Review - A school humming a different tune

30th August 2013 at 01:00
Yorkshire secondary is the star of Educating Essex sequel

There is a click, and then the music starts: "There may be trouble ahead ..."

Oh, I do hope so.

This is Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and it is the first day of a new term. It is also the first episode of a new series: where there was Educating Essex, now there is Educating Yorkshire, a fly-on-the-wall documentary following students and teachers in an English secondary school.

And so we see Jonny Mitchell, Thornhill's headteacher, preparing himself for the day.

"Let's face the music and dance," he sings, clicking his fingers and taking a little hop-step. His secretary works very hard to keep a straight face.

The Channel 4 crew have done well to find Mr Mitchell. He has the same combination of likeability and fondness for discipline that made a television hero of Stephen Drew, who was deputy headteacher of Passmores Academy when the school featured in Educating Essex.

Mr Mitchell has been in the job for 18 months and is on a mission to transform the less-than-positive reputation of Thornhill. "There are some things that we stand for," he says early on, "and they're not for sale."

There may, indeed, be trouble ahead.

First up is Kamrrem. While appearing to be in a state of permanent penance for past wrongs, Kamrrem somehow cannot stop himself from committing new ones. And so, when snow falls overnight, he decides that it might be a good idea to pelt a pensioner with snowballs.

The pensioner responds by coming into school to complain. "Barry's 70, I'm 71. I've got angina," she says. "I don't need this."

"I'm beyond upset," Mr Mitchell responds. "I'm absolutely hopping. If I say anything more, I'm liable to explode."

Kamrrem looks genuinely contrite. "Sometimes I feel like it happens and then, after, I realise what I've done," he says.

This is the strength of the series: it focuses not on instant turnaround but on change by accretion. And, gloriously, this tends to involve highly watchable personalities.

And so to Year 10 students Bailey and Kayleigh - the producers must have offered a prayer of thanks for that one. Caught smoking, they have been sent into isolation for the afternoon. "Death" is how Bailey describes her punishment. "Two boards and a wall and work."

Kayleigh argues that the punishment does not fit the crime. Bailey, however, is impressed by the headteacher's fairness. "He's the best thing that's happened to the school," she says.

So impressed is Bailey, in fact, that she decides to stand for the school's student parliament. Here, she finds herself up against Year 8 student Ryan.

"I'm only 12," Ryan says, "and people say I've a low voice for my age. My mum calls me a little 40-year-old."

If Bailey and Kayleigh were cause for exaltation, Ryan merits a sacrificial offering to the gods of documentary-making.

"I'm having a latte," he muses solemnly, as his peers rhapsodise about the new school hot chocolate. "Keeps me awake, you know." Then he turns to his teacher. "It's an honour being taught by you."

Educating Yorkshire starts on Channel 4 on 5 September, 9pm.

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