Headteacher of Onthank hits back at BBC television series The Scheme

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Primary school gets great support from local parents and community, he says

"Disappointed" is how Steve Banks describes his feelings about the much talked-about fly-on-the-wall documentary The Scheme, which was temporarily suspended this week because of a court case involving one of the characters.

The four-part series, of which two episodes have been broadcast, paints a dire picture of the Onthank area in Kilmarnock, where Mr Banks is a headteacher.

Having been head of Onthank Primary for eight years, Mr Banks says: "That programme doesn't reflect the people I know. It doesn't reflect the area. We get great support from the community and parents. Whenever we organise activities or shows, they are so popular we have to restrict numbers.

"This is a school and community on the up, but you would never know that from the programme."

Since the first episode was broadcast on May 18, Kilmarnock's profile has rocketed, as people have shaken their heads in disgust at the drugs and crime central to some of the characters' lives. Christened "Scotland's Shameless" by the media, the area looks bleak and the people hopeless. Nobody is seen working, and children are filmed lying in bed when they should be in school.

"I was upset they didn't show the school," says Mr Banks. "It looks bright and attractive. But it didn't fit into their negative image."

One of the children featured is Kendal, a P1 pupil who lives with her mum, sister and troubled youths her mum looks after.

"They showed Kendal arriving at school late, but that isn't a regular occurrence. Kendal is always well presented, clean and tidy. There are no social work issues. Luckily, she is young enough that the kids haven't been talking about it."

Depute head Glenys Findlay has taught many of the people featured in the programme and has fond memories of Marvin, a central character who was a recovering drug addict and owner of Bullet the bulldog at the time of filming.

"Marvin was the school football star," says Mrs Findlay. "I still see him down the town. They are all nice kids, and what the programme showed was just a small part of Onthank, a few streets."

What the series didn't show was that the deprivation index has been falling year on year, that the nursery is over-subscribed, and the school roll is rising as parents decide against sending their children elsewhere.

Mr Banks says: "I came here in 2002. At that time, the more aspirational kids were going elsewhere. We looked at how to promote the school. We held open days, and asked parents to visit. The school looked ugly, so we invested money in it. Soon people stopped sending their children elsewhere.

"We brought in a uniform policy which parents have supported. When I started, we were excluding pupils all the time; in the past two years, we have only excluded two."

East Ayrshire Council has been dealing with the huge media interest which has arisen, particularly from the tabloids. It has also had to deal with concerned Onthank residents.

"Most people are sophisticated enough to know that it is a small part of life," said a council spokesperson. "But we have had people phoning up, distressed that they are being tarred with the same brush. They are embarrassed. The BBC has been very irresponsible."

But, ultimately, it is the school pupils who will feel any backlash and who will suffer the stigma.

Twelve-year-old Bryony Kenmuir has seen the programme and was not impressed. "It was not like Onthank and Kilmarnock," she says. "It looked as if everyone was like Marvin. My parents were embarrassed. I like living here. It is fine, and the school is fine. It would have been good if they had shown the school, but they only showed the bad things."

Connie Wilson, 12, whose parents were also embarrassed by the series, says: "We have family in England who saw it and phoned to ask if life was really like that in Kilmarnock. But there is nothing wrong with living here. It would have been great if they had shown the good side of Onthank and more people in work.

In many respects, seeing their area portrayed on television has been an education for the school in how TV companies can edit out what doesn't fit their brief, says Mr Banks.

"We have been told they packed up filming at a football match because nothing was happening - that they wanted to see evidence of drink or drugs. It has made me sceptical of what other areas are like which are portrayed on TV."



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