Schools television

8th September 2000 at 01:00
PICK OF THE WEEK: Head on the Block, BBC2, Thursday, September 14 9.50 10.30pm

The spotlight is currently on Islington education authority, the subject of a BBC2 documentary on September 2, Education, Education, Privatisation, and now, on the same channel, of this series following the troubled fortunes of the borough's former George Orwell School.

In September last year George Orwell reopened as Islington Arts and Media School, under a charismatic, media-friendly new head, Torsten Friedag. As readers of this paper will know, the experiment could be described at best as a partial success: there was an improvement in truancy rates and discipline, but teaching was still judged to be below standard; in March this year, Friedag resigned. The film follows the story from before the reopening and, through interviews with teachers, parents and pupils, analyses what went wrong.

Perhaps this is one lesson provided by the school that does come up to scratch.

PICK OF THE WEEK 2: Other People's Children BBC1 Sundays, September 10 to October 19.40-10.30pm

The first episode of Joanna Trollope's drama about step-families offers us a classic example of bad parenting in the character of Nadine (Leslie Manville), whose teacher husband, Matthew (Frank Harper), has left her for another woman. Unable to accept that she has been the victim of this betrayal, Nadine is determined that her three children should come to hate their father as much as she does. She starts by moving them into a rural slum, telling them that - thanks to Matthew - this is the best they can afford; then she sits them around the kitchen table and moans about how miserable she is, reacting furiously when her daughter suggests that she and Matthew try to patch things up, or that Nadine should look for a job:

"a shopgirl? Is that how you see me?" Meanwhile, Matthew's new wife, Josie (Emma Fielding), is not having much more success in trying to persuade her own children and her stepchildren to get along, while her architect ex-husband (Denis Lawson) is starting an affair with a successful civil servant (Serena Gordon).

Frm this point, the strands of the plot become tangled, as step-this and ex-that join in a merry dance that is supposed to tell us about the state of marriage in our time. It all looks somewhat contrived at first, but a strong cast and decent script allow us to ignore the sociological textbook, while subconsciously taking in the messages about how people behave when relationships go wrong: like soap opera, this might serve ultimately as an edifying fable about choices, relationships and morality.

CHILDREN'S TV: Barmy Aunt Boomerang, BBC1 Thursdays. From September 14, 4.20 4.35pm

The holidays may be over, but there are still things to look forward to after school, including a new series of this well-written children's comedy about the ghostly Australian soap opera star (played by Toyah Wilcox), who usually manages to save the bacon of her hapless nephew, Sebastian. This week, he is in trouble with some toughs who have locked him in a house haunted by the ghost of a sadistic Victorian headmaster.

Can Aunt Boomerang save him? She knows how to give guts to the gutless, but is not sure if she can put the gorm back into someone like Sebastian. Watching her efforts could be just the thing to help a person relax between teatime and homework.

SCHOOLS SPOTLIGHT: Zig Zag: Tudor life: BBC2, September 11 and 15, 9-9.20am

An old favourite to start the term, this series for seven to nine-year-olds encourages children to draw their own conclusions from the evidence about how people lived in Tudor times.

Each programme begins with three questions that will be answered by the end: for example, why did pupils need a knife in the schoolroom and why did girls walk around with spindles in their hands? We learn, too, that windows were so precious that they might be removed for fear of thieves. Open-air museums, documents, buildings and portraits help to bring alive a period from which much evidence survives, and there is a lavish resource pack.

After all, who can fail to be interested in a dynasty whose five monarchs include Henry VIII, Elizabeth and Bloody Mary?

Robin Buss

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