Days of chalk and sideburns

13th August 2004 at 01:00
Second reality TV series recreates 1960s secondary modern, reports Michael Shaw

The length of teachers' sideburns is proving a contentious issue in the staffroom at Hope Green secondary modern.

Head Richard Fawcett seems proud of the pair he has grown for his role at the fictional 1960s school. But Austin Vince, who will teach maths and car maintenance, is less convinced by the historical authenticity of his own.

"I was told to grow my hair by the producers," he mutters, crouching by the wheels of a two-tone Triumph Herald. Teachers in the Sixties wouldn't have had hair like this. They would have fought in the war. They would have been square."

The sideburns and shaggy hair are the first clue that there is something different about the second series of Channel 4's reality programme That'll Teach 'Em.

Last year 30 top-performing pupils were sent to a 1950s grammar school where they were drilled in Latin and made to sit O-levels - with mixed results.

This year's series is being filmed in the same place, the Royal Grammar school in High Wycombe, but the classes have moved into its grey 1960s building.

Although very few secondary moderns had boarding facilities, the pupils will spend the full four weeks at Hope Green to avoid contact with the modern world.

This time the pupils are all predicted to gain Cs or Ds at GCSE. They will take CSEs in English and maths and secondary modern-style vocational classes: for boys this will mean classes in farm skills and bricklaying, while girls will do office skills and sewing.

The producers want to start a debate about the importance of vocational courses as the Government works to revamp 14 to 19 education.

Mr Fawcett, the head, has even smuggled a copy of the Tomlinson 14 to 19 report on to the set. The former president of the Secondary Heads Association said he was looking forward to recreating some of the first geography lessons he taught in the 1960s - using the same slides of Switzerland. The experience is unlikely to bring back any such memories for the English and drama teacher Jeanette Gibson, however, as she is just 27.

Ms Gibson, who usually works at Windsor boys' school, has learned to back-comb her hair to create a bouffant effect. "I thought the Sixties would be, well, swinging - all free love and Carnaby street," she said.

"It's not very swinging here. The classrooms seem dour without any posters.

"But I am very excited about getting to use chalk, because I've never written anything on a blackboard before - all the schools I've been to have whiteboards."

Some staff were afraid pupils might try playing up for the cameras. This year's students include Rosie Knight, a spiky-haired member of the skateboarding group Drunk Punks, and Stevie Harman, whose chief ambition is to be a glamour model.

So they were surprised at how compliant pupils became once they donned their uniforms, gingham summer dresses for girls and tank tops for boys.

Each classroom has been fitted with authentic props, including dolls in the parentcraft room and pens outside to house chickens.

Series producer Simon Rockell said one of the biggest difficulties had been finding 15 typewriters for office skills. "It's all right for those costume dramas where Charles Dance knocks out a letter because the things don't actually have to work," he said.

Cornelia Welham, head of business studies at Budehaven community school, Cornwall, applied to be the stern office skills mistress because colleagues told her she was old-fashioned. "I told my deputy head I wasn't sure if I would really be expected to teach in a 1960s style or a modern one," she said. "He looked at me and said 'Can you do modern?'."

That'll Teach 'Em begins on Channel 4 at 9pm on August 17


7am Rising bell. Wash, dress, make beds. Inspection of beds and bodies.

8.00 Breakfast

8.40 Assembly

9.00 Boys: rural science - milking the goattending vegetables. Girls: cookery - making a swiss rollcorned beef fritters

10.20 English - practise job application

11.00 Break - tuck shop

11.20 Maths - measuring a house for a new carpet

12pm Girls: parentcraft - how to put a nappy on a baby. Boys: bricklaying - mixing mortar finishing a corner

12.40 Inspection of hands. Grace and lunch

1.30 Boys: woodwork - making a pencil casedovetail joint. Girls: office skills - typingphone skills

2.10 Girls: dance - traditional folk dancing. Boys: wrestling - safety aspects of wrestling

3.30 School ends. Bun and tea

Detentionpunishment drill one hour, free time for others

4.30 Homework

6.30 Supper

7.15 Activities

(dramaboard games)

8.45 Free time

9.30 Wash, get ready for bed.

10.00 Lights out

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


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