Prep? We call it PlayStation time

4th May 2007 at 01:00
A school-swap between private and state school pupils proved revealing for all concerned

THE SCHOOL outfitters survey their new clients. Their eyes pass critically over the shortened ties, the diamante belt, the baseball caps.

"They may not get away with the ties," one says. Pause. "And the hats."

Another pause. "And the shoes."

The three newly uniformed teenagers from Preston Manor comprehensive in north London spent two weeks at pound;18,000-a-year Wells Cathedral school in Somerset as part of a Five documentary. In return, three Wells pupils attended Preston Manor for two weeks. For all four weeks, the pupils lived together, wore the same uniforms, and attended each others' lessons.

The documentary-makers are at pains not to pander to stereotypes. Mustafa, from Preston Manor, may wear baseball cap and diamante belt, but he is also hardworking. Michelle's mother complains that she spends too much time doing her homework. Moeed prefers PlayStation to homework, but is obviously bright.

But this is fish-out-of-water TV, designed to reinforce stereotypes as much as to challenge them. Which is where 15-year-old Jeremy (or Jez, as he introduces himself) fits in. He has been at boarding school since he was nine. Within a day of the Preston Manor pupils' arrival, he has used the word "chav" at least three times and fills in the gaps with "pikey" and "bling". He has been paired with Mustafa, about whom he says: "He got out with the belt and the cap, and I thought, proper sort of London chav, bling. It's not what I would wear."

Tom, who is paired with Moeed, wonders how the new arrivals will cope academically. "We have to go through a selection process to get in," he says. "You have to be of a certain... brightness."

Clearly such words are uttered only to be eaten. Within a day, Michelle has impressed fellow pupils with her A* knowledge. After a history lesson, a classmate tells her she knows more than the rest of the pupils. "Well, I do history as a GCSE subject, so why wouldn't I?" Michelle retorts.

Meanwhile, Mustafa takes part in a lesson creating a cut-out wall chart. "I haven't done cutting out in years," he says. "It's like being in primary school. I thought these guys would be super-duper geniuses, but it's not that different from Preston Manor."

The role of inner-city tearaway is left to Moeed, whose eyes light up when he learns that there will be two hours' prep time. "It's called private study," he says. "To me that means PlayStation."

The bias is clearly towards state schools. Both Michelle and Mustafa turned down the option of private school in favour of Preston Manor. "And look!"

the programme screams. "It's done them no harm at all!"

Nonetheless, it is Jeremy who is able to sum up the situation most succinctly. "I don't want to put this meanly or anything," he says from under his heavy fringe, "but I wasn't expecting them to be quite as clever as they are."

'How the Other Half Learns' will be shown on Wednesday May 9 at 8pm

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