Janet enters the yoof jungle

21st January 2005 at 00:00
I'm a celebrity star says her taste of the classroom has left her full of admiration for teachers. Adi Bloom reports

It is one thing to be the voice of youth culture, the woman for whom the word "yoof" was coined; it's quite another to be confronted with a room full of restless, wriggling yoof.

Janet Street-Porter, journalist and broadcaster, was last seen on our screens in the jungle reality TV series I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. She returns this Sunday, as temporary teacher of a Year 4 class, at Abbey Meadows primary, Cambridgeshire - an experience filmed before I'm a Celebrity.

Comparisons are therefore inevitable. "The classroom was bloody good preparation for the jungle," she admitted. "There's far too much arguing over coloured pencils," the 58-year-old said. "In my day, your teacher just shouted at you, and sent you out. But I had to learn that I can't bellow at them, I can't swear in front of them, and I can't hit them."

So luckily for them, the eight year olds were spared the famous tongue-lashings experienced by journalists at the Independent on Sunday when Ms Street-Porter was their editor.

Her efforts at the school, which is in a deprived area, will be featured in the Channel 5 series, So You Think You Can Teach.

She joins the staff together with society girl Tamara Beckwith, and former EastEnders actor, Shaun Williamson. All three were given a week-long briefing in health and safety, handed a series of lesson plans, and expected to maintain the interest of their charges.

"My generation just sat and wrote things out," she said. "There were endless charts and logarithms. Now they're taught in a way that is quite imaginative. I don't understand a lot of it, and I don't think their parents do either.

"It would be a bloody good idea if parents spent a year at school. It might build better bonds with their children. At the moment, many children have better academic bonds with their teachers, because their parents think, 'Oh, God, the Runic alphabet. What's that?'"

She also learned to deal with tricky questions. "One kid said, 'Jenny said I'm a homosexual. What does that mean?' I said that nothing's growing out of your head, so you don't need to worry. A lot of the time, they're just trying it on, looking for attention.

"I used to sneer at citizenship. But children have to be taught relationships and what friends are for. Parents expect teachers to do things they've abdicated from. Some children never eat meals together at home, or have conversations. They have to be taught. You may as well call it citizenship."

Cliff Knight, head of Abbey Meadows, said: "She knew she would not have 30 beatific children. But she was worried, because she's a larger-than-life person, that she would dominate and hector the kids. I don't think she did, though she dominated and hectored everyone else.

"Teaching a class with just one week's training is an almost impossible task. But she made a damn good fist of it."

By the end of the three-part series, Ms Street-Porter is shown taking a whole-school assembly about how hard adults find it to apologise: "I threw a teaspoon at someone in our film crew, and it took me three hours to say sorry."

But it is the demands of the job, rather than the demanding children, which form her abiding impression of school life.

"Teachers are overworked and underpaid. If you want schools to engage with pupils, you just need inspirational teachers. It's up to them to make learning an enjoyable experience. I don't understand why the Government doesn't just pay them double."

So You Think You Can Teach this Sunday on Channel 5 at 8pm

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