Review - An about-turn for young recruits

8th March 2013 at 00:00

Oh, I do love a nice bit of transformational television - the more formulaic the better. Give me a troubled history, a difficult start, a perception-shifting central segment and a character-testing final moment and I will guarantee you tears before the final credits.

And so Extreme Schools, a new CBBC series, is right up my street. Each episode takes two misbehaving teenagers and sends them off for a week to a school where discipline is, let's say, more strictly enforced than at home.

So, in the first episode, we see 13-year-old Ibbi and 14-year-old Keziah shipped off to military school in Chicago. Ibbi recently chalked up 15 detentions in a month; Keziah has already been excluded once. "Attention!" Ibbi says. "It's not 'attention'. It's 'tension'," Keziah replies. Ah, the dramatic irony.

In episode two, we meet 13-year-old Maisie and 12-year-old Alice, described by their teacher as "two of the loudest voices in the year". When told that they are going to spend a week at a convent school in St Lucia, they respond with: "Ye-es!" "It's not a holiday," the presenter says. "You'll have to behave like a lady all the time." "What do you mean?" Maisie asks.

Troubled history: check. And so to the difficult start. Ibbi and Keziah meet First Sergeant Powell, who makes Ibbi do 10 press-ups in the corridor as punishment for wearing a non-uniform pullover.

And Maisie and Alice meet head nun Sister Rufina. "What are your ambitions?" the sister asks. "I wouldn't mind working in a factory," Alice says. "Then you could just sit with your friends and it wouldn't be very hard."

Aha! I believe we have some perceptions in need of shifting. So Maisie and Alice are sent to work on the St Lucia equivalent of the factory line: a banana plantation. "Why would anybody want to do this job?" Maisie says, after half an hour.

But it is Keziah's perception-changing moment that really stands out. Having said that she would like to join the police, she is sent for a training session at a police academy. "I can't believe I just handcuffed somebody!" she says, looking disarmingly thrilled.

By the end of the week - with final character tests all round - Keziah is standing up straighter than she did before leaving for Chicago. She is swearing that she has changed. Ibbi says that he is "relieved" to be going home. Keziah, by contrast, is just sad.

It is tempting to draw facile conclusions about what pupils like Keziah need from their teachers and the ways in which conventional education is failing them. But as the credits roll and I reach for the tissues, I really have only one possible judgement to make: that this is supremely well-edited TV.

Extreme Schools starts on CBBC on 18 March.

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