Stick to what you know, Jamie

1st April 2011 at 01:00

What has really irritated me about Jamie Oliver's Dream School series, apart from the fact that it is an insult to the teaching profession, is its sheer naivety.

I've nothing against Jamie Oliver. I've cooked his recipes and they are extremely tasty. I also admired his determination in trying to improve school meals ... but those things were within his zone of expertise, and I strongly feel he should have remained within it.

At the start of each programme, we watch Jamie announcing that the education system failed him, but he was lucky because he discovered cookery. He then tells us he's gathered 20 disaffected youngsters who were also failed by the system. It would have been interesting to hear the views of the teachers who'd tried to get them to learn, but this programme wasn't about serious debate. It was corny edu-tainment. Then we watched a short sequence of an old building being tarted up to become his "dream school". I assume it used TV money and not loose change from the Building Schools for the Future programme.

Jamie felt the youngsters had been turned off education because every lesson wasn't whizz-bang excitement, so he'd gathered a host of celebrities to enthuse them. Simon Callow for drama, Alastair Campbell for politics, Ellen MacArthur for, erm, sailing, David Starkey for history, Arnie Schwarzenegger for language (move aside, asshole), Lady Gaga for deportment and dress sense. OK, I made the last two up, but you get the general idea. There was also a "real" headteacher on hand, just in case things got sticky.

The format for the series was boringly predictable. You knew that things would go horribly wrong at first, then there would be much angst and soul-searching, the celebs would admit that there's more to teaching than they thought and at least some of the youngsters would regret they'd missed out somewhere along the educational route.

And go wrong things certainly did. Simon Callow's patience ran out and he roared at his charges, Robert Winston sliced up an animal with a circular saw and caused some girls to throw up, and poor David Starkey got hammered for saying one of the boys was so fat he could hardly move, which caused him to be severely admonished by the real head. One just doesn't say that sort of thing these days, although, of course, it's OK if it's the teacher who is on the receiving end of a load of teenage abuse.

Ellen MacArthur's group had a great time with her on the boat but, then, wouldn't you? And I rather suspect she got her education sorted out first. By programme three, I'd had enough and I gave up watching.

Years ago, in the days of black and white television, the BBC made a series of programmes about inspiring primary school teachers. Each week, we watched a truly outstanding teacher through the course of one day, and I remember a class visiting a pond to do what was then called nature study. The excitement on the children's faces as they gathered a remarkable collection of flora and wriggling fauna in jamjars was a delight to behold, as was the teacher's knowledge, love of the children and her sheer enthusiasm for learning. The viewers were left in no doubt about how inspirational a good teacher can be. These days, of course, a lengthy risk assessment would be required in case the class fell in the water, but I didn't notice Robert Winston filling one in before he got slicing.

It's a shame television feels the need to pander to the lowest common denominator with awful programmes like Jamie's Dream School. Hopefully, Jamie will put it behind him and get back to his kitchen.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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