Dream School goes to the Education Select Committee
Yesterday I went to the House of Commons to give evidence at the Education Select Committee, who had decided to discuss what came out of the Dream School experience, and what lessons miht be learnt. I had been a bit sceptical about this. I mean it was only a reality tv show and -- while it might have prompted some interesting debate about things educational -- it was not a guide to what is, or is not going on, in the nation's schools. Certainly the idea that you can get any clear idea of issues of discipline from what happens when a tv camera is pointed at 20 late teenagers and a group of (fairly media hungry) pretend "teachers" is simply bonkers.
Actually my worries were, by and large, allayed. I had never been to a Select Comittee before, though I had watched them on the television (OK, next question .. what happens to a group of media hungry politicians when you point a tv camera at them?). But I knew that many people thought that (after the House of Lords) they were the best place for finding reasoned and reasonable discussion in our parliamentary process. And so it turned out to be. The discussion took planty of time (2 hours), the MPs had a reasonable knowledge, had done their homework and listened.
So how did it go from our sides? Well first some of the kids were interviewed. They were brilliant.
If you watched all that footage of the fighting and the lippiness and the tears on the Dream School series, then try this for an antidote. (Click here to watch the Committee.) They contributed clearly, articulately and often movingly -- about what had gone wrong for them at school and what they were hoping to do now. (One is going round talking to primary schools and hoping to move into journalism, one is about to do a childcare/youth work qualification, one is holding three conditional offer for an IT place at Uni, and so on..) It looks like a total transformation, which of course it can't be. They must have been ike this all along underneath. (On the right is a couple of us in the pub after, and in the House of Commons corridor on the left).
Then it was the turn of some of the teachers: the head, plus me, Alvin Hall, Robert Winston, Jazzie B and David Starkey.
Most of us were singing pretty much from the same hymn sheet, not too full of doom and gloom about the British system, a desire to free teachers up a bit, and no passion for the kind of old fashioned discipline that people our age like to imagine is just what the kids need (and will "work"... whatever that means!). Oh and plenty of praise for Latin! Not so Starkey.
He was the only one of us not to turn up to hear the kids give their evidence. OK he has obviously hurt his foot, which is some excuse. But it would in the circumstance have been wise to have taken the trouble to hear the pupils in action. For when he later opened his mouth to say what a wild undisciplined bunch they were, this was dramatically undercut by what the rest of us had just seen of them when they gave their evidence.
By and large, he came out with the old Starkey stuff, interspersed with some silly ad hominem attacks on John D'abbro the head (who Starkey had somehow failed to see was in the same boat as the rest of us in a way, in relation to the tv).
Now Starkey is not stupid, and not everything he says would I disagree with. But his claim that schools which strictly enforce rules on uniform do not have any "discipline problems" cannot possibly be true (for a start, "discipline problems" is not a fixed and objective category . . . I shudder to think what got punished at my school).
Overall Starkey is the victim of the the kind of tunnel vision that affects many of the successful middle aged. Because he is a success, he thinks that the kind of schooling he had was the right one. So it might have been -- for him. But he has decided not to think of the "failures" next to whom he sat, still less of the 80% at the local Secondary Modern. (Grammar School, excellent as I am sure many of them were and are, always are seen from the point of view of those who got there.. not the rejects.) Not that me and my chums are immune from this kind of glowing nostalgia. When we complain that the kids dont sit down and read as much Latin and Greek during their degrees as we used to do, we tend to forget that "we" were always unusual even for Cambridge . . .of course we were, else we wouldn't now be profs there.)
And Starkey could have done his homework better. He lamented that fact that, although he had taken Danielle up to see around Cambridge, and although she was very bright, she still wanted to become a beautician. What a waste, what a lack of ambition, he lamented (and what a failure of the education system).
What he had failed to notice was that Danielle has just landed a big part in East Enders. Some ambition there, I suspect.
(Then for me it was back to Cambridge to say goodbye to the daughter, who is off to South Sudan for more or less a year. Wish her luck, folks.)