As I know from living with a virtually full-time State schools campaigner, education arouses enormous passions and very strong views. So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Jamie Oliver’s Dream School idea has attracted so much publicity and debate.
Challenging kids plus ‘celebs’ plus stereotypes (some promoted, some challenged), plus a decent marketing budget makes for a fair telly mix, and the papers have been full of it. If I had known that the ‘school photo’ was going to appear in so many different papers – here it is again in today’s Guardian as part of a piece in which teachers give their judgement on Episode One – I wouldn’t have borrowed that stripey tie from headteacher John D’Abbro!
Tomorrow night, 9pm Channel 4, I make my debut, and already the programme’s website has shown a couple of trailers here and here and a longer version of my first lesson here . There are plenty more clips of all the different lessons with all the teachers on Youtube. Episode One last week showed up – and this is inevitable given how many hours of footage they have – how editing means people will rarely get the whole story. If you only watched the programme as broadcast, you’d have thought Rolf Harris had been something of a disappointment. In fact on Youtube there is a very touching film of how he brought out a seeming real talent in Ronnie.
Most of the students started out by saying they found politics boring. Some may have felt the same at the end of our course. But many of them didn’t, and I think you’ll see that they are not only bright, and in some cases naturally very political, but they also have some very good ideas.
I have always felt that just as we teach our kids from an early age that family life is important, and sport is good for them, and healthy eating is good for them, so we should do more to teach from primary school on – positively – that politics is a fundamental part of their lives. We should also do more to encourage an interest in world and current affairs. But of course most of the media spends much of its energies giving people reasons to be cynical rather than hopeful about the power of politics to make change for the better.
For those students who think of themselves as bored by politics and current affairs, and for the schools who want to convince them otherwise, there’s a new classroom resource for teachers, providing secondary schools with a specially-tailored daily news service.
www.theday.co.uk is trying to plug the gap between teenagers hungry for an explanation of what is going on in the world, and a mainstream media that either trivialises or overcomplicates the news for them.
The website has three stories daily, delivered online for classroom whiteboards or as an A4 printout, with debating questions, classroom and homework activities, plus links to online background. A Q&A helps put the stories in context, and each one is written to direct the class towards a discussion of a question raised by the story. One of the most enjoyable parts of my Dream School experience was seeing the students engage in real debate, even if sometimes one or two of them went over the top.
The Day has a balance of UK and foreign news, sport, the environment and the dilemmas and issues behind the headlines. Fridays have a news quiz. Recent events in North Africa has seen a new rolling special, free to non-subscribers, not just for kids, but also for parents keen to explain what is going on to their own children.
There are hints around the place that the Government is thinking about removing Citizenship from the curriculum. It would be yet another mistake. Whether we call it Citizenship, Democracy or Politics, there is need for more not less education in this area. It’s why I support the Youth Parliament campaign for politics lessons in both primary and secondary schools, based on a recent set of focus groups. Their research has found that young people have many questions about politics and a hunger for information, but find themselves shut out from the debate.