| 11°C Dublin

For teacher, read extraordinary

If Gareth Malone can't fix it, no one can -- at least that's what the BBC would have you believe. The bespectacled choirmaster who, in The Choir last year, fixed a broken community with his musical wand, is back with a new series: Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School For Boys.

This time Malone seeks to help boys who have fallen behind girls in their reading skills.

With his gentle manner, endless enthusiasm and nice line in neat ties and jumpers, 34-year-old Malone -- who has become something of an unlikely pin-up -- takes on a class of boys and attempts to teach and inspire them in different ways.

Strangely for a man who worked as a choirmaster with the London Symphony Orchestra for eight years, there's no singing or even music involved in this project. Is it out of his comfort zone?

"Totally, totally," he laughs, wrapping his arms around one knee. "But I've always seen music as a tool for encouraging people to develop. If you tackle a great piece of Schumann with a choir, you're digging deep, you're having to work at it . . . and when you come to perform it you really find out what you're made of."

Malone's first series was a hit with viewers, and certain fans may be sad to hear that at today's interview he's turned up in trendy jeans, a striped shirt and a wedding ring, having married Becky -- an English teacher -- last year.

He's pleased to announce there'll soon be another voice to add to the family sing-along, with Malone Junior due this month.

"We're very excited. We don't know the sex yet but I keep thinking I'm going to have a boy because of this last series."

As Teacher Malone, he says he focuses not just on reading, but on writing and speaking, too -- introducing three new elements to his class's lessons: risk, immediacy and competition.

"Competition has been going out of fashion over the last 40 years, and actually it's really important," he says.

"If you speak to anyone successful they'll tell you that once upon a time they failed, and, actually, you need that."

So the boys took part in a 'World Cup' of reading in which teams of boys competed to read the most books, and then had to answer questions about them. They then took on the school's girls in a debating competition.

"I don't want to reveal who won but . . . poor boys," Malone says cheekily.

While the school's headmistress vetoed some of his ideas -- taking them for a swim in the sea was too much of a risk, she said -- after a presentation from the boys, she let them walk on custard for a science experiment, and throw a television off the roof.

"But it was covered in D30," says Malone as a caveat.

"It's an incredible substance which acts like a solid if you hit it fast, and like a liquid if you hit it slowly, so the television was safe. But the boys were fascinated by it and, because the experiment was very visual, it helped them to learn, and because they had to persuade the headmistress to do it, and describe it afterwards, it taught them how to speak and how to have a reasoned argument."

As with his Choir programmes, Malone's subjects aren't always top of the class, and he admits he does come across some very tricky pupils.

"This is, without doubt, my most difficult challenge to date. In The Choir, if you've got the right song, and the boy is able to sing, then they'll get there, it's not an impossible task. This was. There were a couple of boys who were really against the idea of reading and I came across a lot of discipline issues," he says gravely.

The choirmaster is keeping quiet about how much success he had with the boys over the eight weeks he was with them, but he's not claiming to be a miracle-maker and certainly has no intention of turning the programme into a Jamie Oliver-style political campaign.

"I don't want to ram anything down anyone's throats because each teacher has to respond to the boys in front of them. I don't want to be a politician and I don't think this is about politics, it's about the whole culture around reading," he says.

Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School For Boys is on BBC Two on Thursdays at 9pm


Privacy