DREAM SCHOOL AND REAL SCHOOL

Jamie Oliver’s latest initiative, “Dream School”, sounds interesting, though I admit I haven’t seen any of the programmes yet. His personality, energy and high profile have ensured the involvement of all those “experts”: people with not only exceptional levels of knowledge but also the time to give the 1:1 attention that many “troubled” children inevitably lack at school.

Teenage nightmare rehabilitated?

A couple of days ago, I tweeted about an interview with former “problem pupil” Angelique Knight on Radio 4’s You and Yours. “Dream School rules”, was my conclusion. The findings were unsurprising to me but encouraging. Unless she was no more than an accomplished actor, Angelique had changed in a short time from a teenage nightmare to a motivated young person who now wants to go to university.

“So what?” you might say. Is this just a neat way to get TV ratings? A country mile from what can be achieved in a practical sense? Resource constraints will never allow this kind of thing, or anything like it? As the saying goes, “You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment” although I do admit to being pretty impressed when I heard that interview with Angelique Knight.

Real-world school on show

I was even more impressed recently when I saw one small snapshot of what a difference good leadership can make in schools. I was staying overnight at a hall of residence at the London School of Economics (LSE, to us Brits) and when I went down to breakfast the dining hall was half-full of schoolchildren on a study trip; it was university vacation time, so they, and I, were taking advantage of the good-value accommodation such halls offer.

These kids were of primary school age; animated, not Ritalin-sedated, but so well-behaved that I admit to thinking (please forgive my former prejudices) that they must be from a fee-paying school. It’s a well-known fact that discipline is an issue / challenge (we don’t say problem anymore, do we?) in many British state-sector schools, even at primary level.

But not all schools. Suddenly I heard an adult voice raised, in a quietly authoritative tone: “Sit down! How dare you embarrass the school by your behaviour!” Silence reigned again. We random adults looked at each other and smiled; this took many of us back to our own schooldays.

Primary school rules

I went over to a table occupied by half a dozen teachers and congratulated them on the kids’ behaviour. One said: “well, these are pretty tired kids.” That’s when I found they were from a state-sector primary: Southill Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, and I talked briefly to the Deputy Head, the man who had laid (or is it lain?) down the law.

After the kids had left (in an orderly fashion) I noticed the same guy going round and thanking all the dining-hall and kitchen staff. That impressed me too, as it seemed to be consistent: show respect to kids and to adults alike and with luck you get it back.

As I said before, it was only a snapshot; but it showed what can be done, even without Channel 4’s budget and the presence of TV cameras. I don’t know anything about the academic results of Southill Primary School but I’ll bet they are pretty good.

Ideal vs. real

In conclusion: hats off to Southill. It’s inspiring to find out what could be done in an ideal world, through projects like Dream School. It’s even better to see people who seem to be doing it in the real world.

Want to know more?

Southill Primary School: http://www.southill.dorset.sch.uk/index.html

Jamie Oliver’s “Dream School”: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamies-dream-school

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