So, what did you learn in The Class?

13th March 2009 at 00:00

The hit French film The Class is set in a Paris city secondary and focuses on a school year for a class of 14-year-olds. Based on the journal of their teacher, who also made and stars alongside his pupils, I suppose you would call it "faction".

Reviewers were unanimous in their praise, but also in warning that the lack of a happy ending presented a grim view of education.

It's accurate to say that the class portrayed would not make for easy teaching. They are a multi-ethnic and opinionated lot, well able to challenge the teacher and practised in their ability to produce red herrings of distraction.

The teacher is not helped by the cramped architecture of the city school and the formality of a curriculum which leaves him teaching imperfect subjunctive active tenses to pupils whose focus is on rap music and football. Staff meetings to decide remarks on each pupil's report, and a nightmarish discipline system, aren't beguiling either.

As they break up for summer, with relief all round, the teacher asks what they have learnt this year; most can summon up at least one success, but one poor lass claims she has been unable to learn anything. A fairly downbeat ending you might agree, but ...

A funny thing happened as we left the cinema. We found that we were not depressed by the thought of Monday morning, and we wondered why.

True, measured against the formal curriculum, the teacher and his charges had struggled to make meaningful headway; he and they had had moments when they got it wrong. However, for all that, the pupils, from so many different backgrounds, had retained their energy, their enquiring natures and an intensity of relationships in class that suggested some pretty crucial education had been progressing throughout the year after all.

It hadn't been easy for teacher or pupils; not all were heading for top grades. But, for all that, the film was an excellent demonstration that the heart of teaching is humanity and interaction - and a reminder that, even on the worst days with the most difficult classes, you are always liable to get a smile, a phrase or a look that says you've connected.

Bonne chance, mes braves.

Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston.

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