In the second instalment of the weekend, I go back to school with three programmes that portray adolescent life in very different ways.
Kicking off with a programme that focuses on a real life school, namely Thornhill Academy just outside Dewsbury, which is the setting for the new Channel 4 documentary Educating Yorkshire. The show is a follow-up to the massively successful Educating Essex and follows that programme’s simple formula of setting a camera rig and letting the students and staff tell the story. This opening episode mainly focused on headteacher Mr Mitchell, who’d only been headteacher at the school for eighteen months and was keen to turn the school’s fortunes around. It was clear that Mr Mitchell wanted to make Thornhill a place that parents wanted to send their children and hoped to change the image of a once lousy institution. Mr Mitchell has seemingly had a positive influence on the school especially judging from the comments made by a number of the pupils. At the same time Mr Michell is still seeing more pupils brought to his office for behavioural issues than to be praised. A case in point was year eight pupil Kammrem, who we saw get into mischief in the boys toilets before later being earmarked as the ringleader of a group of boys who threw snowballs at an elderly couple in the neighbourhood. Kammrem’s story was a fairly sad one but one that at least had an eventual happy ending. Running alongside Mr Mitchell’s strife was the story of Ryan, a year eight pupil who was the living definition of an old soul. Ryan’s one wish was to get a place on the student council as he felt he’d been overlooked in the past due to his lack of popularity. Ryan’s emotional election speech was the highlight of the episode as teachers and students alike began to tear up. There was no surprise when Ryan was elected a member of the student council and by the looks of things he could be the star of the series.
Anybody who saw Educating Essex really knew what to expect from Educating Yorkshire as they both come from the same directors. The overriding theme in Educating Yorkshire is one of altering the perceptions of outsiders to the image of the school. I found Mr Mitchell a commanding presence, especially when I met him in person, though he was still an approachable leader of the school. His little asides combined with his issuing of punishment gave me the impression he was firm but fair. The eccentric Mr Burton also shone in this episode due to his quirky nature and his friendship with the aforementioned Ryan. I feel that the point of shows like Educating Yorkshire is to show just what teachers do and how much they care. So we see too of the heads of year discussing how much time they’ve put into trying to change Kammrem’s behaviour while we also see the teachers mucking about in the snow. I feel that Educating Yorkshire tried to portray all of its subjects as fully-rounded individuals, as some of the kids may cause trouble but they do want to be good. While not quite as memorable as the first episode of Educating Essex, Educating Yorkshire still has a lot going for it in terms of its staff members and its Northern charm. This first episode gave viewers a good introduction to all of the main players and demonstrated a mixture of comedy, drama and emotional scenes. I personally love the smaller sequences that are edited in and would really like to hear the whole conversation between the two mature teachers discussing sex-texting.
If the drama of a real school wasn’t enough for you then we had the return of a fictional school as well. That school is Waterloo Road which returned for its ninth series and its second in Scotland. There was plenty of administrative shake-ups at the end of the last series which saw Christine (Laurie Brett) take over as acting head-teacher. We return to see the school still mourning the death of stalwart teacher Tom Clarkson with his death hitting Kacey Barry (Brogan Ellis) particularly hard. Meanwhile, sleazy deputy head Simon (Richard Mylan) continued to try and line up several allies while trying to keep his relationship with new science teacher Sue (Vanessa Hehir) a secret. Simon believes that his engagement to Sue would be frowned upon by the rest of the staffroom as her father sits on the board of education. As is tradition at Waterloo Road a new term ushers in troublesome pupils and this was no difference with the introduction of the scruffy Brown twins. Spinster history teacher Audrey (Georgie Glen) attempted to get to the bottom of their squalid living conditions only to discover that their brother was a drug dealer. As events came to a head at a charity football game; it was clear that this term at Waterloo Road was going to contain the same amount of fighting and staffroom politics that we’ve seen over the last eight years. I personally feel that it’ll be interesting to see what happens to Waterloo Road as it develops over the next nine weeks. With Philip Martin Brown soon departing as Grantly, the only remaining original character in the series, the teaching line-up will definitely look different. I’ve personally not warmed to any of the new characters though Angus Deyton’s sardonic languages teacher George Windsor is growing on me slightly. The major problem with Waterloo Road these days is that it just doesn’t seem very real any more, an issue it’s had since it moved to Scotland. I don’t really believe in any of these pupils or their teachers and that means I never really get involved in the stories in the same way I used to.
From a punch-up at a football match in Waterloo Road to an embarrassing moment at a swimming pool in Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education. Now in its second year, the sitcom is co-written by Whitehall who also stars as rubbish teacher Alfie Wickers. I feel that Whitehall perfectly suits the role of the man who never grew up and throughout the show we’ve seen him get into various scrapes due to his inability to act like a normal person. The first episode of this second series concentrated on the annual swimming gala and the introduction of a synchronised diving contest introduced by head teacher Fraser (Matthew Horne) in honour of the greatest show on Earth – Splash! Alfie makes a stupid bet with Miss Pickwell (Michelle Gomez) that his class can win at least one event against her elite group of swimmers. Obviously Alfie, who has the worst class in the school, is fighting a losing battle from the start mainly because of the kids respect him. Alfie’s personal life isn’t faring that much better after his love interest Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) reveals that she’s in a relationship with another woman and what’s more she’s a former student. This revelation leaves Alfie angry but more than that he’s a little bit turned on by the news. Obviously the episode builds up to the synchronised diving contest and a number of hilarious set pieces. I personally felt that the first series of Bad Education was a little bit hit and miss but, judging from this first episode, this series isn’t going to be a lot more consistent. The script to this first episode is a lot tighter and benefited from Whitehall having a co-writer as well as number of script editors including League of Gentleman’s Jeremy Dyson. Whereas David Walliams’ Big School feels very traditional, Bad Education has a more anarchic edge which makes it seem like the kid in class who would never shut up. Bad Education’s other strength is the group of young actors who play Alfie’s class especially Ethan Lawrence who portrays the put-upon Joe brilliantly. Matthew Horne has also greatly improved as head teacher Fraser and here he was responsible for the best gag involving fire and a white hood. But Bad Education is Whitehall’s show and he’s brilliant throughout, I’m just hoping that this series will go to the top of the class as it deserves a lot more exposure than it currently gets.
Next Time: Peaky Blinders, The Wipers Times and Strictly Come Dancing Live Launnch.