Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Dream School aired its first episode last night, but this is not an episode review. As a qualified teacher I was suspicious of what this show was trying to achieve. Levels of achievement in our secondary schools are constantly under scrutiny, and the magic formula for engaging students from all backgrounds and with differing abilities has yet to materialise.
Having already infiltrated school kitchens to deliver what was undeniably a huge shot in the arm for school catering, Jamie Oliver turns to the classrooms. Jamie’s Dream School aims to use inspirational experts as teachers, in an attempt to raise the attainment and interest of a group of teenagers who have failed to reach the government’s standard of five GCSEs at A* to C grade.
As with any documentary series, rumours immediately abound of heavy editing, storylining and liberties being taken with the content. With integrity at stake, Channel 4 have been uploading lessons to Youtube so that viewers can see the teachers at work. These have been cut down from the full lesson length but there is much more content than can be seen on the show itself, and even in under twenty minutes Jamie Oliver shows some really skilfull teaching which engages the students from start to finish. Watch along with the video, and see the time indicated skills he shows as a teacher.
00.16 “I’m not gonna say nothin’” Jamie starts by stating his intention not to commentate his work. This is work that you need to see and watch rather than hear, so he avoids distracting the students. They know they only have to watch him.
00.56 Notice how he uses a mere hand signal to say “Look at me and concentrate because I’m showing you something important.” He immediately has their attention and he hasn’t had to speak, let alone raise his voice. This is a non-verbal skill that some teachers never master.
02.12 Listen to the students – they are able to sound out their thought processes because they are not interrupting the teacher if they do. Even something as simple as saying ‘lime’ when they see it helps them to organise thoughts in their heads when they are watching the demonstration.
02.27 When he lets them smell the lime he is using Jamie engages other senses as a back up to the main one they are using. This is highly effective in assisting memory. Cookery lessons obviously allow this easier than English or Maths, but smell can be brought into those subjects too with a little imagination.
05.21 By painting a picture of what they can do with this knowledge, Jamie is allowing them to visualise themselves succeeding at the task.
05.53 “Let’s join the club” is a great way of saying that this is a necessary life skill in a positive way. Too often teachers issue warnings like “If you don’t do this then …”
07.07 He has such clear enthusiasm for his subject that it can’t help but be contagious. Even the action of almost worshipping the knife underlines how it should be treated with respect.
08.13 He gives small achievable tasks and tells the students what those steps will achieve. Younger people have shorter attention spans, so breaking the larger task of making the meal into small chunks helps them to focus and also to see their progress.
13.04 Listen to the clear and specific praise. Praise is something which students overwhelmingly respond to.
14.43 The results of their work receive immediate feedback, which is much more effective than giving it in writing or in the next lesson.
15.32 He tells them what they have learned, and that they should be proud of themselves. His attitude remains completely positive.
18.25 He gives constructive criticism using real examples, and the students happily accept it. He also encourages them to share their learning, which is incredibly important. Teaching what they have learned to someone else will be more effective learning than the lesson itself.
I am so impressed with the pedagogical skill that Jamie Oliver shows that I can’t believe he has not undertaken any training in this area. It may well be that his instinct to give praise, to use non-verbal communication and to break down the lesson into small manageable tasks are natural talents. Certainly I don’t recognise them as cheffing skills, Gordon Ramsey’s idea of non-verbal communication would probably be to throw a pan at someone. The reaction of the students shows their clear pride at what they have achieved, and you can imagine them being asked what they did at school that day and being able to reply confidently that they learned to make a stir fry. Unfortunately the density of the National Curriculum doesn’t always enable students to identify exactly what they have learned in school.
So I salute Jamie, and wish the best of luck to the other erstwhile teachers in this experiment. Rather than celebritising the work of teachers in the UK, they are showing just how hard it is, and that the necessary skills may be more about talent than training.
Jamie’s Dream School’s youtube channel has full lessons to watch. The show airs on Channel 4, Wednesdays at 9pm.
Kirsty Walker is a University of Manchester graduate with possibly their most pointless degree - Television Production. She is the content editor for End of Show and has contributed one chapter to True Blood : The Fangbanger's Guide for Smartpop Books and two words to Morgan Spurlock's 'Comic Con Episode 4 : A Fans Hope. She also once came third on The Weakest Link, and is therefore Runcorn's most successful media professional.