Opinion & Debate

Published on January 5th, 2014 | by Kelly Rose Bradford


Jamie Oliver has got my goat

One of the things I feel most guilty about as a single mum is how little time I can spend with my son on his school work.

Working full time, with no childcare, there is rarely any time at the end of the day to sit down and go through his books or help with cutting and gluing his models or creations. He does his homework while I am finishing up my work before starting dinner. Then it is bath and bed time. There are just not enough hours in the day to do things differently – simply because there is only one adult in the house.

In fact, our revision of spellings or tables in time for tests is usually done sing-song style on the school run. But it IS done. And on those journeys, or over breakfast, or when walking the dog in the morning we talk about what he is working on, and the importance of continuing to study at home the topics taught in school.

Fortunately, my lack of input into the 5pm homework regime hasn’t affected him academically, and as he is now 10, most of his work is set to be done independently – but it is something I continue to beat myself up about.

It’s different on the rare days I don’t have any work commitments – we can sit down, work through stuff together, look up extra information for whatever it is he is studying, and really turn his homework into something interesting, rather than something that both of us have to endure. But those days are few and far between.

But whether or not I am actually helping look stuff up, or suggesting other avenues of research, the message that I support his schooling and his homework, and indeed, his education as a whole, is always reinforced.

So it was with raised eyebrows that I read celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s views on his kids’ education in the Mail on Sunday today. He told their Event magazine supplement:

“Maybe I am not the best parent. My daughter has to do two hours of homework a night. After one hour I’m saying, “Come on stop now. Let’s play. Let’s do something.”

“If one of my kids goes to university I will be shocked,” he added.

Well I’m pretty shocked, too, Jamie.

I grew up in a household where education was regarded as something afforded to other people. I merely ‘went to school’. There was no support to achieve academically, just to turn up and be polite. For various reasons I lost an entire school year and had to switch schools the year before my GSCE courses began. As a teenager, I was under even less pressure – the assumption being I would leave as soon as was legally possible and get a job. Any job.

Jamie is dad to four children, Poppy, 11, Daisy, 10, Petal four, and Buddy, three. They have obviously been born into a wealthy, successful family. Perhaps their future is secured by that. Perhaps they don’t need to apply themselves at school or aspire to go on to university.

But is that ever a parent’s decision to make for their children?

I remember feeling embarrassed and tearful over incomplete homework, or half made projects because I hadn’t been given help or the necessary materials. I remember being ribbed by other pupils for not handing in work on its due date, the excuse ‘my mum said I didn’t have to’ drilled into me in the kitchen at home suddenly not so appealing to defiantly recite when stood in front of the entire class.

But perhaps Jamie genuinely thinks family time is more important than two hours homework an evening.

Family time IS precious, but for most households, during the week it’s something that is negotiated around work and school.  And in a two adult home, it is a much easier balance to achieve. I know – I have previously lived that life where one parent does homework supervision while the other gets tea on. One parent does bath-time while the other tidies away the detritus of the day. One parent does the bedtime story while the other gets the uniform and school bags ready for the next day.

The Oliver family are in a very privileged position: two parents, no doubt paid for help around the house and other support staff.

In fact, in the same piece Jamie says he has TWO members of staff looking after his diary in order to make sure he has time with his family.

Perhaps he should get them to schedule the homework time more efficiently into that regime, too?

Education – both a love for it, and support through it – is one of the most precious gifts I think we can give our children. Whether they choose to keep with it beyond 18 is ultimately up to them, but I strongly believe we should give them the skills and discipline to continue with study for as long as they wish to do so, and the confidence to believe they can achieve anything. Regardless of whether or not – financially – they need to.

What do you think?


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About the Author

Kelly Rose Bradford

is a London-based journalist and broadcaster, writing for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, and a host of women's magazines. Her robust opinions and feisty debating skills make her in demand as a social commentator, regularly guesting on ITV's This Morning programme, and across many radio stations, including 5 Live and BBC Radio London.

One Response to Jamie Oliver has got my goat

  1. mo says:

    This seems snide and unfair: “They have obviously been born into a wealthy, successful family. Perhaps their future is secured by that.”

    The article mentions that Oliver has a learning disorder, and that he’s struggled with school himself. He’s learned from personal experience that his children’s future happiness and success does not depend on locking them away for hours a night over homework.

    It’s not just different when there’s more than one parent in the house – it’s also different when there’s more than one child in the house. When your work is done, your son doesn’t have to compete with three or four siblings for your time and attention. I grew up in a full house, and there were nights when homework was not a priority, not because ‘our futures were secured’ but because there were other fires to be put out.

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