Vic Goddard on Educating the East End, episode 6: 'Mean girls will come good...eventually'

9th October 2014 at 23:00
I knew this episode would come, I just knew it: the one where they focus on "The Girls". I know that this episode will probably be of very little surprise to about half of the UK population, so imagine the collective eye-rolling and groans it will have caused to the hundreds of pastoral staff that work with young people. The episode made me think of the parallel programme from the Educating Essex version; it was the only episode where I checked my emails during the preview.
I want to make it clear that I am not dismissing the episode or saying it was in any way not entertaining. Having said that, those who work with adolescent young people know the challenges that are thrown up when girls fall out – it is even worse when they are the "popular" crowd. Then, just to rub salt into our wounds, by the next week they have forgotten what they were arguing about and come striding down the corridor arm in arm. I wondered if that would happen here (I didn't wonder at all, I knew it would).
Tonight's episode shone a light on what happens when the "cheerleaders" fall out over the "quarterback". However, these particular cheerleaders were anything but the stereotypical airheads; they came across as eloquent and bright (as highlighted by their GCSE results), qualities that are sometimes unfortunately forgotten the moment a good-looking boy strolls into view.  Paige, Yasmine and Georgia all have the outward confidence of being the eldest students in the school and being the girls other girls want to be and boys want to be with; the truth is that their confidence is always veneer thin. When you throw in the seemingly year-long pressure of the build up to exams, the pot is always fairly close to boiling over.
When Jordan, our quarterback, made the surprising decision to choose a bridesmaid, Yasmine, over the bride, Paige, the delicate social equilibrium of even the tightest group of friends was compromised. We can – and will – all have our opinions on whether Yasmine would have been better mentioning that Jordan had asked her to the prom but, let's be honest, can we say we made universally excellent decisions when we were 15 or 16 years old?
In the midst of this teenage angst, in strides the wonderful, pragmatic and no-nonsense Miss Winter. Miss Winter reminds me of my Miss Conway from Passmores – one of the key staff highlighted in Educating Essex. They share the ability to say it how it is, in a very blunt fashion at times, without upsetting people; it's a great attribute to have. So when Miss Winter says that it's about time the girls stopped giving the boys so much power over them and to realise that it's women who run the world, I believed it – I would quite happily live in any world run by her, I think.
Frederick Bremer seems to have more than its fair share of female role models and Miss Winter is just the most recent in a long line highlighted in the show. The power of positive role models cannot be underestimated in schools. As far as I'm concerned, any adult that works in a school is a teacher, just not necessarily of an academic subject. Some are teachers of a successful working life. The power of seeing one of our site staff interacting with a young person and modelling what is required in the workplace is a subliminal message that impacts on hundreds of young people. One that shouldn't be dismissed as insignificant.
As well as tonight's relationship drama, we had a side story with Georgia's sister Gabby. As the younger brother of two successful siblings and having to go through school after them, I feel Gabby's pain and I can see how she wants to be known as Georgia's sister but also as her own person. It is an extra burden that isn't needed, but I can promise Gabby that she will find who she is and it looks like she'll be a success with the likes of Miss Winter looking out for her.
The end of the episode gave me great hope for Paige and Yasmine's friendship. Paige seemed to be holding all the cards; the friendship group had "chosen" her and seemingly cut out Yasmine. However, Paige, being the eminently sensible young lady she is, realised that she missed her friend, swallowed her pride and made the first step. It caused a great big smile to appear on my face; it was really lovely to see. This episode has made me realise that it isn't just me that has wasted hours of my life trying to understand a falling out between girls. From Essex to the East End and beyond, schools are full of teachers who have had a moment of realisation: if left to their own devices, these young women remember how eloquent and bright they are and very often sort out their own disputes sooner than they would have if given a misguided, if well-intentioned, helping hand.
Vic Goddard is principal of Passmores Academy – the setting for 2011's Educating Essex


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