Monday, 21 March 2011

Jamie's Dream School Success or Failure?

From what I've seen to date I don't think the Dream School is working. We are now three shows in. It has not penetrated my psyche that much. Jamie Oliver says, in the show's intro, that the aim is to engage the kids. The principle is that the pupils will learn and behave differently when working under the giddy influence of celebrity and of fandom and the such.

The attention being lavished on this group of young people, not just by the media, is alien to them. Surely the view that a few lessons delivered by high profiled academics and a handful of celebrities will not go any way to compensate for twelve years of poor schooling.

The idea of a dream school should be a place where education is happening, but the pupils are not necessarily aware that lessons are taking place. Oliver has gained a good reputation for his philanthropic work, but seems to have misjudged things this time. Like Oliver, my interest is how creativity can channel education and I'm sure he set out with this principle in mind when the idea first came about, but unfortunately he has failed to grasp that someone who is an expert, or has gained fame in a particular field of work, is not necessarily a good teacher.

The environment of Jamie's Dream School has a controlling element that dominates. Oliver dips and ducks in when sessions are running and sits quietly and obediently at the back of the class. The more formal subjects are pre-planned and leader led. There is no scope that allows for self discovery or for the receiving of unopinionated explanations from the so called 'teachers', some who at times court their over-inflated egos behind fake smiles.The atmosphere is tense. The kids are lectured about such things as self discipline and the negativity of those who live their lives without purpose - heavy stuff. The settings are clinical, uninspiring classrooms mostly. The biosphere being one exception, but the novelty of being inside one of these quickly waned; as the pupils were simply hell bent on getting out and having a smoke. The young girl who lasted the duration was exploited I felt, because she was overly-awarded and was used to prove a point to the others - very naughty. 

Then there's the vexed question as to why the programme's researchers/makers think that equipping the young people with computers and that the use of visual aids and multimedia in the lessons as if this is something the pupils may not be used to. I'm sure they are actually. And are the makers aware that artists are often employed to go in to schools across the UK to run drama, dance, poetry, creative writing, sculpture, or visual art sessions that help with conceptual and practical responses to curriculum and extra-curriculum subjects? And that teachers are often out of school with pupils visiting places of interest, where there is chance for them to see and handle historical artefacts. The researchers should know too that such items are often loaned to schools free of charge.

As a home educator, a community project worker, reviewer and writer of this educational focused blog, I do much observing. I'm someone who will scream from the rafters about the need for schools to change because teaching methods aren't all that different from when Oliver went to school in the 80s, and from when I went to school in the 70s, probing back even further some methods aren't much different from Victorian Britain and before. Nevertheless, I am sure, that little vignettes of the 21st century must have reached most schools, even the schools that have been run down in areas that are strapped for cash, and also the failing schools. The education of children in mainstream has been enhanced, be it in varying degrees, by these kinds of progressive approaches to teaching. The use of visual and aural aids and kinetic activities in stimulating settings has been a fashion that has perpetrated in recent years. We need more of it, of course! And how things are looking with council cuts we'll probably get less. Nevertheless the programme's makers and Oliver too, are wrong to think they are offering something new and imaginative, although I, for one, wished they/he were.  The best and most inspirational part of this Channel 4 programme was the piece of animate work on the programme's advertisement.

I realise now what a pioneer my primary school teacher, Mr Theodore was when he urged us, in class, to listen to Fleetwood Mac's Albatross and allow the wave like crashes of the music to wash over us, while sitting with our heads on the desk tops and our eyes closed. Eat your heart out Jack Black! And on the subject of the film School of Rock...well that is the idea of a dream school in a kid's mind. Shame this kind of notion cannot translate into reality.

The kids in Dream School were not particularly captured by the vibe during the poetry/music lesson with Tinchy Stryder and Andrew Motion; after the rap music was played, emotions had not been stirred, so they were explained and weakly bebated instead. It was excruciating to watch. Saying that, it is my view that those who work in the creative industries are experiencing the better successes there, apart from Robert Winston who I think is just great, I'm using the level of positive responses and engagement of the participants to measure this.

I hope we see evidence of Oliver taking his concept forward and him not being afraid to experiment further with this project. Lastly, I really hope the ending I see on the cards for this, is not one that I am presently predicting, and will save me from sneering at Oliver's involvement in such a poor show - give him his dues he is usually bright as a button, extremely motivating and persuasive, and it will be disappointing for him if this time his well intentioned efforts prove to be in vain.

1 comment:

  1. After engaging in conversation threads on this subject, I'd like to emphasize that there is no doubt that funding for the arts over the last 6 years or so, has directly benefited many schoolchildren across the UK, likewise, so has government expenditure on computer equipment etc. So in that respect certain elements of schooling has improved in recent years. So I think the Dream School is not really offering anything that different - What it is doing is highlighting all that is wrong with schooling, which in itself is not a bad thing, but I don't think this was the intention when the programme was devised. Perhaps a different title and a different spin would have served it better.


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