Jamie Oliver’s dream is society’s nightmare

Jamie Oliver’s done it again. He’s got me so fired up he could spit-roast a whole hog over me.

His latest series, Jamie’s Dream School – a Channel 4 manifestation of another of his well-intentioned though improbably idealistic attempts to make a significant societal difference – has reached its inevitably dissatisfying conclusion.

It was never going to work; I get all right-wing and flustered just thinking about it. Jamie kept reminding us that this was a series committed to teenagers who’d ‘slipped through the net’, the ones who had been failed by the education system. I couldn’t help thinking the root of the failure was elsewhere.

Surely it is their parents who have failed them? Surely the behavioural issues besetting these kids should and, more importantly, could have been addressed long before they turned into the bolshy, self-righteous, unpleasant little ogres that, aghast, we watched strut insolently before us for seven whole weeks?

The dawn of political correctness has promoted an all too acute awareness of individual rights; we know what we’re entitled to, and we’ll confront, or possibly even sue, anyone who says any different. There has been an apocalyptic shift in the values of society from an emphasis on community and the other to an emphasis on the self.

We live in a world where a single like Billionaire can be released without much embarrassment or shame at the grotesquely egotistical lyric: ‘I wanna be a billionaire so f****** bad’. Too often ‘What can I get out of this?’, ‘I want’ and ‘It’s my right’ have become the mottos by which teenagers – Jamie’s dream scholars and thousands like them – live their lives.

In one particularly astounding scene, Jamie states in voiceover ‘For two and a half hours, Georgia’s mum has taken my advice to be firmer, refusing to take Georgia home early.’ Two and a half hours! TWO AND A HALF HOURS!? Sheepishly, Georgia’s mother inquires of her darling daughter whether she might deign to remove her blessèd posterior from the car and attend classes due to be led by those renowned ol’ bores, Rolf Harris and Alastair Campbell. Georgia’s response? ‘I’m gonna be staying in this car until you drive me home and you can have that on your fucking shoulders. Well done. Congratufuckalations.’

Georgia belongs to an over-indulged segment of our generation that believes the world owes them something. The parent-child relationship is frequently subverted so that the child, nourished on rights-hype, disrespectfully demands respect from the parent. And the parent pathetically obliges.

Transfer this attitude to the classroom and it leads to total breakdown. If the education system is deemed to have failed these kids because it refuses to put up with their feral behaviour, then shame on the education system’s ignorant, ignorant critics. The parents have to civilise; only then can teachers be expected to educate.

The students at Jamie’s Dream School were given opportunities the rest of us can only dream of. They went sailing with Ellen MacArthur, performed Shakespeare at the Globe with Simon Callow, jammed with Jazzie B and composed poetry with Andrew Motion. They even bantered with the Prime Minister for Heaven’s sake.

But I was left dejected by the series; what, I pondered gloomily, had been the point of it all? The objective had been to inspire the students, to re-connect them with education and its benefits. But even if they were inspired, which they rarely were, any reconnection with education as it really is would leave them bitterly disappointed. The paradox is in the title – Dream School. This is fantasy-land; schools like Jamie’s short-term, would-be fix don’t exist in the real world. That’s why the so-called experiment is not one from which we can draw any useful conclusions.

Wouldn’t it have been more constructive to offer these same opportunities to students who are desperate to learn, but are overlooked by teachers who are busy restraining their louder, mouthier contemporaries?

On Maundy Thursday the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke on Radio 4 of the value of service, specifically when offered by figures of authority to ‘ordinary people…who don’t have the resources to look after themselves.’ Maybe Jamie’s students should try their hand at caring for others; it might teach them something valuable and permanent, not least that treating others as they’d like to be treated themselves is a useful rule of thumb for civilised behaviour.

When confronted with a class of up to 40 students, there’s only so much teachers can do with the unruly ones. If Jamie’s Dream School had anything useful to say, it was that teaching is hard. Dream on Jamie.

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