Suppose it did happen?

25th July 1997 at 01:00
HYPOTHETICALS, BBC2, July 25, 7pm; July 26, 7.10pm; and July 27, 8.05pm

After 18 years, Hypotheticals is now a well-established television genre. The aim is to allow professionals, such as social workers, police officers, trades union officials and others, to say what they would do in specific situations without violating rules of confidentiality or talking about individual cases.

The formula is simple. Up to 15 participants are grouped around a table and questioned by a moderator who asks them to consider a series of hypothetical situations; in this latest series, the theme is hiring and firing. As the situations develop, not only do the different contributors explore the basis for their decisions, they also reveal conflicts of outlook and interest - between police and social workers, for example, or management and unions.

And between headteachers, governors and parents. The last of these three films, moderated by barrister Helena Kennedy, deals with events at an inner-city comprehensive, "Maladroit School", and starts with the dilemma facing a head - people such as George Varnava or William Atkinson - when a member of staff chooses to appear on television in the Mr Gay Universe contest. Of course, they would take no action, and Nigel de Gruchy, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, would be happy with that; but would governors and parents (Sandra Powell, say, or Katie Ivens) approve? And what about Peter Hitchens of the Daily Express? As the scenario develops, with teachers disliked or incompetent, staff hitting pupils, pupils assaulting staff and redundancies in prospect, Maladroit emerges as a very troubled place, with plenty to interest the tabloid press.

Of course, in hypothetical situations, everyone can afford to be on their best behaviour. But the participants are also constrained by their roles: "what can you direct?" Helena Kennedy asks at one point, as she learns the limits to the powers of a director of education. A good deal also emerges about the conflicting factors that each participant has to take into consideration, for example, the daily problems that headteachers face in trying to reconcile the needs of individual pupils with those of the school as a whole.

Broadly speaking, getting rid of unwanted staff proves to be much harder in education than in the business and industrial contexts considered in the first two programmes. "I don't have the freedom that I have at work," says Anthony Cole, here in his role as chairman of governors (having appeared on the previous evening's programme as director of Logica UK). Educationists still feel the need to try to reconcile different interests, which requires a generous outlook and a fair sense of humour. The headteachers, Varnava, Atkinson and Betty Hales, would not be where they are without such qualities, and come particularly well out of this exercise. It is not often, in fact, that the educational establishment gets such favourable treatment on the box.

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