BBC Solent interview on ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese School’ Episode 2 (12 August 2015)

BBC Solent interview on ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese School’ Episode 2 (12 August 2015)

In this morning’s show with Julian Clegg, we spoke again about the Chinese School experiment being run in a Hampshire school where five Chinese teachers have taken on the task of teaching 50 pupils in Year 9. Although we do agree that there are some things we could learn from the Chinese teachers, there are also some things they could learn from the English teaching system. Teaching, in the UK, is a lot more holistic and pupil-centred than in China. The producers of ‘Chinese School’ have structured the experiment in order to maximise the friction and conflict between the British pupils and their new Chinese teachers, and I must say it does make for entertaining television.

A transcript of my interview is below (starting at 5:10).

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JC: Last night was the second episode. It’s made in our part of the world, it’s the Bohunt School in Liphook, which gives it extra relevance, I think, and I want to know what you think about that show. Did you watch it? … Last nights ‘Are our kids tough enough?’ was a rollercoaster. The 5 Chinese teachers brought into the school in Hampshire to teach children ‘The Chinese Way’ were in tears. Children out of control in the classroom. I think it’s fair to say, embarrassed parents at a sort of parents-teachers evening at the end of the hour being told why paying attention was important. And, was it doomed from the start, or not. Dr Stephen Curran, from AE Tuition is on the show to give us his thoughts. From last week with your thoughts, last night, what did you make of it?

SC: Well, it was almost predicted in a way, wasn’t it? It turned into a bear-baiting pitch really. And, of course, with Year 9’s and with no relationship with the teachers, I think, made very good TV, but I think I saw it coming really.

JC: There are so many things about last night that crossed my mind, and one of the emails has pointed out of course, obviously that all the parents gave permission for their youngsters to be filmed. But, of course, that is now in the can forever. It does make you wonder, about you know, a misdemeanour in the classroom at, what age would they be in the classroom Stephen?

SC: 13, 14.

JC: Yeh, it’s now there forever. Or, is that just part of it and we’ll all go, when we grow up, ‘gosh, wasn’t I terrible’.

SC: Well, people change a great deal, don’t they, through life. So, I can imagine that it will be forgotten. I think, interestingly enough, it may overlook a rather bigger problem because obviously the focus is drawn towards how upset these teachers are, and how badly behaved the British students are.

JC: To be fair for balance, for people who didn’t see the show, there were lots of riders here. There’s the moment when the Head Teacher goes in to watch the class and, obviously, is very upset about the poor behaviour of the children. But, as he walks out of the class with his Deputy Head (or whatever), or Head of Education, he mutters as they go down the stairs ‘the teaching is truly awful, it reminded me of when I was at school. I would’ve had my head on the desk after 20 minutes’.

SC: Well, I think the problem, as well, is that when you’ve got very docile students, then you don’t really need classroom management skills. That’s something that British teachers would focus a lot on in their training. I think the issue might be masking something much bigger, which of course is that when kids can’t cope, they will act up. Maybe our kids are behind and they’re not able to cope with a lot of information, that may be drawing us back to look at the teaching of fundamentals in the classroom, in terms of numeracy and literacy. Because many of those children are acting up because they just can’t cope, [and] you’re are going to mask that. And, I agree the teaching, of course, is not the style of teaching we would see in the UK, so that would be a problem anyway.

JC: But, just to put the different views on this that I am already getting. At one extreme we’ve got people saying, “that’s not the point, they’re acting up because they’re badly behaved. And actually, it was only a 4-week experiment, they should have just behaved, whether they liked the classes or not, the fact that it all broke down was an indication of a lack of discipline”. That’s on one end. And, on the other end is, “Chinese children, where often most families in China can only have one child, education becomes obsessive for parents. They put everything into their children, where they do hours and hours of homework every night and they do more hours in the classroom. And, it’s almost, like a kind of (how would you describe it Stephen) a dictatorial regime in the classroom there?”

SC: Well I think, of course, it’s a much more dictatorial society and maybe people would wonder what would happen to them if they didn’t fall in line. Kids here are not afraid to act up, because they don’t see it as a crime in the classroom. As well, our children are less self-disciplined because perhaps the pressures on them to succeed in our economy are not so strong. And, that is something which the Chinese teachers brought out last week, which I thought was interesting.

JC: There was an interesting point, also, last night where they were talking about Grammar, and they were saying, ‘oh, I hate grammar, why do we have to do grammar?’, and the two girls joking going, you know, ‘swam, swim and swum’ and the other one goes ‘there’s no such a word as swum’, and then they go ‘no there isn’t’ and they look it up on their iPhone and go ‘oh, there is a word called swum’. I’m not going to pass comment, I’m just leaving it out there in the ether.

SC: Yes, I mean, I think there are a lot of issues in terms of literacy and numeracy and again, programmes like this often, they’re great TV. They’re very dramatic and, of course, many of the children are mic’d up and to some extent they play to the camera – you know, and I think play to the gallery. A lot of kids will do this at this age and they’re having great fun in there.

JC: So, was it fair to do the show? ‘Cause all these things come out of a discussion like this, you know. We’ve obviously we’ve talked in the past about the immigration street show, which didn’t really happen on Channel 4, but do these ‘fly on the wall’ documentaries achieve anything because you’ve just said (about 4 times) it made great tele, which is almost like a disparaging comment.

SC: Yes, wouldn’t it be interesting to have taken a group of Year 7’s, who’ve just come into the secondary school? I think they would be docile. They would accept any form of teaching that came for them. Year 9’s are, you know, their hormones are going everywhere and this is the group that they are given. They’ve got 4 weeks to make a relationship with these children. Teaching is about relationship, you know. You do build up over a period of time, a rapport with kids. These Chinese teachers haven’t done that at all. They haven’t really had a chance to do it, to be fair to them. Of course, there are huge differences in the technique and the way that we deliver lessons here, which the children aren’t used to [the Chinese way of teaching]. I think, to some extent playing up, is more fun than doing the lesson.

JC: Stephen, we’ll catch up again next week. I asked you a question in the morning though, “are our kids tough enough. Yes or No?”

SC: I actually think they are. I think our kids are tough enough, but I think it’s about expectations. It’s about where our kids are at this moment. Children across the world are all the same.

JC: Ok, I’ll bear that in mind as we go through the hour. Stephen, thanks for coming on the show.