Educating Cardiff, episode 3: 'Why do tweeting teachers feel the need to prove their own worth by rubbishing the staff at Willows?'
I cannot escape Channel 4 at the moment. I was gripped by The Catch on Monday, a programme documenting the trials and tribulations of life on fishing trawlers, and am desperately excited by the prospect of Hunted, where former police officers track down ordinary members of the public on the run.
But gripping as these shows are, Educating Cardiff is still top of my schedule of weekly viewing. As frightening as a storm 100 miles into the channel or being chased by the state can be, I bet those hardy fishermen and wanted members of the public wouldn’t swap their current positions to face the prospect of dealing with Megan and Katie.
I sympathise with Mr Norman. Frederick Bremer had an equally significant cohort of strong-willed and lively young women and Educating the East End documented my own difficulties in dealing with them. Joy Ballard (or Bollard in Welsh, apparently) smirked at male staff struggling in the face of teenage girls. It may seem ridiculous to those outside the profession, but it is a common problem. The speed of development, emotional turbulence and societal pressures affect boys and girls differently. It is often clear that women in the profession empathise with girls in this position. Men like me, who didn’t get teenage girls even while I was at school, are floundering in their wake.
Megan and Kate were difficult pupils to manage, both with Vesuvius-sized tempers that erupted at seemingly trivial matters. Their stories highlighted two larger issues in state education: an overtly competitive and assessed teaching culture and the gradual dismantling of the creative and expressive arts in schools.
The first of these is only obvious if, as I do, you follow Twitter like a hawk to see the reaction of the Twitterati (a bad habit of mine from last year’s series). As I predicted last week, the students' behaviour, the reaction of staff and even their uniforms caused a storm on social media. Teachers, armchair educationalists and the Daily Mail brigade were sure they could solve all of these behaviour issues in 140 characters or fewer.
I remember after the first episode of Educating the East End, one teacher commented on my seating plan. With a 30-second snippet of film and without any data, previous knowledge of the students or ever stepping foot in my lesson, they were able to reorganise and improve the learning in my classroom. Similar idiocy plagued Twitter and the early reviews, where comment was flippantly passed on a variety of situations in the school. These teachers have no idea about what is happening elsewhere, or before or after filming.
The show has to tell a story within an hour, so details, conversations and behaviour management strategies will be missed, edited out or ignored. But this feeds into the peculiar cannibalism that seems to be a hallmark of certain teachers in Britain. Whether it is the Anglo-Saxon ethos of those trying to prove they work harder than anybody else in the profession or a need to market themselves as having few or no vulnerabilities and being flawless educationalists, who can say?
I have been lucky in both of the schools I have taught in, where this culture is not tolerated. But for those who are not as supportive, an Educating… episode seems to be the ideal opportunity for them to prove their own worth on Twitter and other platforms.
Instead of concentrating on the dedicated members of staff in the show, like Mr Norman and Mr Ritter, both of whom champion the underdog and successfully improve students' behaviour and attainment, there was passive-aggressive guidance on how to manage every situation.
There are many ways to skin the proverbial cat and I, for one, am deeply impressed by much that has been aired this series. Please don’t take any notice of the naysayers, Willows. Most teachers, the entire population of Wales and the Welsh diaspora are right behind you and think you are great.
The second big issue exposed by this episode is the importance of the arts curriculum in schools. As the government continues with its current approach (one that can be distilled into four words: “China good. Britain bad") and the introduction of Progress 8, we will see the expressive and creative arts further marginalised in school.
As we witnessed, not only are these subjects safe havens for those who can find the core curriculum difficult, but they develop the softer skills that are vital to pupils when they leave education. One of the main reasons Britain has such a thriving arts sector is because these subjects allow pupils to flourish in school.
Even the Confederation of British Industry, hardly the spiritual home of wet, liberal, hippy types, has complained that marginalising the arts curriculum is damaging the quality of the workforce. Educating Cardiff has contributed to this debate by showing just how important creativity and confidence are in developing pupils.
Next week: forget the Rugby World Cup, the real Welsh battle is on at Willows, where there will be a focus on rugby and the titanic battle for the team captaincy. Exciting times ahead in Cardiff.