Gareth Malone is my hero! His 'Extraordinary School for Boys' finished last night and I was cheering him all the way. A primary school headmistress had invited him in to see if he could help their year 5 and 6 boys, aged from 9-11, with their below average reading scores. He was set the task of raising their reading ages by six months in only eight weeks. This struck me as a hard challenge indeed, and perhaps a bit cheeky of the school. After all, they had failed to raise the boys' reading ages by six months in six months, that's why they were behind. So Gareth's methods were not just to be as good as school, but much, much better. He had the boys outside in their self-made woodland classroom, he had them chasing him across the common dressed as a highway man, he had them competing in debates, visiting a bookshop and stocking up on brand-new boy-friendly books and, finally, writing and performing their end of year production in the local theatre. They were outdoors, exercising, dressing up and fighting as Romans, singing, reading aloud at the seaside and generally being boys. It did not surprise me at all that the average increase in reading age over his eight weeks of teaching was five months, some boys even improved by twenty months!
What did surprise and sadden me was the attitude of the staff. One teacher was filmed last night telling him that four of her colleagues had told her how badly he'd handled one particular discipline issue. They told him that that they had noticed the boys behaviour had deteriorated (although, from their description of said behaviour, I wondered improved confidence would have been a better description) and the headmistress, in a piece to camera, confided that she really couldn't see what the children were learning. They thought that he didn't know what he was doing and that it was important that he had more structure and boundaries and yet he had great relationships with the boys and they noticeably grew in self-belief as well as literacy. They were deeply intrenched in their own paradigm and were unwilling and unable to see any alternative. The pressure was on for the boys to do well in the reading age test, measuring one small aspect of learning and not, as Gareth said, the twinkle in a boy's eye when he is engaged, and they achieved all that was asked of them, so much more that the school had delivered.
I must have dozed off at the end, for I'm sure I missed the bit where the teachers ate humble pie!