Jamie’s Dream School – what do make of it?

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Jamie's Dream School

We were away in South Africa last week when Jamie Oliver’s new Dream School programme aired on Channel 4.

As a former Deputy Head and Class Teacher for 22 years before changing direction into writing, broadcasting and parent coaching I found it fascinating.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter will remember a rant I had about poor behaviour, low school morale and disaffected kids after a day I spent  doing my ” Beat Bullying ! Confidence Classes for Kids” Workshop in Catford and in Crystal Palace.

I’ve taught in tough inner city areas and in deprived areas like  New Addington, as well as in private schools so I’ve had quite a wide variety of experiences over the years, so I find Jamie’s idea to be fascinating.

Watching people who are recognised as experts in their field struggle to engage kids is excruciating, frustrating and just goes to prove NOT all people can teach or engage kids, but I really admire them for having a go – particularly David Starkey who made a massive mistake to call a teenager “fat” yet had the courage and bravery to go back in to have another go.

Watching the student and Starkey apologise showed a largeness of spirit on both sides.

These young people have not had the best starts in life and you can see they lack confidence, self esteem, self respect, and direction.

They lack concentration, boundaries, good manners and the mobile phones, laptops and technology drives me mad !

Kids need firm, fair, consistent boundaries before you can teach them but that really does take time, commitment and patience so I’ll be watching with real interest to see how things develop over time.

It takes time for a teacher and student to know, trust and respect each other – it’ll be all about give and take on both sides.

It’s also about giving the students aspirations, higher expectations of themselves and a true fundamental belief in themselves that their past does NOT equal their future.

They will need support, encouragement and help turning their dreams into goals with a date.

I hope they get that long term support as making a dramatic Channel 4 series does not change lives long term once the camera has been switched off.

The young people lack goals, role models and support so it will be fascinating to watch their journeys. It will also be interesting to watch the experts journeys too, in coping, inspiring, connecting and truly getting to care about the young people they are trying to reach.

I wrote and recorded my Confidence Classes for Kids CD to teach my strategies, techniques and ideas that I have learnt from my years of training with Paul McKenna and Tony Robbins as well as my “Living the Dream” CD and workbook for teenagers coaching them to dream bigger, aim higher and live life to it’s full potential.

Here is an explanation of the programme if you’ve missed it.

“Nearly half of British children leave education without the qualifications they need to succeed. Jamie Oliver was one of them: he left school at sixteen with just two GCSEs.

Now he wants to do something about it. So he’s bringing together some of Britain’s most inspirational and expert individuals to try to persuade twenty young people, with just a handful of qualifications between them, to give education a second chance.

The kids, aged from sixteen to eighteen, will be taught a range of subjects, supervised by an experienced head teacher, John D’Abbro.

The science teacher is Professor Robert Winston, history is taught by Dr David Starkey, politics by Alastair Campbell, drama by Simon Callow, music by Jazzie B, art by Rolf Harris, maths by Alvin Hall and sport by Olympic gold-medallist Daley Thompson.

Other experts lending their weight to the project include former poet laureate Andrew Motion, hip hop vocalist Tinchy Stryder, sailor Ellen Macarthur, photographer Rankin, barrister Cherie Blair, actor Dominic West, classics professor Mary Beard, explorer David Hempleman Adams, environmentalist Jane Poynter, school dinner lady Nora Sands and former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan.

The project comes as 47% British children fail to gain five GCSEs at grade A*-C, including English and Maths.

The issues faced by the students are diverse: Angelique moved home and school because of increasing violence in her area; Aysha lost the year before her GCSEs when her family sent her back to Bangladesh for unruly behaviour; Connor, from an old East End family, couldn’t see the point of school and has been doing odd jobs labouring since leaving; and Jamal was bullied at school.

In the first programme of the series, David Starkey shows the class some Seventh Century ‘bling’ from the Staffordshire Hoard, worth millions. A traditionalist, he plans to take a firm hand with bad behaviour, but he gets off to a difficult start when he and a student trade insults.

Meanwhile, actor Simon Callow wants to enthuse the children about Shakespeare by showing how relevant the bard is to today’s society. Robert Winston, a doctor, scientist and founding father of IVF wants to try a very hands on approach with the kids, so he has them dissecting rats and a pig. And Jazzie B, who found fame with group Soul II Soul, wants to turn the students into composers.

The project’s just begun, but Jamie already has a crisis on his hands – while David Starkey demands that the students’ discipline is addressed, head teacher John D’Abbro thinks it might be the distinguished historian who needs to re-think his approach.

As well as the intensive and inspirational reintroduction to learning provided at Dream School, the project will be providing long-term expert support to help the kids get back into education.

The series raises the issue of why so many young people are unengaged by education and asks what more could be done by society and the educational system to help them. It also aims to find out if the new teachers can translate their real-life expertise into the realities of the classroom.

“Nearly half of Britain’s young people leave school without the recommended minimum of qualifications – I was one of them!” says Jamie Oliver. “So I wanted to see if we could inspire some of these young people – a handful of those kids who hadn’t been inspired at their own schools – by creating a school where the teachers were absolute experts in their subjects.”

“I have to say that I’ve never admired teachers more than I do now. Until you’ve tried it, you can’t possibly know what it’s like standing in front of a group of young people who aren’t interested in what you’re saying. And I think all the Dream School teachers came away with this huge respect for teachers.

“I thought they were all really smart kids – a lot of them had trouble paying attention, but once you got them inspired in whatever subject grabbed them, their qualities really shone through.

“How did we cope? I won’t spoil the programme, but let’s just say that some teachers found it more of a challenge than others.”

Jamie’s Dream School starts on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4 .

If you’re interested, following on twitter Jamie’s Dream School is on  www.facebook.com/C4DreamSchool and www.twitter.com/C4DreamSchool #dreamschool

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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About the author

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

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  Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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