Review - First days hint at futures where the sun don't shine

17th September 2010 at 01:00

The Big School Lottery Wednesday September 15, BBC2, 9pm

"Going to secondary school makes me feel like I'm growing up," says 11-year-old Thomas. "I don't know how I feel about that."

Having seen his secondary school, this reviewer doesn't know how she feels about that, either.

Thomas's first day at secondary was captured in the final episode of documentary series The Big School Lottery, screened on Wednesday. Filmed only two weeks ago, the programme follows six Birmingham pupils on their first day at secondary. And which school they go to makes such a difference.

Before the new pupils have even made it through the door at Thomas's new school, they are subjected to a uniform check. Once in, they are then offered a lengthy exposition on the school's punishment system.

The walls are grotty; the tables are chipped MDF. A policeman patrols outside, quizzing pupils on their comings and goings. Later, he relaxes in his office and strokes his pet snake. This is not a euphemism.

It is overcast at Thomas's school; at Saffiyah's, the sun shines and there seems to be significantly more sky.

The smart, hard-working 11-year-old was awarded a place at Birmingham's top-performing girls' grammar.

"Over here, ladies," a teacher directs the new pupils. "We don't call them girls - we call them ladies," she adds. By lunchtime, Saffiyah is lying on the school lawn, laughing with her new friends.

Articulate Harry, meanwhile, starts at the equivalent boys' grammar. He and his classmates compare notes on private tutors and talk about "the Chinese geek who got his computer to go up to 30 trillion digits of Pi".

While Harry and Saffiyah negotiate Victorian redbrick, Jamiah is finding his way around the shiny new corridors of a failing school-turned-academy. He fits in easily and is soon suggesting to ICT classmates that they design a "flying car that turns into a PlayStation".

Mohsin and Miles, meanwhile, have very different first days. Mohsin returns home from his middle-ranking grammar exhausted, but having made friends without even trying.

Miles does not try to make friends either. He sits in the playground of his Catholic school until some girls suggest that "if your name's Miles, go a few miles away from here". Miles, however, is circumspect. "Some girls and boys were not very friendly," he says. "I hope they do find people they're nice to."

His mother is unsurprised by his difficulty making friends, but holds her smile as she promises things will change. Thomas's mother, meanwhile, looks on as her son curls up on the living-room rug.

And, back at home, Saffiyah seems permanently bathed in sunshine: it filters lazily through the living-room windows. "I think my future looks quite bright," she says. "I've got a chance of being what I want to be."

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