Jamie’s Dream School/Toby’s Free School – Pie in the sky and vanity

Celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver thinks that by rounding up a few famous faces and putting in them in front of a class, that this is the recipe for successful teaching and learning. There is an obvious problematic to this idea: there are not enough celebrities to go around. But the most obvious problem with this way of thinking is that celebrities can magically transform learning by mere dint of their personality. None of the famous faces that Oliver has chosen actually has had any teaching experience in a school (Alistair Campbell????). This leads some people to think that anyone can teach and that teaching doesn’t necessarily require any training.

Last night’s programme saw David Starkey verbally abusing a pupil. Rolf Harris and the others didn’t fare any better either.  These aren’t the sort of people that I’d have teaching a class of disaffected youngsters. Many of these kids had been excluded and found themselves in Pupil Referral Units (PRU). The problems range from having a difficult time at home to being bullied at school and responding aggressively to verbal and physical attacks. None of this seemed to matter to the programme makers who simply saw this as another great television opportunity. But telly isn’t real life;  it only forms representations of life. Engaging these pupils will take more than a few celebrities posing as pedagogues. The idea may be a noble one but it is one that is full of flaws.

I read on the Hon Tobes’s blog yesterday that his West London Free school had been approved.  Tobes crows,

We received confirmation yesterday that Michael Gove had signed a Funding Agreement with our school, the green light we’d been waiting for. That means the West London Free School will definitely be opening this September. I can’t say we’ll be the first free school to throw open its doors – about a dozen should open this year – but we are the first to sign a Funding Agreement. It’s a significant milestone, the most important one we’ve passed so far. Our enemies may still attempt to obstruct us, but it’s hard to see how they can stop us now. We’ve crossed the Rubicon.

“Crossed the Rubicon”? How dramatic. To be honest, I thought he’d already marched on Hammersmith Town Hall after one of his insiders had opened one of the gates.

We still have a mountain to climb. Once the school is open we have to make sure it can deliver a classical liberal education that’s accessible to all the children in the neighbourhood, no matter what their ability.

Hmmm, this sounds almost like Jamie’s Dream School, only this is actually for real. To be honest, I think Young has a rather rose-tinted view of education. He presumes to understand the inner workings of formative education and even goes so far as to make prescriptive statements about schooling without actually having the teaching experience to support his contentions.  But, I suspect, that this stems from his disdain of the state comprehensive system. The clue is in the phrase “classical liberal education”. Classical liberalism comes to us from Enlightenment thinkers like Locke, Hobbes and Hume. It is the philosophy that talks of ‘freedom’ but shackles large sections of society into bondage; only the aristocrats and wealthy industrialists were truly free. The Enlightenment was a colossal failure. Its thinkers were naive romantics who viewed the world through the prism of their social class. For all their love of classical liberalism and Manchester liberalism, today’s Tories appear to have forgotten their history: Benjamin Disraeli was opposed to classical liberalism and used the phrase “Manchester Liberal” as a pejorative. By the end of the First World War, the Liberal Party had abandoned classical liberalism. Some people refuse to learn the lesson from history and stumble blindly into the abyss while loudly declaring their ignorance.

I have a PGCE, so I understand issues of inclusion, exclusion and disadvantage. I have also had experience of PRUs (not as an end user).  It seems to me that this free school will cream off the children of  pushy upper middle class parents and abandon those who come from less well-off backgrounds.

Of course whether or not his school takes pupils from less advantaged backgrounds remains to be seen. Somehow, I think I will be proved right.

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Filed under Education, Ideologies, Media, Society & culture, television

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