Jamie's dream head: why I'm proud of show

15th April 2011 at 01:00
When I was first asked to be headteacher of Jamie's Dream School for Channel 4, I assumed it was one of my friends ringing me up to play a prank

As the series has ably demonstrated, there is a very good reason why we train teachers for at least a year. So the idea that a group of "star" teachers could re-engage 20 students who didn't get the magical five A*-Cs at GCSE seemed doomed to fail.

But the more I thought about the proposal and some of the people who were taking part, the more I wanted to be involved. As TS Eliot said: "The impossible is still temptation."

I was sure that, whatever the other potential merits of the series, it could achieve three things: real outcomes for the young people involved; galvanise a big debate about education and teaching among a broader audience; and celebrate teaching, showing what a tough and rewarding job it is.

And so it has proved. The series has given the kids involved an amazing opportunity. It has prompted a huge debate about education and teaching, and all of the "star" teachers - and, I hope, viewers - have come away with renewed respect for teachers and what they face every day.

At a time when changes to the law mean unqualified people can work as teachers in free schools, for me, the series reaffirms why schools need to be staffed by a majority of qualified personnel. I believe there is scope in schools to have unqualified staff, but it must be within a traditional educational framework.

But we, as educational professionals, also need to be open to outside ideas. Most students enjoy school and do well, but the fact that 47 per cent of students do not get the GCSE grades they need to study further should concern the Government, teachers, governors, parents, carers and students alike.

Our society has to give more status to vocational and technical skills, and schools should reflect that. As Sir James Dyson recently asked: "How is it that one of the most developed educational systems in the world can only produce 20,000 engineers every year when we need 37,000?"

The series also showed that when teachers form effective professional relationships with students, learning benefits. For me, that is the key to successful teaching. One of my key motivations for taking part was to help the students. They were given the chance of a lifetime to re-engage in learning, and that carried on after the cameras stopped rolling with the support of a "next steps" fund provided by video-sharing website YouTube and administered by an experienced educationalist.

I think viewers will be pleased, as well as surprised, to see how well the vast majority of the students are doing. The best example left school with no GCSEs, but will take A-levels this summer and has already received provisional offers from two universities.

Of course, there have been criticisms of the project. I agree with some of them and we would probably do things differently if we started over again. It was not my idea to have a uniform, but it was needed for continuity purposes. I also wanted to have - but wasn't permitted - an induction session for the pupils to lay down some basic rules. For example, in my own school students hand their mobile phones in at the start of the day and we use a filtered internet service. So, while I had the responsibility of ensuring the running of the school, I didn't have the power to run things exactly as I do in my own school.

I briefed all the teachers on some basic dos and don'ts before their lessons, but it was agreed that individual teachers would take responsibility for managing their classrooms, as well as their lesson plans and content. The TV production team learnt from experience and I gained more power and educational back-up as time went on, and that reaped rewards.

Despite all the difficulties, one of the things I will take away from the series, and which I am most proud of, is that within a month we managed to get the students to a position where they could go to Number 10 and acquit themselves well. Given our starting point, that is no small feat.

For me, Jamie's Dream School was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to celebrate what young people can achieve, as well as highlighting the highs - and the lows - of teaching. I hope, as the series drew to a close this week, that people agree with me.

John d'Abbro is a headteacher who runs the New Rush Hall Group in the London Borough of Redbridge, which includes an all-ages special school, three pupil support centres and an adolescent psychiatric unit. Jamie's Dream School concluded on Channel 4 on Wednesday. You can watch episodes and view extra lessons at www.channel4.comdreamschool.

Original headline: I'm Jamie's dream head - the recipe was irresistible

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