Jamie's Dream School, Channel 4, Wednesday
Attenborough and the Giant Egg, BBC2, Tuesday

Jamie Oliver's chums may be the alpha males of the media world, but naturals in the classroom they are not

Dismayed to learn that half of Britain's schoolchildren flunk their GCSEs, Jamie Oliver unveiled a new project: Jamie's Dream School.

An educational failure himself (two GCSEs, presumably in Domestic Science and Applied Lisping), he rounded up 20 fellow flunkers and bussed them into an empty school, there to be taught elementary history, English, art and science by a squad of public figures from a territory somewhere between the groves of academe and the palace of celebrity. "It's the great and the good vs the bored and the badly behaved," said Oliver in one of many pungent comments on his own experiment.

It quickly became apparent that both sides were slightly miscast. These kids weren't thick; they'd either been ignored or shouted at too much (like Angelique, who said, "How can I be 16 and still facing the wall?"), or accommodated too indulgently, like middle-class graffiti artist Henry. And the "dream teachers" may have been alpha males of stage and TV, but they sure weren't natural teachers.

Taking English was Simon Callow. Initially a confident, booming presence, he faltered under the hail of irrelevance that followed his questions about the Bard of Avon. Had the class heard of Stratford? "OhMiGod, I live, like, an hour away from Stratford," shrieked Angelique (from Romford). When he asked them to nominate a person they'd like to be, one black youth chose Katie Price. Callow blinked. He'd been expecting Nelson Mandela, or Barack Obama, or someone who corresponded to a Shakespearean hero; alas, there are few Bardic heroines whose importance lies in their breast implants.

Less happy outcomes followed the interventions of Robert Winston's science class, whose climactic dissection of a pig made some scholars vomit; of Rolf Harris's art class (he almost wept when he saw some canvases had been muddily shit-coloured and abandoned); and especially David Starkey, who stole the show. Beadily irascible, he began by telling the children, "You're here because you're failures," and within five minutes had upset a brooding sociopath called Conor by saying he was fat. Conor retaliated stoutly ("Are you a midget? How long you been that high?") but the damage was done. Jamie's headmaster friend John D'Abbro explained that, had Starkey been a teacher, he'd have been dismissed. "We'll have to help him," he and Jamie agreed, as though discussing a delinquent. "Or help him help himself."

Behind the programme's square-dance of co-operation and rejection lay a question. Had these kids really been "let down" by the education system? Or had they, as Starkey asked, "had too much of the milk of human kindness"? Getting to the root of their threadbare self-esteem is the real challenge for the naked educationalist.

In 1960, a boyishly keen zoologist called David Attenborough visited Madagascar for BBC1's Zoo Quest. Heedless of conservationist ethics, he collected species of animals, lizards and insects to ship to London Zoo – and also discovered some thick, white shards of a 3D jigsaw that became a giant egg. Half a century later, snow-haired, dishevelled and dismissive of his youthful anthropomorphism, Attenborough returned to the Indian Ocean to see what had become of the island and its fauna, and to try to work out what happened to the "Elephant Bird" which produced the super-egg.

Attenborough and the Giant Egg made for a bitty but fascinating documentary, hopping between 1960 and 2011, between forest lemurs, baobab trees, museum exhibits of giant bird skeletons (about which Attenborough was subtly sceptical, whispering to camera that the curators might have added a few vertebrae for effect) and the wasteland of deforestation. He gave a bravura exhibition of the things that have made him the god of zoological programming: the airy deductions about how creatures evolved, the vivid synecdoche ("this small, spiked object in my hand holds the secret of an entire species"), the respectful whispering in the presence of animals, the close encounters. When he offered a lemur some leaves for its lunch, the lemur accepted with shy delight, as though about to ask the great man for his autograph.

And the Elephant Bird whose remains he sought died out in AD700. It was killed off, not by climate change, or hunters, or deforestation, but because its eggs were nutritious and easy to steal. Rapacious Man, as usual, was the culprit. You could almost go off homo sapiens as a hopelessly nasty species, were they not so charmingly represented by Sir David.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories