Teacher vs Celebrity Chef

Why the nation is passionate about potatoes but perplexed by pupil progress, and why this really matters.

If I were to ask you to name famous Chefs who cook delicious food, I imagine that you could come up with at least half a dozen. Many would cook food you have never even tasted and some in the list would be internationally renowned. Gordon Ramsey has Kitchen Nightmares on both sides of the Atlantic and Jamie Oliver has been involved with Dinner Ladies in both Los Angeles and London.

Sadly there are no equivalents within teaching. The only two teachers, that I can think of, that have appeared on more than one TV show are Mr Drew from Educating Essex and Simon Warr, a scary old fashioned teacher, who appeared on programmes such as That’ll Teach ’Em. The rest are mostly ex-teachers who are now making their mark on the comedy scene.

The status of a Chef can reach astronomic levels, providing a platform to influence public perceptions well beyond the kitchen walls, something that seems impossible within the world of education. As a result people are now far better informed about outstanding food, the latest cooking methods and healthy diets but largely unaware of effective teaching practices.

I believe two very simple equations are the cause of this situation:

Possibly one of the most boring raw ingredients

A Bowl of Spuds + Chief =

Something amazing!

(Maybe Heston Blumenthal’s triple cooked chips or Nigella’s Sticky Garlic Potatoes)

A class of children, probably one of the most dynamic raw ingredients

A Class + Teacher =


(An average of 2a and three sub-levels of progress over the year, using the old system)

Chefs are very clearly judged on the magic they can produce from the raw ingredients they have to hand. Their equivalent of a national curriculum is a whole world full of cooking styles and techniques waiting to be discovered, refined and mastered. Even before tasting any food, the name selected for the menu can give a clear indication of what to expect.

Teachers, on the other hand, are judged on bland, over simplified statements backed up by snapshot test results and metrics that are influenced by anything from a postcode, to how school meals are funded. Substantial interpretation is often needed to provide adequate context, even then it is not easy to appreciate the unique expertise, skills and learning experiences a teacher can bring to their class daily.

When I first started teaching I quickly became frustrated during moderation meetings, particularly when discussing reading. Teachers from across the county would gather together, armed with little more than a colourfully highlighted folder of statements, backed up with stories of pet pupils and phenomenal progress. Ultimately there was very little direct evidence on which to determine pupil attainment or understanding of teaching methods used.

With the aim of making a difference, I went to subsequent meetings armed with my new school laptop. I hoped to discuss clips I had gathered showing every member of my class reading, all linked to relevant statements of attainment. The clip below is typical of the evidence I started to gather during my group reading sessions.

I quickly realised that there were many potential benefits to be gained from the short clips and I refined my editing to maximise the value of them in order to:

  • Introduce the whole lesson activity to inform parents
  • Record pupil understanding and attainment at the time
  • Demonstrate my own teaching practices to inform future training and development priorities

Most importantly, I was providing a window directly into my class giving a real taste of what guided reading was like.

When combined with other snippets of evidence collected across the curriculum it is possible to build a clearer picture of learning experiences and teaching styles. A space adventure, when the class was transformed into an abandoned mission control, illustrates this showing the potential to:

Candyfloss pink, sky blue and strawberry red.-Year 5 pupils design the infrastructure required to reconnect with a space station, lost in space for more than 10 years.
  • Provide additional insight into how children can dream up the infrastructure that will allow them to communicate with forgotten space stations.
Three abandoned astronauts were discovered living in a long forgotten space station.
  • Develop unique fictional characters, suffering from being abandoned in space for over 10 years and create solutions to keep them healthy and occupied while rescue missions were planned.
Prototype of a telescopic arm, designed to prevent further tragedy in space. The astronaut in this picture can also be seen testing out the anti gravity boots.
  • Demonstrate ideas well beyond statutory curriculum requirements, leading to the invention of improved telescopic arms and anti gravity boots.

Teachers should ultimately be valued for creating and refining their own menu of teaching methods throughout their career, allowing the freedom to facilitate learning built upon personal skills, expertise and experience.

It is essential for pupils to gain the literacy and numeracy skills required to access the next the stages of their lives. However, a teacher’s legacy needs to reflect so much more than just a ‘dashboard’ of data that can be broken down into its simplest form on a spreadsheet. If Gordon Ramsey’s ability to run a kitchen was based on similar analysis it would be impossible to tell if he was creating food at The Savoy or McDonald’s.

Increasingly teaching practices are being dictated by experts who consider best approaches through the analysis of raw data. There seems to be less and less consideration, or first hand experience, of the infinite, intangible, influences that often have the biggest long term impact on education and attitude to learning.

In 2011 I had the opportunity to present evidence to Lord Bew as part of the Independent Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability. There is little indication of my input within the report (although I am proud that my name is listed on page 77), however the most enlightening part of the whole experience was a comment Lord Bew made in conclusion, thanking me for the insight my approach to assessment provided, stating that he felt ‘rather under-informed on what actually goes on within the primary classroom.’ Surely this is the direct result of the very system of accountability that he was tasked to review and a sad reflection that those with the most influence are often the least informed.

At the end of the day this really matters. Decisions are being made that will change the whole structure of the education system. Sadly, it seems that anyone with an opinion, from Celebrity Chefs to Dotcom Millionaires, can have go. Educators, who have the most experience and qualified opinions, seem to be the ones with the smallest voices.

There is currently a big push for education to go large. After seeing some of the models gaining traction across the Atlantic (clip below), I am not sure I’m Lovin It…