Jump to content
The Education Forum

Channel 4 - The Unteachables

John Simkin

Recommended Posts

Has anyone been watching the “Unteachables” on C4? It seems to raise several key issues. The most important one is: “Can pupils like Dale, Grace and Shane be taught in a normal school?” I ask this question as a friend teaches in the same school as these three children. You can imagine what their behaviour has been like since they have become “television stars”.

Another question concerns the teaching style of Phil Beadle (Guardian secondary school teacher of the year). This is what the newspapers have said about his teaching:

“You couldn't possibly call Beadle a traditionalist; there's not much that's back-to-basics about his approach. He is an innovator, unafraid of the modern.” (The Guardian)

“Refuses to accept students' backgrounds as an excuse for underachievement. (Evening Standard)

“Mr Motivator” (The Scotsman)

“An extraordinarily commanding teacher ... a late-starter to teaching who has become one of its finest practitioners. It would be hard not to be invigorated and inspired by his particular brand of teaching." (Teaching Awards Trust)

“The climate for learning is infectious. A highly creative teacher of English and Drama, Philip connects with pupils by using visual, audio and kinetic stimulus material in unique ways.” (Teachers' TV)

“He looks like a rock musician and is one of the very best teachers in the country.” John Humphrys (Daily Mail)

“Invigorating, inspiring and exceptional” (GTC Magazine)

Beadle is obviously a fine performer (actor) but is he really teaching them anything? I wonder how long he could keep this high-energy approach up. He seems to me to reveal the symptoms of a manic depressive. A recent entrant to teaching, I suspect he will be out the classroom giving training courses within a few months.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I missed the first episode but watched the second one, where my interest lay with Willie Atkinson, 'superhead' of a school in my Borough which was described as 'the worst in the country' until he took over and rescued it - the usual media hyperbole, it's still pretty hopeless! I though the programme was very interesting and I enjoyed the performance of Phil Beadle, modestly seeing alot of myself in his style. I think that you are being over cynical about him John, he clearly understood that this was an incredibly challenging (and ridiculously artificial) situation and was just trying all his repertoire with, not surprisingly, little steps. But as the saying goes you can eat an elephant in one bite.

As for the question of wether these students could be taught in one school, they certainly didn't seem that unusual to me, teaching in inner city London and I would argue that teachers with a similar experience are effectively teaching students like this all the time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The program hasn't yet been shown here in Tasmania so perhaps I shouldn't be commenting, but my question would be, not CAN such students be taught in mainstream, because of course they CAN, but SHOULD they be, to the detriment of other students,. Here we do not have any special units like PRUs and EBDs and only three small special schools for severely disabled students. In other words our inclusion program is so "comprehensive" that only .07% of our students are in special schools compared with 1.5% OECD average. This has a huge impact on teachers' ability to teach every student in their class.

I think the question is about whether having such students impacts on the learning of those who want to learn and are willing/able to behave in a way that promotes learning.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's what I wrote elsewhere in this Forum:

I have been following the series with interest. Phil Beadle is impressive - although his "high energy" approach is not unusual. As a teacher of modern foreign languages in secondary education, I recall doing almost as much jumping around - and so did many of my colleagues. This is fairly typical of many teachers of modern foreign languages.

I am not convinced that Phil Beadle is really teaching anything, but he is a great entertainer. A couple of points:

1. Most of the children selected for the series do not appear to come from families that are financially badly off, but they seem to have developed behaviour problems as a result of bad parenting. I spent several years as a school governor and occasionally had to sit on committees involving discipline problems. Most of the problem children came from families that were financially very comfortable, with both parents bringing in a good income. This was probably the root of most problems. Both parents were so busy earning money that they had no time for their children. I spent a lot of time with my two daughters as they grew up, and so did my wife. My daughters often referred to me as a "Victorian father". I did not tolerate answering back, tanturms etc. They grew up into two well educated, charming young women, and my wife and I always enjoy their company.

2. Children are being excluded even from this select group. So even Phil Beadle and the headteacher in this series have their limitations and give up on some children.

Most children are teachable, but some probably need to be taken out of the mainstream and given special attention.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At the end of last week’s programme, Phil Beadle, Ted Wragg, and William Atkinson argued that the experiment had been a success. I would question that. Three out of the 12 students had to be suspended. Another difficult student left on their own accord. Those left did complete the course. However, none of the teachers were successful at getting them to record what they had learnt.

It clearly is possible to contain 8 students when you have the back-up provided to the teachers during this experiment. Teachers could get students removed from the classroom. They were also able to threaten students with being expelled from the study centre if they behaved badly. This was important as the students clearly enjoyed being there (mainly because of the enjoyable activities outside the classroom). The teachers also had several teaching assistants at their disposal.

Despite this, Beadle outrageously criticised the schools that these students came from as ignoring their talents and abilities.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...