“Teaching is bloody hard”, says Alastair Campbell
EVER since he stepped down as Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell has been inundated with offers to appear on reality TV programmes.
He has shunned the vast majority of them but a recent invitation from Jamie Oliver to appear in Jamie’s Dream School as a politics teacher, struck a chord with the former King of Spin.
“I’m not a great fan of a lot of what’s on TV – you’ve probably heard me spouting off about reality TV,” Mr Campbell, who lives in Gospel Oak, told the Ham&High.
“But I got the feeling that this was genuinely an attempt to say something interesting about why some youngsters don’t do well in school.”
Mr Oliver left school with barely any qualifications and so do around 300,000 16-year-olds in the UK each year.
His idea for the programme was to raise awareness about the plight of these young people by taking 20 teenagers who have failed in school and putting them in Dream School – a disused building in Barnet.
Experts in different fields tried to re-ignite their interest in learning for eight weeks. Some of the other big names to take part include the historian David Starkey, Cherie Blair, Rolf Harris and the scientist Robert Winston.
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In the second programme, screened last night, Mr Campbell taught his first politics lessons and it made for brilliant viewing.
When he asked the teenagers what they thought of politics, they responded by saying “boring” and a load of “bullsh**”.
He then endeavoured to show them how it was relevant to their lives and told them that as part of the programme they would be leading a campaign on issues they want to change.
Their initial suggestions to legalise pit bulls, scrap taxes and increase the number of council houses suggested that getting elected wasn’t top of their agenda.
Then in his second lesson, two girls came to blows after disagreeing on whether there should be gay-only youth clubs. Mr Campbell is shown coolly leaving the premises while the headteacher (a real head with 30 years experience in education) is left to deal with the situation.
Overall, he found the teenagers bright and interesting, if unruly.
“When you engage them, most of the time they listen, provided you don’t talk down to them,” he said. “My own kids were very helpful: they told me not to talk down to them and try to find ways of praising them.”
He said there was only one lesson where he thought he “might be losing it”. A girl calls him a “f***ing pr**k”, storms out and then two of her classmates follow.
But they soon return and say they left because it reminded them of their old school days.
Critics, however, have been quick to question whether the programme offers any real help to its subjects and whether celebrity high-flyers can suddenly become star teachers.
Mr Campbell said: “I think Jamie Oliver felt it would bring about changes in attitudes.
“I don’t think it will do that, but I think it will show how hard teaching is and also people may see that when you blame teachers you’ve got to take kids’ backgrounds into account.”
Rather than belittling the teaching profession, Mr Campbell sees the programme as championing it.
“What I got out of it is that teaching is really, really hard,” he said.
“I can motivate the kids to engage with politics but it doesn’t mean that I could teach them to do well at school or pass exams. I see this as defending teachers.”
Would he ever consider taking up the job full time? His answer: “Look I’m 53 now... and teaching’s bloody hard!”
o Jamie’s Dream School is on Wednesdays, on Channel 4, at 9pm.