Is this Salford school ready for its close-up?

Hit series heads to Greater Manchester for the latest Educating... documentary
25th August 2017, 12:00am
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Is this Salford school ready for its close-up?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/salford-school-ready-its-close

“A couple of times, I left the microphone on when I went to the bathroom,” Drew Povey says. “Then you’re: oops.”

Povey is the chisel-jawed headteacher of Harrop Fold School in Salford; the latest leader to offer up his school to the all-seeing cameras of the documentary series Educating....

Educating Greater Manchester is the fifth iteration of the fly-on-the-wall series that made minor stars of teachers such as headteacher Vic Goddard and disciplinarian Stephen Drew.

Sixty cameras were set up around Harrop Fold, along with more than 100 ambient microphones, but Povey insists these were forgotten about within 24 hours. “Within a day, the cameras were old news,” says Povey.

“We’ve already got CCTV in school, anyway. It’s not really much different from that. Other than that it’s going to end up on TV, of course.”

In addition to the ambient microphones, 22 members of staff and pupils wore individual microphones each day.

“You might have 20 kids and you mic up every kid for a few hours a day,” says the show’s director, Warren Smith. “You don’t do every kid every day, because that would be too much for them.”

These pupils had been identified before filming began as potentially interesting to the documentary-makers. However, series producer Clare Cameron says that one of the joys of filming the series was finding that it led them to unexpected places.

“You can’t predict everything,” she says. For example, the first episode of the series focuses on Syrian immigrant Rani, as well as on broader themes of immigration, prejudice and friendship.

Natural storytelling

Cameron says that the film-makers had not planned to address these themes. Rani had been selected to appear on the series as - because of his basic English - he had been placed in the special-needs class.

However, after he reported an incident of racist bullying, the documentary makers saw potential for a new storyline.

“Those are absolutely the best stories,” Cameron says, “because they’re just so natural.”

In order to avoid wading through an unmanageable amount of footage, only two or three cameras were recording at any given time. Film-makers therefore had to make on-the-spot decisions about which stories to follow.

Year 10 pupil Girhan was wearing a microphone because producers planned to include him in an episode about the competition to be picked as Harrop Fold headboy or headgirl.

But Girhan - an Afghan immigrant - found himself being called “Osama bin Laden,” by a classmate during lunch hour. He squared up to the boy: “Don’t ever call me that,” he said. “It’s racism, yeah.”

The cameras followed him throughout the encounter, and the footage also forms part of the immigration and prejudice storyline.

“All of the time, as film-makers, you’re constantly thinking: am I missing something incredible?” Cameron says. “Have I made the right choice? But you have to hold your nerve.

“By the end of the filming, we have a fairly good idea of what our episodes will be.” She pauses. “We still have hundreds of hours of footage to go through, obviously.”

Unlike previous series, Educating Greater Manchester includes scenes of pupils’ home lives. For example, we see Rani go round to his classmate Jack’s house for pizza and chips. “Shukran,” he says to Jack’s mother.

“I don’t know what that means,” Jack’s mother says. “You’ll have to educate me.”

“Thank you for the food,” Rani says, looking like butter - or mozzarella - wouldn’t melt.

Cameron points out that Harrop Fold offers particularly strong pastoral care, with staff going on regular home and community visits. “Therefore it felt a natural progression in the series to incorporate filming in the home and interviews with parents as well,” she says.

“It seems that so much of what happens to a kid in school is about what happens at home. So we felt it was really important to include that side of education.”

The new series also includes interviews to camera, in which pupils discuss their views on various topics: in episode one, these are on immigration, as well as the school’s changing demographics.

Pupils were given the opportunity to log any concerns that arose during filming, and these were taken into account in the editing process. “We don’t put anything on telly that’s going to distress them in any way,” Cameron says. “Every child watches the film with their family before it goes out for broadcast.”

Povey says he balloted all pupils and staff members before agreeing to allow the film crew into Harrop Fold. There was 80-90 per cent agreement with the project. The rest largely expressed reservations, rather than voting definitively against it.

Povey insists that he does not think of himself as a reality-TV star in the waiting. He is no Stephen Drew, and is not hoping for a spin-off series. “Absolutely the mirror opposite,” he says. “That’s one of the things that was more likely to put me off doing this. I’d refer to myself as average on a good day.

“I’ve not really given a lot of thought to being recognised on the street. I’m still living in a world where I’m thinking it won’t happen. I’m extremely hopeful that the spotlight will be on the kids.”

Educating Greater Manchester will be screened at 9pm on Thursday on Channel 4

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