I'm not sure it's a good idea for teachers to watch Jamie Oliver's new series, "Jamie's Dream School", but it has proved too compelling not to. This isn't because it is showcasing particularly good teaching that would make us all feel inferior, but because it is indulging 20 GCSE drop-outs in the belief that formal education still has something to offer them. On the evidence of the first two programmes - it hasn't.
I know I'm privileged as a teacher, teaching motivated, decent, interesting and generally well behaved students whose worst offence is usually a bit of over the top banter or mis-placed comedy. I've a real fear that the 20 students in this programme might, however, be more representative of the average school student. They are a disaster area - so totally self-obsessed that they are unable to sit for a moment without resort to mobile phones, incessant chat, computer games and a general refusal to acknowledge that they need to listen to anyone other than their own banal selves. They can't surely be real - they must be actors, mustn't they?!
The man who tried to provide the most formal lesson, historian David Starkey, had a nightmare, admittedly due in part to an ill-judged comment about one boy's 'fatness'. When he returned to the classroom, his most successful gambit was to show them a video of themselves trying to joust. Significantly, the most successful lesson in the programme so far appears to have been the artist Rankin giving them the project of creating a self-portrait. So let's continue to indulge their already overweening belief that the world revolves around them and their remarkaby limited ideas. There isn't much evidence for Jamie Oliver's assertion that they're all 'bright as buttons'. If they were wouldn't they have already recognised the value of at least some of their education in previous schools?
The students have even been given a role-model in self-obsession. Their politics teacher is none other than Alastair Campbell, who helpfully showed them the video of his own ill-tempered exchange with Adam Boulton on Sky last election, and then promoted a valueless but aggressive discussion between two teenagers that eventually resulted in a minor physical stand-off outside the classroom. Al's definitely teaching them politics the New Labour way!
It's bad education and tells us little about how to engage determinedly disaffected youths, but it's good television and perhaps reminds us that knowledge is very different from entertainment and is hard won by a bit of sacrificial grind. I doubt that's going to feature in any of their lessons.