No laughing matter

Doctors, crime fighters and lawyers have always been popular subjects for British television programmes; teachers less so. But suddenly there is plenty to watch if education's your thing: Waterloo Road, Bad Education, Educating Yorkshire. The BBC had been trumpeting its sitcom Big School, set in a secondary, so I decided to give it a look.

Right from the opening scene, I was staggered by how awful it was. Perhaps, like St Trinian's, it wasn't meant to bear any resemblance to life in a real school (I could have accepted that if it had made me laugh). Perhaps the thought of bringing stars such as David Walliams, Catherine Tate and Frances de la Tour together stopped anyone from noticing how bad the script was. Or perhaps I'm a grumpy old ex-headteacher with no sense of humour.

In case you haven't seen it, let me describe what happens in Big School. See if you find it amusing.

Walliams plays Mr Church, a science teacher. He is an arrogant, petulant twit with a silly haircut but at least he prepares his lessons well - each episode starts with a spectacular experiment that should have students riveted.

But the kids look bored rigid and the bell often rings at the most exciting part of the experiment, causing Mr Church to be splashed with liquid that is wiped enthusiastically from his groin by an unattractive lab assistant. Then we meet Miss Postern, the new French teacher played by Tate. The Neanderthal games teacher informs us that he would like to "slip her a length", which is what he's done with most of the female staff. Except the lesbian, of course.

From this point on, Mr Church spends every available moment in hot pursuit of Miss Postern. He even asks the mandatory "boffin" student how he can set up a Facebook page, because it's so funny, isn't it, that children know much more about computers than their silly old teachers? On asking the advice of a boy in detention (arrogant, streetwise and with his baseball cap on backwards, natch), Mr Church is told that if he really wants to make out with Miss Postern, he should "text her a picture of his nob".

In assembly, Mr Church is forced to describe what another teacher has allegedly been doing to a sheep. Meanwhile, the headteacher confiscates alcohol brought into school by children and necks it herself - when she isn't puffing on a spliff the size of Withnail's "Camberwell carrot" and proclaiming it to be "good shit". And, just for good measure, an elderly teacher who suffers from dementia turns up for the wrong lessons at the wrong time. Mercifully, we don't see how the students treat him.

I didn't watch the remainder of the series. I couldn't stand it. But at least we don't have to look far to find celluloid gems about school life that are genuinely hilarious. To cheer myself up, I watched the football scene - a 10-minute depiction of a secondary school games lesson - from Ken Loach's wonderful film Kes. If you've never seen it, track it down. Its brilliance utterly eclipses Big School.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email:

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