`I always thought I had a poker face. I really don't'

29th August 2014 at 01:00
Educating the East End's stars prepare to see themselves on TV

"In my head, I sound like Richard Burton," says Joe Bispham. He pauses. "I really don't sound like Richard Burton.

"And I always thought I had a poker face. I really don't. It's like I transmit my thoughts through my facial expressions."

Mr Bispham has not yet adjusted to seeing himself on the television. He is one of the central characters in Educating the East End, the latest flay-on-the-wall series from the makers of Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire. In the new series, beginning on Channel 4 on 4 September, the cameras are trained on the staff and students of Frederick Bremer School in East London.

In only his second year as an English teacher, Mr Bispham provides the main focus of the first episode. Viewers see him attempting to instil discipline and a love of Shakespeare into his Year 9 class.

In fact, it was Educating Essex that persuaded Mr Bispham to leave a career in politics and become a teacher. "They were wonderful," he says of the staff of Passmores Academy, in the Essex town of Harlow.

"They were human, they are intelligent, they were articulate. I could see they were the kind of people I wanted to be working with. And, as they say, the rest is history." Slightly too neat history, he acknowledges. "No one believes me any more."

Early in the first episode, headteacher Jenny Smith announces that she will be observing Mr Bispham during one of his Year 9 lessons. "Yeah, that'd be good," he replies, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. "Brilliant. Yeah."

In the lead-up to the observation, he has a run-in with Tawny, a wannabe actress with a penchant for high drama. And he accidentally - heartbreakingly - upsets Acacia, whose mother has a life-threatening illness.

Ultimately, though, Year 9 is actually very keen for him to do well. "I feel for him, like, nervous" says Tawny to the cameras. "We want other teachers to see that he's a good teacher, because he is. It's just a thank you, in a way."

"It's lovely when the kids say nice things about you," Mr Bispham says now. "I do get a warm feeling inside when I hear that. Because that's what it's all about."

"As students - and teenagers - we think we're always right," says 14-year-old Alexandra Gallbraith, after watching the first episode. "But now you get to see the teachers' side. When we have an argument, we get to see their feelings."

The makers of the Educating series are sufficiently practised at their craft now to be able to start the series with an episode that is funny, poignant and tear-jerking in equal measure.

In addition, there are the inevitable attention-grabbing staffroom quirks. Ms Smith, for example, has a cupboard full of high-heeled shoes in her office. "Most of the students here are taller than me, which is why I have to wear such ridiculous shoes," she says.

But, equally, she does not want to be reduced to her footwear: "One reason I wanted to do this programme was because I was very keen for a female head to be portrayed. I really want to see more female leaders in high prominence, doing effective jobs.

"Also to improve the reputation of the school. We're a new school and people don't know a lot about us. They refer to it as `the building on the right after Homebase'."

While Educating Essex was well-received, Educating Yorkshire was an unexpected hit, watched by millions of viewers across the country. So, when working on the follow-up, executive producer David clews sought out a school he could feel similarly excited about.

"Coming into this school, there was an energy, and a vibrancy, and people we wanted to watch and listen to," he says. "Schooling is the best social intervention we have, really. And, when you turn that into human stories, it plays back into the incredible work that teachers are doing for not a lot of money."

Educating the East End will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday 4 September

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