Gareth Malone - from choir master to school teacher
While watching Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys last night, one question popped into my mind: Is it enough to be inspirational?
Let me say first, I think Gareth Malone is wonderful. He is a slight figure, looking much younger than his 35 years. Gareth is a choir master, who has made it on the small screen thanks to his inspirational ways of dealing with underprivileged children and helping them to overcome their own fears of singing in public.
This time around he is extending his repertoire from singing to literacy by aiming to inspire 30 lads in years 5 and 6 to read, write and articulate their thoughts.
Gareth turns educator for one term. His mission is to re-engage boys who aren't fulfilling their potential at school and who, like many across Britain, lag behind their female peers.
When my own son was in year 6, it seemed that his teacher failed to engage him significantly and he coasted throughout the year, doing just enough to keep out of trouble, but not enough to develop his thinking muscles.
I don't think that is an uncommon experience, and many of the boys in the programme do not appear engaged at any level.
The aim of the new mini-series, part of the BBC School Season, is to redress the balance between the boys and their female counterparts who, according to national statistics, average a lead of between six months and a year over the boys.
It's a big step and a small step.
A small step because Gareth uses the same techniques to engage the boys that we have seen in his previous three projects. He praises; he uses physical activity; he participates; he brings in credible role models. He thinks out of the box.
And that's why it is a big step. Gareth has no formal teaching qualifications.
In the choir business, there is no legal requirement to accomplish certain tasks or to tackle the subject in a prescribed way. Literacy, on the other hand, is at the centre of government policy in schools, and figures strongly in the National Curriculum and all the complex rules that go with that edifice.
In the current project, Gareth has free rein (heath and safety permitting) to take the boys out and chop down trees (a success); play otherwise-forbidden games (not a success) and bring in external role models (another success).
At this stage I don't know whether, at the end of the series, we will be left with the impression that all it takes is a good teacher, or whether we will be left with the feeling that the government is interfering too much in the education system. The signs are toward the latter, as Gareth says teachers are being compelled to teach boring topics in boring ways.
There is no doubt that literacy among boys is an issue and that we as a society need to ensure that boys learn from books just as much as they do from their games consoles.
In that spirit, any positive contribution to the debate is worthwhile. I am sure this will emerge as a positive contribution, if only for the boys at Pear Tree Mead School.
However, the issue is much broader than the relationship between teacher and pupil. It's about parents; government policy and resources, and those have just as much influence over literacy skills as specific teaching techniques and style.
I'll be watching the rest of the series, if only to get some tips on how to deal with unruly 10 year old boys!
David Shaw is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.
Read Gareth Malone's entry on the BBC TV blog.
To find out times of all episodes from this series, please visit the upcoming episodes page.