On BBC 2 on Thurs nights at 9pm a new ‘reality’ show goes out called “Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys.” you can catch on iplayer if you are quick. The premise is that Gareth Malone goes into a primary school and takes the boys from Years 5 and 6 (that would be grades 4 and 5) the 9-11 yr olds and instead of teaching them to sing, he is going to raise their literacy levels by 6 mths. He has been given two months to achieve this. Putting aside for one moment the fact that the headteacher has asked a non-teacher to do in two months what her own teaching staff couldn’t do in 5 or 6 years, Mr Malone is up for the challenge.
I am well aware that the research shows that boys do worse than girls in literacy, and that overall boys do worse than girls in exam situations. This stuff was around and a real problem back when I did my Advanced Diploma in Special Educational Needs, way back in the ’90s. The system of education we have, thanks to the National Curriculum and just the bizarre factory-system means that nothing much has changed and boys still suffer. As it happens the research shows that white working class Boys (social classes 4 and 5 if I remember rightly and I probably don’t) did the worst of all.
So here we are twenty years later and all they can come up with is a gimmick for the BBC. Oh well. As it happens I rate Mr Malone quite highly. He comes across as genuinely interested in making a difference to these boys. It is reiterated that he is not a teacher (dum dum deeeer- non-professional, non-expert let loose on children!!) and then he has to negotiate strenuously past the ‘elf’n’safety to get what boys what they need.
Any home ed parent watching this will not know whether to laugh or cry. Poor old Gareth fights to allow the boys to work outside, chop at trees and clear a den where they can sit and talk and climb and be boys. He has to call it an “outdoor classroom” to make it acceptable. He explains some games and activities he wants to do with the boys and the headteacher asks how that will help raise the boys literacy!! She is the qualified teacher here and she can’t see how getting boys to actually talk, that is use verbal language, and be interested in something will raise their standards of literacy!
We are then treated to a truly tragic event. The boys ( remember we are talking about ages 9-11 here) are asked to play football and some are asked to be commentators. They know the game and enjoy it. Some of them can’t string together a coherant sentance. Most can’t make a basic comment on the game their friends are playing. I found it heart rending.
Then there was a brief reading assessment. Some of the boys were reading books my 7 year old is reading and they found it really hard. So hard, it was putting them off reading all together. At that point I really was upset, especially as I remembered Alex’s real hatred of books thanks to the lack of support he got in his first primary school. Thank God for the excellent SEN he had in his second primary school and a pox on the Secondary School who wasted all her work.
The class teachers for years 5 and 6 don’t come off well in episide one. Their own language ability comes across as poor and they look less than professional in dress as well. There’s a telling moment in the staff room where Gareth is sitting alone to eat his lunch. I thought the staff came across pretty badly over all. Perhaps things will improve as the series continues.
But the parents don’t come out of this looking good either. One set of parents were so proud of their son having his xbox and massive TV while no book was in sight and the dad laughingly said that when a new game was on offer why have a boring book? Frankly he came across as a complete…well I’ll try and remain charitable.
There’s a fascinating blog conversation here. It’s BBC so getting comments on is a nightmare and I haven’t tried. But I really think Mr. Malone should come and see Home Education in action. I think he might like it. I have to say I think far too many of the teachers who comment are showing us more reasons to home educate.