposed to draw from that?

 

“… let’s strive to remember that it didn’t actually prove anything and was just a piece of weird entertainment.”

Alf Garnett stares back

Ms Coren clearly watched all six episodes but then she was paid to do so. I feel for her. Despite that fact that she was writing here in a newspaper that I’m sure would describe itself as left of centre, she said: “after each episode, I looked into the mirror and Alf Garnett stared back”.

(NB: If you are not a Brit, or not old enough to remember him, Alf Garnett was the fictional epitome of reactionary attitudes)

Want to know more?

To read Victoria Coren’s excellent article “Jamie’s dream was a nightmare”, go to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/17/victoria-coren-jamie-oliver-catherine-zeta-jones?INTCMP=SRCH

(That’s not just a suggestion: it’s an order!)

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DREAM SCHOOL AND REAL SCHOOL

Jamie Oliver’s latest initiative, “Dream School”, sounds interesting, though I admit I haven’t seen any of the programmes yet. His personality, energy and high profile have ensured the involvement of all those “experts”: people with not only exceptional levels of knowledge but also the time to give the 1:1 attention that many “troubled” children inevitably lack at school.

Teenage nightmare rehabilitated?

A couple of days ago, I tweeted about an interview with former “problem pupil” Angelique Knight on Radio 4’s You and Yours. “Dream School rules”, was my conclusion. The findings were unsurprising to me but encouraging. Unless she was no more than an accomplished actor, Angelique had changed in a short time from a teenage nightmare to a motivated young person who now wants to go to university.

“So what?” you might say. Is this just a neat way to get TV ratings? A country mile from what can be achieved in a practical sense? Resource constraints will never allow this kind of thing, or anything like it? As the saying goes, “You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment” although I do admit to being pretty impressed when I heard that interview with Angelique Knight.

Real-world school on show

I was even more impressed recently when I saw one small snapshot of what a difference good leadership can make in schools. I was staying overnight at a hall of residence at the London School of Economics (LSE, to us Brits) and when I went down to breakfast the dining hall was half-full of schoolchildren on a study trip; it was university vacation time, so they, and I, were taking advantage of the good-value accommodation such halls offer.

These kids were of primary school age; animated, not Ritalin-sedated, but so well-behaved that I admit to thinking (please forgive my former prejudices) that they must be from a fee-paying school. It’s a well-known fact that discipline is an issue / challenge (we don’t say problem anymore, do we?) in many British state-sector schools, even at primary level.

But not all schools. Suddenly I heard an adult voice raised, in a quietly authoritative tone: “Sit down! How dare you embarrass the school by your behaviour!” Silence reigned again. We random adults looked at each other and smiled; this took many of us back to our own schooldays.

Primary school rules

I went over to a table occupied by half a dozen teachers and congratulated them on the kids’ behaviour. One said: “well, these are pretty tired kids.” That’s when I found they were from a state-sector primary: Southill Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, and I talked briefly to the Deputy Head, the man who had laid (or is it lain?) down the law.

After the kids had left (in an orderly fashion) I noticed the same guy going round and thanking all the dining-hall and kitchen staff. That impressed me too, as it seemed to be consistent: show respect to kids and to adults alike and with luck you get it back.

As I said before, it was only a snapshot; but it showed what can be done, even without Channel 4’s budget and the presence of TV cameras. I don’t know anything about the academic results of Southill Primary School but I’ll bet they are pretty good.

Ideal vs. real

In conclusion: hats off to Southill. It’s inspiring to find out what could be done in an ideal world, through projects like Dream School. It’s even better to see people who seem to be doing it in the real world.

Want to know more?

Southill Primary School: http://www.southill.dorset.sch.uk/index.html

Jamie Oliver’s “Dream School”: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamies-dream-school

TWO DAUGHTERS A RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS

I’ve just read in “The Week” (9 April) that it’s been claimed that having two daughters is the key to a happy life. According to research, ” … two daughters get on well with each other and with their parents …”

All I can add is that I hope they didn’t spend too much money on this research because I could have given them the information free of charge, based admittedly on a very small sample.

I am a very happy man. I have two daughters. QED.

My two daughters are quite different in temperament and talents and have followed qute different paths – one a junior doctor, one an actor and singer – but they not only get on well; each is the other’s biggest fan (biggest fan after me, that is).  I rest my case.

Beware of the croc

I recently spent a fun afternoon wearing my actor’s hat, filming a commercial here in Bristol. I was playing an “older gent” sitting in a retirement home in Fishponds (a very nice one, by the way; I’m putting my name down) and extolling to my “son” the virtues of a new auction website, through which I had just bought the large flat-screen TV on the wall behind me.

Suddenly I am attacked by a giant crocodile. That was to be expected, of course, as the auction site is called crocbids. I’m knocked backwards out of my chair and I end up underneath the crocodile, arms and legs waving feebly.

Of course I wasn’t really knocked out of my chair, because for the first time in my life I had a body-double. They could in fact have put a disclaimer on the advert: “no elderly gents, or actors playing elderly gents, were harmed during the making of this advert.”

The finished product will be shown on Sky channels soon but I’m not sure when. If you’d like to see the commercial, though, it’s called “Crocbids Vs Retirement” and it’s on YouTube, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYsNW9QRiSY

For the record, and for my thanks, I was cast by Kate Marshall of Room3 Agency and the production company was Lightworx.