Educating Greater Manchester: The fly-on-the-wall cameras find a new home

The first episode of the new Channel 4 reality series focuses on immigration, prejudice and – touchingly – friendship

Adi Bloom

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Rani is trying to explain what it means to be Muslim. “You can’t eat bacon,” the Year 7 pupil says. “And you’re not allowed to touch dogs.” He pauses, to take a question from a classmate. “No, it’s not a dance.”

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 follows his efforts to settle in.

It does not start well: the programme begins with another pupil bullying him 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 past five years.

“When people come in, they get housing benefits,” says white pupil Chelci. “They get paid more than we do.”

Freya, meanwhile, is marginally more sympathetic. “They need a safe place to be,” she says. “But, at the same time, there’s not enough places to live.”

'I will help you'

To help Rani adjust, his teachers introduce him to Year 10 pupil Murad, who is also from Syria. Murad was smuggled out of his home country on a boat to Cyprus; he has no idea where his father is now.

Rani’s face lights up as Murad begins to speak to him in Arabic. “Rani,” he says, “if anything happens to you, come to me. Don’t be shy – I will help you.”

But, instead, Rani makes a friend. Jack, like Rani, is round-faced and tousle-haired. He, too, is in Year 7; they both exude boyish good nature. Or, as Rani phrases it: “Him is good, and not naughty.”

Jack feels the same. “I wish you could come in normal lessons with us,” he says to Rani.

Not long afterwards, Jack’s wish is granted: Rani graduates from the special-needs class, where he has been learning English, into the mainstream Year 7 class.

The progression of the two boys’ friendship from here is a delight to behold. “What do you think of coming in my lessons?” Jack says.

“Dunno,” Rani replies. Already, he is developing a notable Mancunian accent.

Oh, fock

Shortly afterwards, a dirty white van parks in the playground. In a fit of daring, Rani spells out “F-O-C-K” in the dirt on its back door. 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.

But then Drew Povey, Harrop Fold headteacher, steps into the playground. In the first episode, Mr Povey is notable mostly for his chiselled jaw, and for his valiant efforts to discipline pupils for phallic graffiti without bursting into fits of laughter.

“If you touched that van, get up to my office,” Mr Povey says.

Rani’s swagger immediately fades; he looks suddenly very small, and very scared. But, when he begins to make his way to the head’s office, Jack stages an intervention, grabbing at his hood and holding him back. “Don’t grass on him, yeah?” he says to his classmates. “Don’t grass on him.”

Unlike previous Educating… series, the cameras do not stop at the school gates this time round: they also follow pupils into their homes. So, towards the end of the programme, we see Rani cementing the friendship by getting to work on a plate of pizza and chips at Jack’s house.

“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.

Later, in an interview to camera, Rani says of Jack: “We’re like…twins. I think he is brother.”

Jack grins broadly. “Friends for life, definitely.”

Educating Greater Manchester will be screened at 9pm on Thursday 31 August, on Channel 4

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