'Near impossible': TV show highlights school cuts

In Channel 4's The Secret Teacher, a businessman goes undercover as classroom support - and is shocked by what he finds

Martin George

Channel 4's Secret Teacher programme. The first episode features businessman Paul Rowlett at Haileybury Turnford School (Photo: Channel 4/Tom Barnes)

The founder of a multi-million-pound marketing company who went undercover as a classroom support worker has revealed his shock at the funding pressures on schools.

Paul Rowlett, who only passed one GCSE but went on to found EverythingBranded.co.uk, spent six weeks at Haileybury Turnford School in Herfordshire for Channel 4’s The Secret Teacher series, which starts this week.

At one point, he joined a Year 11 lesson in which the head of English had to teach two classes together because of staff shortages.

Profile: Meet the head failed by Ofsted on primetime TV

Educating Greater Manchester: 'To give children the chance to succeed, we need more money'

Opinion: ‘We need a long-term funding plan for schools’

Mr Rowlett said: “A class full of 60 kids? I mean, how can a teacher do the job? It’s near impossible, surely.”

He told the teacher that “disruption in that class, that’s a nightmare”, and afterwards added: “I just don’t even know where to start. Sixty kids in a class and no whiteboard to actually teach from because they had to put them in the library.

'It's not the teacher's fault'

"That’s tough, but it’s not the teacher’s fault.”

On a tour of the school estate, deputy head Kath Just told Mr Rowlett how she wished she could invest more in the school buildings but there was not enough money.

When told that the government's last Budget allocated more extra money to potholes than schools, he simply responded: “I’m really, really shocked."

The entrepreneur, who joined the Royal Navy after school and was on benefits before starting his business, added: “Knowing how much tax I pay and the business pays, this is a joke. It shouldn’t be like this.”

Ms Just summed up her feelings: “State education should be the jewel in the crown, really, because these students are the people of the future, and what do we show them?

"We don’t value you. You’re not worth that nice new shiny building, and I think that’s sad, actually. Really sad.”

At the end of his first day, Mr Rowlett tells the camera that he now appreciates how hard it is to work in schools.

“The school, it’s a very, very emotional, physically draining, mentally draining place,” he said. “I’m not scared of hard work – that’s why I’ve been successful – but this is a different kind of hard work. I’m trying not to feel like I’m out of my depth here.”

Speaking before the businessman was plunged into the school life, Ms Just suggested that he might be about to learn a lesson of his own.

“I think Paul is coming in without a full understanding of some of the challenges that schools face,” she said. “There are times when we just can’t even afford to buy exercise books, and that is a terrible feeling.”

During the emotionally charged episode, he sees first-hand the pressures on Year 11 pupils as they face their mock GCSEs.

As he gets to know the pupils, he helps 15-year-old Courtney, who is struggling with her mock GCSEs, and tries to get persistent lesson-avoider Loui back in class.

The first episode of The Secret Teacher airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday, 8 August.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

Latest stories