A school of hard knocks - and second chances

16th January 2015 at 00:00
TV documentary examines life for pupils after exclusion

Jess is a screaming whirlwind of anger, frustration and aggression. Her arms fly. Her hair flies. "Let go of me! Let go of me!" she yells. "Permanently exclude me! I don't care!"

Jess is one of the students featured in Excluded: kicked out of school, a three-part documentary that begins on Tuesday. It is a fly-on-the-wall observation of a year inside Bridge AP Academy, an alternative-provision school in London for pupils who have been excluded from mainstream education.

Jess began acting up when her father moved out of the family home. Meanwhile, Millie - shown yelling "crustified monkey" at another pupil - was a prefect at primary school. Her problems began when her mother and her older sibling died within a year of each other.

Seamus Oates, executive headteacher of the network that runs the school, says such stories are not uncommon among the 4,500 pupils excluded from secondary school in England each year. "They're young, but they've experienced things that no young people should experience," he says. "Or that young people do experience, but with good support networks around them. Our learners are often facing this stuff on their own, and have faced it on their own for a long time."

Bridge AP Academy is the latest school to invite the cameras in, after the huge popularity of the likes of Educating Essex and Tough Young Teachers. Mr Oates was initially wary, however. "What I didn't want was a programme making entertainment out of naughty children," he says.

"But I wanted recognition of the work we do. A word I used a lot during filming was `context'. Obviously, there was a lot of negative behaviour, but I wanted them to give it context: why the behaviour is taking place and the support around it."

Ellena Wood, the series director, hopes the BBC3 documentary will help viewers to see the human stories behind the misbehaviour. "I don't think people really understand what goes on in these schools," she says. "I wanted to give a voice to these young people who often aren't heard, and to understand what's behind the stereotype and the judgement."

The documentary crew arrived at Bridge AP in September but did not begin filming until November. "Making something like this is so much about relationships," Ms Wood says. "We had to make them feel they could trust us. You can't walk in, pick up a camera and expect a child to open up. It takes time."

One of the most striking aspects of the documentary is how honest and analytical the pupils are about their own behaviour. When not acting up, they come across as unusually thoughtful and sweet.

"When you get angry, it's like you have so much running through your body," Jess says. "You have, like, anger, emotions.it's like sometimes you just want to cry. Sometimes you cry and sometimes you're mad."

Baby-faced Michael, meanwhile, describes being physically restrained: "Restraint is basically two sweaty men holding you until you're calm," he says. "For a long time I actually used it as a way to let out anger.I'd want to be restrained."

Mr Oates is unsurprised by this eloquence. "By the time they come to us, they've been through so many types of intervention that they're articulate and emotionally aware," he says.

"It's very easy, within alternative provision, just to focus on the behaviour," he adds. "We focus on the learning and deal with the behaviour as it comes along.

"The difference between us and a mainstream school is that we're there to give them another chance, or maybe another two or three chances. We don't give up."

Excluded: kicked out of school is on Tuesdays at 9pm on BBC3

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