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Sparks Fly With David Starkey In Jamie’s Dream School

1st March 2011

Outspoken historian David Starkey sparked chaos in the classroom as part of Jamie Oliver’s new Dream School series by becoming involved in an altercation with a pupil. The programme tackles state education in the UK and will be aired this week.

Dr Starkey is one of a series of inspirational teachers drafted into Mr Oliver’s experimental school. Oliver has enlisted TV personalities, top academics, actors and musicians to teach 20 struggling schoolchildren.

“Taking on a class of educational no-hopers was both moving and maddening,” says renowned historian David Starkey to The Telegraph.

Jamie Oliver approached me and asked if I’d be interested in teaching at his Dream School. They would try to turn around the education of a group of 16 to 18-year-olds who had resisted every attempt to be educated in the past, all in front of the cameras. The first thought that came to mind was that this sounded rather like 'Strictly Come Teaching'. The second was that the task in hand was going to be very hard going.

“I am passionately committed to state education. I decided to let my heart rule. I’ve long had a high opinion of Jamie.

“I did try to engage them as much as I could – and had some success. About half of the class of 20 became enthusiastic about history. By the final lesson, we even talked about how you would write an essay, something they had never done before.

“I have nothing but admiration for teachers who face these kinds of problems every day. Without wishing to sound too emotional, I also felt deeply for many of the pupils who, with the exception of one or two, were all above average in intelligence. A few others were even higher. It is tragic that they feel so disillusioned and ambivalent about their schooling.

“I’m glad I took part, but sadly, the whole experience has only confirmed that turning our state education system around is a bit like turning a tanker round: it’s a slow and arduous process. One can only hope that we’re not too late to start.

The conventional education system having failed these kids, Oliver called on an unconventional staff of high achievers and inspirational figures to try to engage them with learning. He assembled an impressive staff room: the drama teacher was Simon Callow, politics was taught by Alastair Campbell, art by Rolf Harris, history by David Starkey, maths by Alvin Hall and sport by Daley Thompson; other figures such as Cherie Blair, Tinchy Stryder, Michael Vaughn, The Wire's Dominic West, Andrew Motion, David Hempleman-Adams and photographer Rankin also pitched in with lessons. The teachers were advised by award-winning secondary headmaster John D'Abbro.

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