Richard Garner: We can teach those foreigners a thing or two

Chalk talk
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The Independent Online

Question: What do the state-funded Teachers TV and Hello! magazine have in common? Well, the answer may be a bit tenuous, but the online channel is in talks with sometime Hello! cover star Queen Rania of Jordan to set up a Middle Eastern spin-off of Teachers TV.

The channel's international arm has been flourishing of late. Negotiations are already concluded to set up Teachers TV in Thailand (about 80 per cent of its programmes are to be made in the UK), the US and Canada.

So just why is the rest of the world queuing up to take note of how British teachers teach, when our new Coalition Government (and much of our national media – it has to be admitted) are constantly lambasting its shortcomings?

The answer, according to Andrew Bethell, the former Teachers TV chief executive who now devotes his energies to its international offshoots, is: "People here may think it's crap, but the rest of the world thinks we've got a really good education service."

The income from its overseas ventures is, of course, welcome as the channel – like so many other organisations – waits for the Government's verdict on its funding, and in the wake of the decision to make it an online-only service rather than a satellite-TV one. That switchover lost it some advertising revenue, but things are beginning to look up, with hits on the channel increasing by 50-60 per cent year-on-year.

Its most popular programmes? A series of "Need to Know" productions explaining what it means to become an academy, and advice on good lesson preparation, now that all the quangos or public bodies that used to do that are doomed to extinction.

* What a difference a day or two makes. There was Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, going on at the Conservative party conference about the need to increase the teaching of British history in schools. Fast-forward 48 hours to a conference held in London by the NASUWT teachers union. Some 74 per cent of participants voted to say that lessons under the national curriculum reflect British values rather than desired global values. No meeting of minds there, then. I suspect, though, that coalition ministers would have applauded as delegates then trooped off to the Chaucer, Keats, Shelley, Mountbatten and Burns rooms for their afternoon seminars. Those five names are just the ticket for a traditional curriculum to focus on.

* From hero to zero: Katharine Birbalsingh, the deputy head who set the Conservative party conference alight with her tales of "dumbing down" in the state sector, came down to earth with a bump when she returned to her school the following day. She was told she should stay away from the south London academy – St Michael and All Angels in Camberwell – for two days as a result of the speech.