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TV: Educating Essex

The scourge of the inappropriate titling of TV documentaries strikes again. The name Educating Essex, and to a lesser extent the trails that have been promoting it, are clearly designed to connect with The Only Way Is Essex and to make you think that this is going to be a fun opportunity to laugh at thick Essex-folk. It’s a problem that I know all to well – my one and only broadcast television credit was on a BBC Three documentary titled F*** off, I’m a Hairy Woman, part of a series of “F*** off” programmes on various issues. The sensationalist title devalued what was, at times, an interesting look at body image and its impact. Don’t get me wrong, it was ridiculous in parts (I had to organise a hair bonfire on a wasteland in Docklands), but nowhere near as bad as the title suggested.

Anyway, I digress. Once you get over the title, Educating Essex was in fact one of the best documentaries I’ve seen a while.

The star of the show is clearly deputy head Mr Drew. He seems to capture the perfect qualities of a secondary teacher – the one that can have a laugh with his students, but who can also turn up the discipline when needed. We saw less of the headmaster, Mr Goddard, in the opening episode but he too seems thoroughly suited to the job, taking a clearly nonsensical accusation of assault deadly seriously and handing the situation perfectly.

In many ways this programme should have been quite depressing, featuring as it did a tiny minority of kids behaving in a disgraceful way. Yet the handling of these difficult situations by the school meant the programme was actually quite uplifting, even inspiring. Amongst the nuggets of wisdom dished out by Mr Drew, my favourite came when he was being interviewed about the school’s reluctance to expel unruly pupils. It was suggested that this meant the kids would always win, to which he replied that he wants the kids to win.

With so much said by politicians, commentators, the media and us everyday folk about education and what schools need to be doing, it was refreshing to see the reality of an everyday school dealing with everyday issues.

At one point the head and his deputy broke the fourth wall and made reference to the documentary they were starring in, worrying “what if they think we’re all idiots?”. Well don’t worry Mr Drew, I think the exact opposite.

 

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