’16 and facing the wall’

Mr Oliver has gone outside of his specified remit, as a celebrity chef, in his new series, Jamie’s Dream School.  I know that many teachers will take exception to this project, ‘What does he know about education!’ will be the cry.  Myself, I think the important question that all educators should be asking is being addressed through this programme, How do we inspire all children, not just the minority who find themselves enraptured by the ‘core’ subjects as we know them today?

The basic formula by which this question and others will be asked is simple; 20 teenagers, who have left school without the 5 grade a-c GCSEs that, in today’s currency, mean success, will be taught by some of the great (celebrity) minds that this island has to offer.  Robert Winstone teaches Science; Rolf Harris, Art; Simon Callow, English; David Starkey, History and Ellen MacArthur, a spot of sailing.  These 5 will be joined over the coming weeks by more of their ilk in a number of other fields.

So, how do they do as teachers?  Badly.  Yes, very badly.  With the exception of Dame Ellen, they fail gloriously to engage the pupils in their passions, let alone inspire them.  Let’s not even start on David Starkey’s offensive and disrespectful behaviour.  No, let’s start on it, he bangs on about what he thinks is missing, discipline, but completely misses what these teens really have missed out on, an environment of mutual respect.  They have not had it modelled to them, so why, why I ask you Mr Starkey, should they be expected to show it t a man who starts his lesson by calling them all failure.  However, we all know how these formats work, don’t we?  We start with the big dip so we’ve got plenty of time for the hope to grow.  And I have no doubt, as is customary in Jamie’s programmes, the hope will grow.

The sad truth is that these children and, having said that, teachers are not in the minority.  Mr Oliver higlights the appalling fact that 50% of pupils leave school  at 16 without the magic 5.  And, the unprofessional and bad-mannered, David Starkey is wrong, they are not the failures, our education system failed them.

So what’s the problem?  We could say that parents are failing to instill discipline.  Or perhaps it’s the teachers who failed, consistently throughout these pupils education, to switch them on.  Maybe we should turn to the rise of technology which has left them, in Starkey’s view, unable to focus their minds on one thing.

I would suggest the problem is deeper, that it comes down, not to the parent, teachers, or technology but the very basis of our education system.  Our system is built on a very simple, but out-moded paradigm, success in academia = success in life = top of the pile, failure in academia = failure in life = burger flipper. 

It is interesting that Oliver, a man, who without 5 passes at GCSEs has become an undoubtedly huge success, should be so keen to see the teens engage with some purely academis subjects, such as History.  A product of our system, perhaps, even Jamie sees success through the blinkered eyes of our current paradigm.

A paradigm shift in education is way overdue.  What’s sure is that we won’t see it with the Conservatives new primary curriculum planned for piloting in 2012.

One of the Dream School’s pupils, Angelique, gives, a perhaps unknowingly, shrewd summary of both her own position and the state of education.  ‘How can I be 16 and facing the wall?’  She asks.  How, indeed.


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