No dead certs when it comes to teachers' pets

A top 10 list of films about schools, voted by teachers, will be revealed next week. Michael Shaw picks some favourites

Michael Shaw

If Dead Poet's Society does not triumph, expect its die-hard fans in the teaching community to stand on their desks in protest.

It is the favourite to top a list of the 10 greatest school films, which will be revealed on Teachers TV on Monday night. Nearly 2,500 teachers and pupils voted, choosing from a long-list of 100 movies.

Teachers have cited Robin Williams' turn as a charismatic English teacher as an inspiration. Its effect was demonstrated at a headteachers' conference in Harrogate two years ago, when a surprise screening of the climax left several school leaders misty-eyed.

Mick Brookes, National Assocation of Head Teachers general secretary, said: "It's an immensely powerful film, and it demonstrates the importance of having values in the education system, rather than education by numbers."

But Dead Poet's Society is not universally popular. One teacher described it on The TES website as "over-sentimental tripe, which makes Mamma Mia look like Citizen Kane".

Richard Pope, a music teacher at a secondary school in London, said teachers' favourite school films altered as their careers progressed.

"When I started, it would have been Dead Poet's Society, or Goodbye, Mr Chips, but I can't watch them now," he said. "I prefer the ones about how tough it is, like Half Nelson. I'll probably switch to midlife-crisis films next, like Sideways, in which the main character is a fed-up English teacher."

Teachers TV started by drawing up a list of 25 school films, based on recommendations from teachers registered with the channel's website, then expanded the list to more than 100 films after opening the survey up to teachers and pupils.

Among the long-list's merits are the inclusion of the best versions of St Trinians (1954) and Lord of the Flies (1963). A potential drawback is that the list lumps "school films" together, rather than distinguishing between those that focus on teaching and coming-of-age dramas.

Paul Ashton, commissioning editor at Teachers TV, said the channel had originally considered focusing on great teachers in films. "But there were so many great films in schools, like If ... where the teachers do not stand out as much of the pupils," he said.

Mr Ashton said the most popular portrayals of teachers were those where they seemed to sympathise with pupils' desire for rebellion.

Other films succeeded because they were funny. And several of those nominated, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Gregory's Girl, are likely to benefit from the nostalgic reaction they generate among teachers in their thirties and forties.

Canterbury Christ Church university's teacher training and media studies departments have analysed the way in which teachers are represented through film, and contributed to the programme.

Dr Ken Fox, a lecturer, said it was hard to watch Gregory's Girl without smiling. "The film is done with such wit and charm that it works like a bittersweet memory of our own secondary school days, when unrequited love was the only thing on the curriculum."

Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, told The TES his favourite was To Sir with Love because "Sidney Poitier is a fantastic actor - and it's a real example of inspirational teaching."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, would vote for Mr Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfus. "I watched this film at a teacher's conference in America and we all understood the same jokes about school life," she said.

The most disturbing choice is probably Battle Royale, a Japanese film in which misbehaving pupils are forced to kill each other by their teacher. Yet some teachers find it cathartic. "It's terrific when you've had a loathsome day," one wrote.

- 'Great School Movies' will be broadcast on Teachers TV, at 10pm on Monday


Madchen in Uniform - 1931

Zero de Conduite (Nil for Conduct) - 1933

Boys Will Be Boys - 1935

Goodbye Mr. Chips - 1939

The Happiest Days of Your Life - 1950

The Browning Version - 1951

Tom Brown's Schooldays - 1951

The Belles of St. Trinian's - 1954

The Blackboard Jungle - 1955

Carry On Teacher - 1959

Les Quatre Cents Coups - 1959

Shunko - 1960

Children's Hour - 1961

Lord of the Flies - 1963

To Sir with Love - 1967

If - 1968

Ole Dole Doff (Who Saw Him Die?) - 1968

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - 1968

Kes - 1969

L'Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child) - 1969

El Profe - 1970

Please, Sir! - 1971

Unman, Wittering and Zigo - 1971

The Devil's Playground - 1976

Grease - 1978

The Wanderers - 1979

Fame - 1980

Gregory's Girl - 1980

P'Tang Yang Kipperbang - 1982

The Outsiders - 1983

Another Country - 1984

Reckless - 1984

Breakfast Club - 1985

Clockwise - 1985

Children of a Lesser God - 1986

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - 1986

Pretty in Pink - 1986

Au Revoir Les Enfants - 1987

The Principal - 1987

Running on Empty - 1988

Stand and Deliver - 1988

Dead Poets Society - 1989

Heathers - 1989

Khaneh-Je Doost Kojast? - 1989

Lean On Me - 1989

Flirting - 1990

Kindergarten Cop - 1990

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit - 1993

War of the Buttons - 1994

A Little Princess - 1995

Clockwork Mice - 1995

Clueless - 1995

Dangerous Minds - 1995

Mr. Holland's Opus - 1995

Matilda - 1996

The Substitute - 1996

American History X - 1998

Butterfly's Tongue - 1998

Madeline - 1998

Not One Less - 1998

Rushmore - 1998

Show Me Love - 1998

The Faculty - 1998

10 Things I Hate About You - 1999

Election - 1999

Battle Royale - 2000

Blackboards - 2000

Finding Forrester - 2000

Pay It Forward - 2000

Save the Last Dance - 2000

There's Only One Jimmy Grimble - 2000

When Brendan Met Trudy - 2000

Donnie Darko - 2001

Abouna (Our Father) - 2002

About a Boy - 2002

Bowling for Columbine - 2002

Etre Et Avoir (To Be and To Have) - 2002

The Emperor's Club - 2002

Elephant - 2003

Mona Lisa Smile - 2003

School of Rock - 2003

American Yearbook - 2004

Coach Carter - 2004

Friday Night Lights - 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 2004

La Mala Educacion (Bad Education) - 2004

Les Choristes (The Chorus) - 2004

Saved! - 2004

Mr Harvey Lights a Candle - 2005

Freedom Writers - 2006

Half Nelson - 2006

High School Musical - 2006

Notes on a Scandal - 2006

Take The Lead - 2006

The History Boys - 2006

The Ron Clark Story - 2006

Happy-Go-Lucky - 2007

Son of Rambow - 2007

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging - 2008

Entre les Murs (The Class) - 2009.

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Michael Shaw

I'm the director of TES Pro and former deputy editor of the TES magazine. I joined the publication as a news reporter back in 2002, and have worked in a variety of journalistic roles including editing its comment and news pages. In 2013 I set up the app version of the magazine, TES Reader, and the free TES Jobs app Michael Shaw

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