Belfast Telegraph

Jamie Oliver's recipe for keeping pupils happy sounds about right to me

By Jane Graham

Jamie Oliver has been criticised this week for admitting he's 'not the best parent' as he often prises his daughter away from her half-finished homework to 'play'. I imagine there are educational bigwigs cursing this wanton display of recklessness from the man who says he'd be 'shocked' if any of his kids went to university and who read his first novel when he was 38.

For me though, it pretty much makes him a no-brainer for celebrity dad of the year.

I don't think he has a cavalier attitude to further education, as some have witheringly suggested. When he says he'd be shocked if his children went to university, I'd guess he meant surprised and impressed that one of his own offspring had the academic prowess that so eluded him.

But he's a dyslexic who once told me he 'always struggled with writing', had a 'rough time' at school and felt overlooked by the education system, which he left at 15 with two GSCEs.

He said then: "I think it's fine to tell kids they don't need to be good at everything and being aware of what you're not great at is as important as finding out what you can do."

I've always been very academic. I was reading novels from the age of six, and still find few pleasures as rewarding as hanging out with dusty old tomes by long dead writers (I'm also one of those horrible compulsives with grammar Tourette's, who constantly corrects people as they speak, though I've learned to keep my amendments inside my head now).

But I can't disagree with a word of what Jamie Oliver says. Especially as he's turned out to be rather more successful than me, far richer, and probably more contented. I'd like schools to spend less time piling on the pressure for kids to constantly prove themselves against others and instead to focus on finding out what each child is good at, honing their individual skills, and helping them work out how to make a career out of the things they love doing. This, as well as a strong, warm, balanced relationship is as close to the secret of happiness as anything I can think of. And Jamie Oliver seems to have it all sewn up.

Even more important though is what he says about pulling his daughter away from her homework after an hour, like an over-excited puppy whose patience is blown and just wants to get outside.

He's right to suggest kids get too much homework. Two hours a night, he reckons, for his 11-year-old to get through. That is an arrogant theft of playtime and family bonding time, a domination of a child's life at an age already weighed down with a hundred little worries. Shouldn't we question the efficiency of school teaching methods if it takes two hours of extra work a night to make headway? And just how much is this level of extra-curricular revision about educating and edifying, as opposed to exam-training for the benefit of school league table stats?

I'm trying to recall who said imagination is more important than knowledge. Oh yeah, Albert Einstein. And he was quite brainy I believe.

What I liked most about Jamie Oliver's comments though; how many busy, working dads can honestly say they regularly nag their children to play with them?

I hope Jamie's daughter has an inkling of how lucky she is to have a dad so keen to spend time with her.

If she misses out of a few maths equations along the way, I still think she'll have the most worthwhile result.'Who was it said imagination is more important than knowledge? Albert Einstein. He was quiet brainy!'

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