Week three of this series finally gave the audience a chance to catch their breath. After the emotional highs of episode one and the heart-rending stories of episode two, we were treated to a much more muted narrative in this instalment and, while less headline-grabbing in nature, for school staff watching, it was another set of situations that many will be all too familiar with.
Episode three helped to fuel debates about how schools deal with common issues faced in education.
Surprisingly, the one that probably divided more than anything else was mobile phones – something not even central to the narratives but ever-present in the programme. Twitter was a storm with teachers and parents debating the merits of phone bans, as we appeared to watch Mitchell using his phone rather than participating in lessons.
I just don’t understand why schools just do not ban them. They are a menace to learning and using them for the occasional Google search at your desk to research a topic does not account for the rumour they spread, the division and the distraction to learning they create. I have yet to hear a convincing argument to persuade me they have any use in schools.
But I concede that the phone was not the major issue facing Mitchell.
Flirting with danger
In a world that seems to require that we label people, Mitchell defied the pigeon holes. Yet while Mitchell is clearly a unique and charismatic young person, his issues are pretty uncommon. Wanting to grow up quickly without responsibility takes many forms in school and the dangers it can cause can vary from embarrassment to being in real harm’s way.
His Tinder profile had the potential to be the latter and the hilarious image of Mr Chambers – a man so old-school he looks and sounds like a retired rugby league centre – trying to come to terms with it shouldn’t mask the fact that danger really could’ve been knocking. It was brilliant to see a school being so decisive, even if it did fall for the second-phone trick; it may not be the oldest in the book but one many of us will know only too well.
The fact that Mitchell wouldn’t take responsibility for his behaviour meant that the school took away his chance to shine in the school play. Again, the debate here will rage amongst teachers.
The Harrop Fold approach was that you needed to earn the right to shine. Their detractors were on social media arguing that he needed the confidence to move forward. I am firmly with Mr Chambers here.
Mitchell needed to realise that his actions had consequences and while in the short term his behaviour deteriorated, I would bet that in the long run seeing the result of not applying himself led him to knuckle down and make a success of his exams.
At the same time, we had Callum and Maddie. Two star-crossed lovers united in their love of theatre. Except when they weren’t. These are my personal cringe moments as I watch two children (and even with a beard, Callum is a child) mimicking the adult relationship lexicon and getting caught up in Jeremy Kyle-esque drama.
Yet sometimes, and I mean sometimes, I have to admit that these teenage romances do seem to balance out some pupils’ more extreme behaviours. Callum, a smiley and cheeky young man, did seem to be content and a positive presence around the school. And even my stoney cynical heart melted a little when I saw him crying and clearly devastated in Mr Povey’s office.
I do like to see schools that do not view themselves as an exam factory but play a role in the emotional development of young people. Harrop Fold and Mr Povey recognise that this is often absent in pupils' lives and neglecting it can have damaging consequences in the future.
So this was a much calmer episode emotionally, but one of value to schools debating their institutional values and how to support young people.
Next week, the tempo will rise again as we see the misbehaving boys in action. I am sure Harrop Fold will give us more examples of how to challenge poor behaviour.
Just lose the phones, please.
Joseph Bispham teaches at Forest Gate Community School, and starred in Educating the East End. He worked in politics before moving into teaching and tweets @MrBispham