Educating the East End, episode four: Who'd be a headteacher?

25th September 2014 at 23:00

Vic Goddard, principal of Passmores Academy – the setting of Educating Essex – writes:

Well, tonight brought back some really painful memories from our series. The self-doubt and feeling of failure when you have to make that ultimate decision really sucks and to see it played out on a TV is very uncomfortable. It strikes at the very core of why we become teachers and even more so a headteacher.
Tonight focussed on Jebb and Summer and I learnt a great deal about how a caring environment can become a stifling environment if we are not careful. I have really reflected on the possibility of over-nurturing and just how annoying it must be to constantly be asked if you are you ok. I know I have fallen into this trap before, although it looked like staff at Frederick Bremer managed to avoid it.
So, who is Jebb? Aged 15, he has truly mastered the art of keeping on digging – even when he has already hit magma. A young man excluded from his previous school. A lover of Shakespeare. It was also heartwarming to see that he was a believer in love, despite living through the challenges of sering his mum and dad split up at Christmas. Jebb also had his hand well and truly over the self destruct button for most of the episode. In Jebb's mind, adults have hurt him; if he keeps them all at arms length, they can't hurt him again. I have seen this many times – sometimes we just need to step back and reflect on whether we can do more than we already have and if we have done all we can, we need to assess the damage being done to other young people on the way.
There comes a time when a line has to be drawn and it certainly felt like Miss Smith timed it as well as anyone could. You may disagree and argue that Jeb was damaged further by Miss Smith's decision, but only time will tell. However, he didn't come back to visit because he resented the place – maybe we'll see him in an RSC production yet.
Jebb's sister, Summer, was another young person demonstrating how schools remain at the mercy of the world outside and whatever is going on in students' lives. Summer was depicted as a high-achieving young person but also demonstrated, over and over again, the self-obsessed mind of a teenager. She might have proclaimed, "I can't wait to get away from here," but this couldn't be further from the truth. I bet her attendance is good; she knows what she will receive at school and craves that consistency in her life. However, as far as she – along with a million other teenagers – is concerned, no one has ever been through what she is going through. Despite of all of the distractions, the thing that struck me most was the power of self-expression and creativity in helping us make sense of the world, however I don't think anyone believed that Summer's poem wasn't about herself.
And so to tonight's showcased staff. The wonderful, wonderful Hazel took her turn in the spotlight and I must admit to falling in love with her a little bit. Hazel highlights what an amazing job non-teaching staff do up and down the country – what a pity that they have been treated so badly by pay decisions taken centrally. Her empathy, calm thinking and clear logic comes from experience, experience of having to deal with the tragic loss of her son and maybe from being a bit lively herself during her school years.  
Elsewhere in the school, it was great to see Mr Bispham again and to see him showing what he's learned: he understands that to care doesn't mean having to constantly talk about what worries our young people. What we must provide for all young people is a safe and consistent environment to allow them to focus on developing themselves – a place where pupils don't have to think about what anyone else is doing/feeling in their life outside school. Good hands by the way Mr Bispham, if we are looking for a goalie, you are in!
Finally, to Miss Smith – she's alright according to Jebb, so that must be true. I would like to offer a free piece of advice, which she can choose to ignore if she wishes. In case you didn't know, Miss Smith, the students of Frederick Bremer like you and really want to receive your praise, so please keep getting out and about – your presence makes a difference. I know you think that the school runs itself and your success is measured by that, but you add value. Your staff feel better supported and your students even more valued when you take an interest, so keep those high heels clicking!
Find TES' full coverage of this series at the Educating the East End landing page


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today