Is it ever a good idea to let a television crew loose in your classrooms? Paul Craven's school took part in BBC2's The Choir. He tells Geoff Barton why he has no regrets
Q: So how did your involvement with The Choir come about?
A: Helen Collins, our head of music, casually asked if she could express an interest in being part of the BBC2 documentary series The Choir 2. I asked what was in it for our pupils, to which she replied: "An opportunity for Gareth Malone (choirmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra) to develop a school choir and singing in lessons." That appealed, but the thought of two television cameras in school four days a week for 26 weeks certainly did not.
I asked how many schools she thought would express an interest.
"Hundreds," she guessed.
So without any real expectation of success, we applied.
Q: And then?
A: When we were told we were in the final 10, I got a little concerned, and a series of more detailed conversations and visits took place with the producers, TwentyTwenty Television. When we got to the final four, I was very concerned. At that stage, a camera crew came into school and interviewed us. Two days later we heard we were down to the last two schools, and eventually that we had been chosen. The rest is history.
Q: So once you knew your school had been chosen, how did you tell staff, students and governors - and how did they react?
A: As soon as we expressed an interest, I informed governors and staff. Right from the start the governors were extremely supportive. But when I told them we had been chosen, and asked if I should give the go-ahead, they said: "The final decision rests with you." Great.
There was a mixed reaction from staff. The majority were very keen, while others were wary, saying: "Why do we want TV cameras in school when we have no editorial rights?" The students were very excited and wanted to know more.
Q: And then the cameras arrived. What was that like?
A: Scary. The camera crew warned us that the boys would play up to the cameras at first, so they took the cameras into the playground for two days and did a dummy run. Thank goodness they did. One boy bared his chest to show his piercings and I remember thinking: "What have I done?"
Despite taking assemblies for years, I felt nervous when I entered the hall to introduce Gareth. As I walked to the front, I kept thinking: "Mess this up and everyone sees it." Fortunately, the camera crew knew what they were talking about and things quickly returned to normal.
Q: And what's your feeling about the overall impact of the experience on the school? Were you pleased with the finished programmes?
A: Massive impact - we've had over 500 cards, letters and emails congratulating us. That's 499 more than when we achieved a record good GCSE score in the summer. We were delighted with the finished programme; it was a fair reflection of Lancaster and the journey the school and the choir embarked on. It made everyone at the school, whether involved in the choir or not, very proud.
Q: Did it all feel flat when Gareth and the team moved on?
A: Things did feel a little flat when Gareth left. After singing at The Royal Albert Hall, where do you go next? But I'm pleased to say the choir is still going strong and we are booked for several concerts in the next few months.
Q: What would you advise other schools to do if invited to take part in a reality TV programme? Should they trust the programme makers?
A: Before agreeing to invite the producers into school, you need to have a very frank discussion. Make sure you cover all the concerns you may have, listen carefully to their responses and take time after the initial meeting to gather your thoughts before making a decision. If you're still unsure about what you are embraking on, ask them to visit again - I did. Once you have all the answers, make the decision and trust your judgement.
Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
Name: Paul Craven
School: The Lancaster School, Leicester
Education: Wath Grammar (now comprehensive) School, South Yorkshire; Borough Road College, Isleworth, London
Years in teaching: 29
Previous jobs: Head of Manor High School, Oadby, Leicestershire (1997-2004); posts at several other Leicestershire schools
Special interests: All sports, particularly cricket.