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Educating the East End episode review: 'Triumph, defeat and an accurate portrayal of the struggles facing kids in E17'

Oliver Beach, former star of Tough Young Teachers and now assistant head of business studies at Central Foundation Boys' School in London, writes:

Educating the East End served the nation a new dish tonight, a flavourful dish of humility, respect, ambition and responsibility. Young people are really powerful; if only they knew it more. In the most heart-rending of the three episodes so far (I hope episode 6 doesn’t give me a cardiac arrest), we witnessed triumph, defeat and, importantly, an accurate portrayal of the struggles facing kids in E17 from difficult socio-economic backgrounds. Whether it was tonight’s episode or the anticipation of the Scottish referendum result, I was on the edge of my hideous brown sofa, anxious to hear the head boy/girl result, empathetically witnessing Malaika’s boyfriend struggles and thoroughly enjoying Ms Smith as her alter-ego, Aslan from Narnia.

When I found out this evening that Mr Palombo was a fellow business studies teacher, my heart sank. I have a list of Palombo-related concerns. #PalomboGate has started. First, he insulted Joshua’s classroom shyness and essentially berated his lack of participation. Has Mr Palombo not heard of cold call? Maybe Joshua is secretly an avid reader, like me, of Teach Like A Champion and is therefore waiting to be called to give an answer. Secondly, on World Book Day you dress up. Nobody is too cool to dress up. He’s the Miss Hannigan of Frederick Bremer School, the dark cloud on a sunny day or the fork when all you need is a knife. I’m sure that, in reality, he’s a lovely guy, but the character appearing on our screens isn’t inspiring me, even if he is wearing a pink tie.

The real heroes of our screen tonight were, as always, the students: the wise, eccentric, inspiring Joshua; the "modern geek" Sheneil; the girl who uses her 16th birthday party as a bribe, Malaika; and the popular Dike.

Anybody who wears puppets has my vote. Joshua wasn’t just using them as props; he was wearing them. He had them in his Sainsbury’s bag; they have a special place in Joshua’s life. It was the Lady Gaga doll outfit of 2013 all over again. In all seriousness, though, Joshua was our unsung hero. When he won the head boy contest (and, yes, I did scream in my living room), he demonstrated humility and a clear growth mindset that I want to instil in all my students. He saw the head boy post not as a title or as a prize but as an opportunity to grow and to develop his skills. That’s a deserving winner. A deserving winner with a dad who is so proud, who wants his son to capitalise on opportunities and work towards something he loves doing. There’s nothing better than having that role model in your life and if there’s any justice in the world, Joshua should be a voice we hear again in years to come. One day I’ll be saying, “You know, I wrote a paragraph about him for TES when he was 15.”

I’m worried about Sheneil. The cruel reality is that talent and success aren’t often as congruent as popularity and success. Mr Larkin was the voice of reason tonight as he sought to build steel in the students and not sugarcoat failure. Fail, fail again, fail better. Apart from your parents, nobody is going to cheerlead for you for free. The young people in our classrooms need to know that they have to give themselves boxing-ring pep talks, remind themselves and others that they’re the best and have conviction in their own abilities. Growing up in E17 shouldn’t be a barrier, so if they have their own drive and the confidence to succeed, they can turn their eight A-C GCSEs into something life-changing for them and their families. Sheneil has the talent and passion to see her through to her name in lights; she just has to learn how to jump through the hoops.

On the flip side (is that a cool thing to say?), I’m quietly confident for Malaika and Dike, the Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens of Frederick Bremer, but without the singing. Dike seems a rational, kind, cool kid and was incredibly gracious when he didn’t win the title of head boy; Malaika, despite the omnipresent distractions in her life, is achieving as she deserves. Though he didn’t win the badge, it did seem like Dike won Juliet at the end – a fitting Hollywood-meets-Walthamstow ending for tonight’s Romeo.

This episode was about great leaders: great leaders who inspire action, whether they’re holding a TLR for it or just a "head boy" badge. These young people could and should shape the world – and if Ms Smith is the preacher who’ll make it happen, let’s all join that religion.

Find TES' full coverage of this series at the Educating the East End landing page

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