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Boys Own

Gareth Malone, my new favourite television presenter, is truly inspirational. His Extraordinary School for Boys is reality television at its best, one that I hope will have a lasting legacy – not only for the boys who particapated, but also for the future of the school curriculum.  

It would have been easy to dismiss the boys’ complaints that writing is BORING, (I remember the phrase, ‘only boring people get bored’). Far more difficult to rise to the challenge and make it exciting.  This was done by hiring the Harlow Theatre for the end of term production. Except that there was no end of term production: it was up to the boys to write it. 

I can fully appreciate Tommy’s sentiments. He pointed to his head, saying, ” I have ideas up here but I can’t get them onto paper quick enough.” (The real trick is to get the ideas down. The manuscript will be a long time in the editing.) He was just one of the class whose reading skills had improved by 20 months in the 8 weeks that Gareth spent at the school.

A few weeks into the project, the pressure on Mr Malone was starting to show. Who didn’t feel outraged when he was criticised by four teachers for the way he handled a situation when he told one boy that it was not acceptable to answer back? This was a boy who had walked out of a lesson when told that he would have to wait for a drink of  water, something that would have been unthinkable when I was at school. Then, requesting permission to go to the toilet mid-lesson (hugely embarrassing) was met with  blank refusal. (The explanation that I would not be allowed a toilet break when I was at work was entirely unfounded.) This was the same boy who Mr Malone had given piano lessons to at lunchtimes after he expressed an interest in music. Having taken lessons out of the classroom and given the boys more freedom than they had been allowed previously, it seemed obvious that the boy had crossed the line. But, apparently, he should have been given the chance to explain his actions. When has ‘no’ stopped meaning no? I hear teachers complain about lack of discipline, but when someone in their position tries to exert a little authority, using the few means at his disposal, he is knocked down for their efforts. For me, this was the low point in a programme that I had high hopes would inspire more men to teach.        

Despite setbacks, Mr Malone achieved the target that the headmistress had set him. He managed to increase the boys’ reading ages by an average of 6 months. Such rapid improvement met with her acknowledgement that the school had become so focused on targets that the fun had disappeared from the classroom. Fun may not be essential to girls experience of learning. It is vital for boys.     

By the end of the ‘experiment,’ even Callum, the boy who had had the run-in with Mr Malone, said that he would miss him. The reasons seemed obvious. The lack of male primary school teachers is having an impact on the education of boys, many of whom never catch up with girls of the same age who have no shortage of role models. 

Standing on stage speaking your own words is a daunting prospect, but the positive reaction of the audience  gave the class new-found confidence. Even those who said little in the classroom setting discovered that they had a voice through writing.