Essex's reign is over...
SCHOOL WANTED. Must be prepared to have cameras in the corridors and microphones in the staffroom. Slightly eccentric senior management members preferable. Particularly if they tend to sing along to The Pogues while eating cereal in their office.
The makers of Educating Essex, the unexpectedly popular Channel 4 series that focused on the day-to-day life of Passmores Academy, its staff and Year 11 pupils, are looking to film a second series.
The show - which will, for obvious reasons, need a new title - will follow the same format, but in a new school.
When planning the first series, executive producer David Clews approached about 20 schools, all with good and outstanding Ofsted reports. Some heads rejected the idea immediately; the enthusiasm of others was roundly quashed by governors. Eventually, the programme-makers drew up a shortlist of three schools.
"Passmores was always my favourite," said Mr Clews. "You're looking for stories and we were hopeful that there would be stories unfolding within the school."
"It's been an interesting journey of self-discovery," said Vic Goddard, head of the Harlow comprehensive. But he suspects that his pupils, newly aware of the power of TV, would start acting up if the cameras were allowed back in. "If one kid's behaviour would be affected by having cameras up again - if a boy is likely to say something rude to me because he's on camera - then the answer is no. There's no media interest better than one young person's education or one young person's future."
The thing Mr Goddard has been asked more than anything else is why he said yes in the first place. "But I always think, `Why should I say no?' I see the opportunities first and then the dangers," he said. "And I didn't think anybody would be interested. My own naivety made me think that only my mum and Harlow would watch it."
The school was paid only a minimal disruption fee. "If you can think of a figure, I reckon it will be less than that," said Mr Goddard. "It allowed us to fill in some holes in the walls and buy some computers."
The production crew began visiting the school five months ahead of filming, sitting in lessons and chatting to teachers. Before filming began, they also explained the aim of the programme to parents of Year 11s. "It wasn't like it was a mysterious thing, where they couldn't put faces to what was happening," said Mr Clews. "If anybody was ever worried about anything, there was always somebody they could talk to. It humanises it."
Staff and parents had no editorial control over how they were portrayed in the series. But they were shown each episode before it was aired, to avoid broadcast-to-the-nation surprises.
No one, however, predicted the national response to Stephen Drew, Passmores' deputy head. From his first appearance, singing along to the radio while eating his breakfast, to his role as corridor vigilante, righting school-uniform wrongs, he proved compelling TV. He now has five separate Facebook fan pages, two promoting him for prime minister. And he was asked to pose for a "Mr Drew at home" spread for OK! magazine. (He declined.)
Already, headteachers are approaching Mr Clews and telling him that they have "the new Mr Drew" on their staff. However, he does not want the second series to be merely a facsimile of the first. He hopes to film in a different region of the country, possibly with a more ethnically diverse population. And he would like to focus on younger pupils as well as older teens. "There are other stories: issues around growing up, friendship issues," he said. "I'm very interested to explore those kinds of territories."
And for their part, staff must be willing to explore the unknown territory of reality TV fame. "It's a ridiculous life you're living," said Mr Goddard. "When you walk into a room and Barbara Windsor and Victoria Wood ask for your photo, and Jeff Goldblum says, `Hello, Vic', that's an odd experience.
"But working with teenagers is the best way to stay even-keeled. If anyone's going to keep you in your place, it's them."
If you are interested in allowing the cameras into your school, contact David Clews at email@example.com.
Original headline: Essex's reign is over. A new reality star must be born