摘要： It was brave of Neil Strowger, head teacher of Bohunt
But his eagerness to learn from other cultures seemed to break down a bit when the teachers declared themselves shocked by the behaviour of some pupils in class.
One of the teachers described how pupils were chatting, eating and putting on make-up.
Another spoke of her puzzlement when one girl ran from the classroom in tears, having just learned that her idol, Zayn Malik, was to leave the band One Direction.
A trailer for the documentary, Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, to be screened on BBC Two this evening, shows pupils pushing over a desk and throwing paper planes as their teachers struggle to make themselves heard.
Yet instead of showing embarrassment, Mr Strowger went on the attack, calling the teaching methods of the Chinese teachers “mind-numbingly boring” and claiming that was the reason his pupils were misbehaving.
“If you visited my school in the week when cameras were not there you would not see behaviour like that,” he said.
“There is no low-level disruption. However, if you go into a class and do not treat the students with respect then you are going to get problems.”
One of the crucial elements of anyone’s education is to learn to accept criticism with grace, but it is one on which Mr Strowger should be marked “could do better”.
No teacher in Britain should be dismissing Chinese education methods, which consistently produce pupils well ahead of their British counterparts.
The best method we have for comparing the achievement of pupils across borders is Unesco’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which sets standardised tests for 15-year-olds.
When the tests were last undertaken in 2012, Shanghai – which represents China in the tests – was ranked first in maths, reading and science.
Britain’s respective rankings were 26, 23 and 21. Besides falling behind Hong Kong and Japan, Britain were beaten by Finland, Ireland and Poland.
Predictably enough, teaching unions tried to wash their hands of the results, claiming that if other countries were doing better than Britain it was all because they valued the professionalism of their teachers more.
Now, however, it seems we don’t think much of Chinese teachers after all, blaming them for provoking our teenagers into bad behaviour.
What makes the documentary all the more poignant is that Bohunt is no sink school.
Last year it was the Times Educational Supplement’s School of the Year. Ofsted inspectors rated it “outstanding” in every category.
The academy, which specialises in languages, claims to have been the first in Britain to introduce Mandarin.
If Chinese teachers are shocked by the behaviour and concentration of pupils in one of our most praised state schools, we really do have a national problem.
To be fair to the teachers, you can’t just blame them.
They have custody of children only for relatively short periods.
As one of the Chinese teachers at Bohunt School pointed out, in China teachers don’t need classroom management skills because children arrive at school already in a disciplined state of mind.
They are well-behaved because they are taught to be so from birth. Besides the influence of parents, Chinese society teaches them to respect elders.
Moreover, as one of the Chinese teachers argued, Chinese pupils have a positive attitude to education because, in the absence of a strong welfare system, they know it is the way out of poverty.
In China, she said, pupils know “I need to study hard, I need to work hard to get money to support my family”.
I am not saying that I would like to live in China but the large and growing gap between the relative achievements of British and Chinese pupils should at least make us question whether we have become too soft on our children.
It isn’t just that there are neglectful parents who let their children wander and fend for themselves.
You don’t have to look far to see middle-class children who have been bought every fancy toy, iPhone and piece of designer clothing but who have never been equipped with something far more useful: a sense of self-restraint.
We like to fool ourselves that if we just let children be themselves they will grow up to be great creative geniuses.
But they won’t.
What will benefit most children over time is an education in technical and traditional academic subjects.
If you can’t read, write and add up you are going to have a pretty limited future.
China is far from a perfect society.
It is still emerging from decades of communist oppression and has a poor human rights record.
The country still executes more people than the rest of the world put together and suppresses critics of government.
But when it comes to everyday matters such as expecting children to listen in class rather than let them throw paper aeroplanes and fiddle with their phones, yes, there is something we can learn from China.
To judge by the reaction of Bohunt School’s head teacher it isn’t just the children, either, who need to listen to what Chinese teachers are telling them.