Jamie Oliver recruits inspirational celebrities to teach in a new school for disaffected youngsters

He has already tackled school dinners, and now Jamie Oliver is getting more heavily involved in the nation’s education as he sets up his own experimental seat of learning for children who left school with few qualifications in Channel 4’s Jamie’s Dream School.

The seven-part series sees the celebrity chef recruit inspirational role models from the worlds of politics, sport, the arts and the media to teach 20 disaffected youngsters for a month and try to encourage them to go back into education.

TV&Satellite Week magazine caught up with the father-of-four to find out why he has swapped the kitchen for the classroom…

What inspired you to set up Jamie’s Dream School?
“Nearly half of Britain’s young people leave school without the recommended minimum qualifications, which is five GCSEs at A-C grade including English and Maths. These are smart kids, but for whatever reason, school didn’t inspire them. I wanted to see if we could get them turned on by education.”

How difficult was it recruiting your celebrity teachers?
“I drew up a wish list of people I wanted and nearly all of them said yes, which I was so chuffed about. Between them, my 12 teachers have nine degrees, 10 world records, three Grammys and two Olympic medals. We’ve got Alistair Campbell teaching politics, Simon Callow for drama, David Starkey for history, Rolf Harris for art, plus loads of other great people including Cherie Blair, Ellen Macarthur and Michael Vaughan.”

Are you on school dinner duty?
“I’m actually teaching Home Economics, which I think should be mandatory in schools so that kids don’t grow up to rely on fast food and ready meals. I’m also Dream School’s Deputy Head and there are lots of crises to sort out.”

Did your experts make good teachers?
“A lot of the Dream School teachers, myself included, really struggled because we’re used to people listening to us. But these kids just didn’t want to listen, so we had to find ways to get through to them.”

Did you do well at school?
“I was just like these kids, so I can empathise. I left school with two GCSEs in Art and Geology. I’m dyslexic and I have problems with reading, spelling and maths, so I was in special-needs classes. But I was a grafter, so I did the best I could and my parents were happy with that.”

Were your schooldays unhappy as a result?
“Not at all, because I was a popular kid with a good group of mates who are still my mates. I remember being very happy at school and we all listened in class – there wasn’t this constant chatter and mobile phones ringing and people leaving in the middle of a lesson.”

How did you overcome your poor education to become such a success?
“I found something I was good at that didn’t involve a lot of reading and writing, and I just worked as hard as I could.”

Who’s inspired you along the way?
“My dad, the chef Gennaro Contaldo, who was my first professional mentor, and Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers at The River Cafe, where I was a sous chef. They all taught me important stuff about food and hard work.”

What do you hope to achieve with Dream School?
“I’ve been so very lucky to have had such inspirational figures in my life, and part of what we’re trying to do in Dream School is give that to these young people and if they can find something they’ve got a bit of passion for. I’m talking to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove about it, and I hope we can make sure that Dream School isn’t just a flash in the pan.”

Jamie’s Dream School starts on Wednesday March 2 at 9pm on Channel 4.