Like a moth to a flame, it’s difficult not to be drawn to a programme where someone shouts “You’re a p***k, mate” at Alastair Campbell in the first few minutes. Welcome to Jamie’s Dream School – it’s “infotainment” Oliver-style, hold on to your frying pans, it’s going to be a rough ride.
Not content with just training up new chefs, killing the turkey twizzler and telling Americans they’re too fat, Jamie’s latest foray into television campaigning sees him hanging up his whites and starting a school for, well, kids who don’t like school.
I must confess, Jamie and I have something in common – we both went to the same school, Newport Free Grammar School in a leafy village near Saffron Walden in Essex.
He left the “state comprehensive system” (which is rather a dramatic way of describing his time at a quite well-to-do educational institution with 423 years’ history) with just two GCSEs. The system failed him…today he’s a multi-millionaire celebrity.
I left the very same school (albeit a few years later) with ten GCSEs, and I am neither a celebrity, nor a millionaire.
Huh? Now that’s a conundrum. Surely, if education is so important I should be five times richer and more celebrated than my schoolmate…yet more evidence that TV lies.
Silliness aside, Jamie’s Dream School is a compelling punt along a river of teen angst, propelled by more than a hint of misguided celebrity do-gooding. It’s entertaining, but just what it hopes to achieve is something quite different.
The concept is simple. Can “famous experts” inspire young people who have until now refused to learn by “teaching whatever they like, however they like”? The answer is…you would have thought so, but on the evidence of episode one, maybe not.
However, you have to ask yourself, even if the programme conclusively proves that a weekend boating with Ellen MacArthur or rapping with Tinchy Stryder is more appealing to young people than double maths with Mrs Meadows, what is the practical application of this hard-mined TV gold?
Schools (mine and Jamie’s included) could be improved, there’s no doubt. Everyone agrees that young people should learn that the pursuit of truth and knowledge are valuable and rewarding in their own right, right?
I concede that the 20 kids involved in this six-week Dream School should a) have a bloody good time and b) think differently about life after lectures (and at times abuse – see the fat comment in ep 1) from David Starkey and lessons of political cunning from difficult Campbell.
But how is this project scalable?
With Jamie’s School Dinners, there was an end game; better meals with more nutrients in every school in the country. It was simple, common sense…and, more importantly, it was achievable.
But with the Dream School, where do we go after six weeks? Clone Simon Callow and make him teach every English class in the UK? Get Daley Thompson to hop, skip and jump between schools all day every day for the rest of his natural life?
Of course, Jamie and the programme-makers would argue that my facetious comments miss the point of the show. This is about highlighting how inspirational teachers can change lives.
To borrow a phrase, which was popular in the schoolyard Jamie and I shared – “no s**t, Sherlock”.
The truth is this “anything goes” education policy, so ardently supported by celebrity rent-a-quotes, is a recipe (something that Jamie should understand) for yet more division – the complete opposite of what it sets out to achieve.
“Teach what you like how you like” might work when your teacher’s Professor Robert Winston (or even a middle-class eccentric at a leafy Essex school), but when you’re at a second-rate inner-city academy with a disillusioned teacher who’s got a third-class degree from the University of Nowhere, do you really think you’re going to be inspired without some form of prescribed structure in place?
By all means, highlight the plight of overworked, underfunded teachers and campaign for better facilities and new courses…but Jamie’s Dream School doesn’t really do that.
After the TV cameras are switched off, the famous faces leave and the production company have taken their profits…the show leaves the viewer entertained (I think Jamie makes great telly) but somewhat empty.
Hats off to your previous projects, but sadly this time, Jamie, I think seriously changing the education system may have to remain just a dream.