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Opinion: 'Being in an "Educating..." series gave us the chance to tell the truth about state education'

As Educating Cardiff launches, one of the stars of last year's Educating the East End reflects on what he and his pupils gained from being part of the series.

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As Educating Cardiff launches, one of the stars of last year's Educating the East End reflects on what he and his pupils gained from being part of the series.

Has it been a year already? Twelve months ago, I was in the position that many of the teachers at Willows High School in Cardiff are in today; worrying about how the Great British public would react to the way I went about my professional life. It was a truly nerve-wracking experience but an essential precursor to the most incredible year for me, my colleagues and the pupils at Frederick Bremer School.

The most common question I have been asked since – slightly ahead of "Do the kids act up?" (not after the first few days) and "Is any of it staged?" (no) – is "Why did you do it?" For many teachers, the idea of exposing themselves to potential criticism feels like insanity. 

If the teachers of Educating Cardiff are anything like me, the previous series will have compelled them to be involved. We had two series of evidence that the wonderful people at Two Four Productions wanted to tell a story of dedicated professionals and, more importantly, brilliant young people working hard. The show does not set out to embarrass or expose, but to tell the truth about the effort, passion and hilarity that exist in the British education system – warts and all. This is a story worth telling, and one we should all appreciate.

That doesn't mean it isn't nerve-wracking. Opening up your classroom and yourself isn't easy. It makes you examine what you do in your classroom in a new way. If I ever have any doubt about something in the classroom, I ask myself: "How would I feel if it had been filmed and broadcast to more than 3 million people?" It is an incredibly self-reflective question that helps me to this day.

For many of us at Frederick Bremer, the greatest concern was exposing our pupils to scrutiny. But they are among a privileged few who can reflect on their actions or those of their classmates without time clouding their interpretation. This is a special and rare gift. Many of the young people involved in Educating the East End are wiser and more resilient for being involved in the documentary.

So Educating... benefits pedagogy and pupils. But ultimately, that isn't why I chose to be involved. I was initially sceptical. I was concerned about exposing myself to scrutiny and risking my pupils being lamented or ridiculed in the press and on social media. It took my fiancée to point out that if I turned down this opportunity, I was nothing short of a hypocrite. I have always bemoaned the lack of understanding of what happens in our schools and the fact that we allow certain elements of the press to hijack discussions about education. The chance to be in an Educating... series is a chance to reset the debate and tell the truth about state education. I am sure that our colleagues at Willows High School are going to use this special opportunity to do the same. Nothing could be more important in the current climate. I am excited to see them and their pupils prove to the world that the British education system, although imperfect, is a wonderful and robust introduction to the world and something that we should all be proud of.

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