Educating Essex’s Mr Drew takes on the government

"I don’t think the government have any idea what they’re talking about" the former Passmores Academy deputy head told RadioTimes.com

We’re used to him dishing out discipline in Channel 4 shows Educating Essex and Mr Drew’s School for Boys – but now Stephen Drew is taking the government to task.

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Speaking to RadioTimes.com yesterday ahead of an education debate at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the former deputy head of Passmores Academy (which was featured in the first Channel 4 Educating… documentary series in 2011) objected to several government education policies, including the promotion of ‘British values’ to schoolchildren.

“I think it’s nonsense, and I don’t think the government have any idea what they’re talking about. They can’t define it, and yet schools are being judged against it,” he said.

Drew, who is now headteacher of Brentwood County High School, added: “I’d like them to try a bit harder to understand the impact they have on schools with their politicking.”

Joining Mr Drew on the Times’ A Good School for All? panel were government minister for education Nick Gibb, Times columnist Caitlin Moran, outgoing Head Master of Eton college Tony Little and Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company. And despite stressing that he believed the government had their hearts in the right place, Mr Drew predicted that he was most likely to cross swords with the man from Westminster.

“I’ve no doubt that Nick Gibb and I will have some very fundamental disagreements about the way education is being managed at the moment,” he said.

He wasn’t wrong – several exchanges between the two men towards the end of the debate became heated after Gibb denied that government policy stifled creativity. Drew disagreed, saying “You are losing creativity in schools, you are!”, before explaining that new English and Maths GCSE changes meant periods were being taken away from the arts, an argument that raised applause from the audience.

Upon Gibb’s angry response, Drew invoked the spirit of former education secretary Michael Gove to defend his opinion. “The moment someone like me challenges what you say, I immediately become, to use your previous boss’ phrase, an ‘enemy of progress’,” he said sternly. Gibb should watch out, or he’ll be straight to detention.

Before his starring role at the debate, Mr Drew also found time to reflect to RadioTimes.com about the TV series that made his name. “Educating Essex was a really interesting phenomenon, in that when we first did it, I don’t think any of us understood what the impact would be and the effect would be… it’s really opened up education.”

And has he watched the sequels, Educating Yorkshire and Educating the East End?

“Yes, I find it very interesting watching it. What’s interesting about both schools, both Yorkshire and the East End, is that I see similarities with my own schools, I see differences – but what I think it fundamentally does is it shows you that what teachers just do day in, day out is they deal with every single problem that’s faced them,” he said.

“They have the eternal sense of hope for young people.”

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Educating the East End is on Channel 4 on Thursday at 9:00pm