“When Rani said, ‘I’m from Syria,’ I actually took a step back,” says Year 7 pupil Jack. “We’ve heard in the newses and, from my point of view, it’s not the best of countries.”
Rani began attending Harrop Fold School in Salford last term, after his family arrived in Britain from Syria. The first episode of Educating Greater Manchester, broadcast on Channel 4, documents the touching bromance that develops between him and Jack.
The friendship between the two Year 7 boys begins tentatively. “Him is good,” Rani says of Jack. “And not naughty.”
Rani has a fair idea what naughty looks like: he has already been bullied in the playground. Until recently, 99 per cent of Harrop Fold pupils were white British. The number of pupils speaking English as an additional language has quadrupled in the last five years.
“When people come in, they get housing benefits,” says white pupil Chelci. “They get paid more than we do.”
Even within the lunchtime club for foreign students, there are tensions. Told that Syrian immigrants have to register at the police station, Polish pupil Estera suggests that they are being treated like terrorists. The Muslim pupils take offence at being called terrorists, Estera storms out in tears.
With the help of Jack, meanwhile, Rani is beginning to feel more at home. When a dirty white van parks in the playground, Rani spells out “F-O-C-K” dcin the dirt.
Other pupils rapidly follow suit, and the van becomes a veritable collage of phallic graffiti and swearwords.
“I started it off,” Rani says, with just a hint of swagger.
When the headteacher sees his pupils’ artwork, however, the swagger fades – Rani looks suddenly terrified. Jack steps in, forcibly preventing Rani from owning up to his crimes. “Don’t grass on him, yeah?” he says to his classmates. “Don’t grass on him.”
By the end of the episode, Rani has been to Jack’s house for pizza and chips and has taught Jack’s mother how to say “thank you” in Arabic.
In a broad Mancunian accent, with only a hint of Arabic remaining, Rani says of Jack: “We’re like…twins. I think he is brother.”
Jack grins broadly. “Friends for life, definitely.”