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Oliver Beach on Educating the East End, episode 6: 'Mean girls highlight the power of pastoral care'

“Who run the world? Girls” - Beyoncé

“Boys, sometimes a girl just needs one” - Britney Spears

Two opposing ideologies from, arguably, two of the world’s greatest female entertainers were both portrayed on Educating the East End: Mean Girls edition. If anybody was considering writing a British equivalent of the infamous American classic, your opportunity is now gone. I couldn’t possibly say which girl out of Paige, Yasmine, Gabby or Georgia was Frederick Bremer’s Regina George in this episode, but I can say with certainty that each girl needed to get their priorities re-evaluated.

Like Yasmine, Paige and Georgia, the Year 11 girls are standing at the precipice that is their GCSE exams. That pressure coupled with the perpetual desire to be the head cheerleader or prom queen of the school only exacerbates any minor problems that happen, as we saw last night. Trying to follow the love octagons last night was tricky; I imagine only maths teachers would be able to solve those equations. Instead of trying to work out the solutions to the problems, I channeled my Daily Mail-reader brain (difficult to awaken) and decided that there would be a happy ending with plenty of tears, swear words, finger-clicking and death stares along the way. 

Ms Smith, Frederick Bremer’s resident soundbite machine (I mean that positively, I think she’s great), rightly informed us that boys test the bedrock of girls' friendships and that any issue could crack those delicate friendship veneers. It may seem like a bittersweet, mad world at times for these girls but they are intelligent, as the episode's ending showed us. They knew that deep down their hearts had ruled their heads, but the futures of girls in schools across the country who don’t have the benefit of aspirations and ambition could be ruined over fleeting issues like boys.

In the long run these issues are incredibly insignificant, as the girls pointed out. When Yasmine becomes a successful barrister, she won’t be searching to find a clique or a quarterback to date, so it’s crucial that school is able to prepare her for the realities of adult life. Fortunately, some schools benefit from inspirational, level-headed, no-nonsense teachers like Miss Winter.

Miss Winter was a safe haven for Yasmine and Paige during #Jordangate (who I’m sure had no idea of the pandemonium he caused), a place to vent and cry without judgment; invaluable at a stressful point in their lives. This series is really showing off how essential pastoral care can be for young people. Curriculum this, results that; if students aren’t happy, they won’t learn and they won’t achieve. Miss Winter turned frowns upside down and Frederick Bremer is fortunate to have her to nurture and teach the young people in the school. Teachers have to keep students cool during all school seasons.

Aside from the heartbreak documented last night, we saw a lot of exam-reminder posters. Do the students need that? Do they need to be continuously reminded of the number of weeks and sleeps before their futures are decided? It’s not a holiday they’re counting down to. That signage could be potentially detrimental to the success of these students. Joel last week was an example of the effects of too much stress.

It’s undeniably crucial for schools to achieve great results for their students but it can’t be at the expense of welfare. I think the Year 11s know their exams are coming up, they’ve been preparing for them for two years. Could we spend more time anticipating and planning for success than eternally intervening to create it? There are already enough outside influences that could turn an A into a C, so there must be a culture within a school that promotes more a culture of hope than of manning all stations.

The final puzzle that needed solving was Gabby/not Georgia. I really felt for Gabby, a girl on the brink of becoming the female Jebb. We watched her behaviour deteriorate as a result of her desire to be her older sister, to be “popular” and beautiful – that’s a lot of weight on an 11-going-on-16-year-old’s shoulders. Miss Winter saved the day by giving her a purpose and a focus in athletics, where she can thrive. Miss Winter's focus was less on Gabby’s appearance and more on her attitude and mindset. 

Episode 6 didn’t give me goose-bumps or put me on the edge of my seat but it did reinforce the power of pastoral care in schools. In the midst of exam season came the war against boy-drama, turmoil that could have unfolded had it not been for the instrumental support of Miss Winter, who kept her students on the road, the road that led them to life-changing results in their exams. Miss Winter is so fetch. 

Oliver Beach, former star of Tough Young Teachers, is now second-in-charge of economics and business Studies at Central Foundation Boys' School in London

Find TES' full coverage of this series at the Educating the East End landing page

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