Television: Saving private Ryan

4th April 2003 at 01:00

Second Chance
Channel 4, April 6, 8.20pm

If anyone can claim to have had his life changed by television, Ryan Bell can. Once a 14-year-old school dropout in south London, he is now doing well as a pupil at a fee-charging boarding school more than 100 miles away. All thanks to the ambitions of the TV production company that chose Ryan and two other children excluded by their secondary schools to be the subjects of a documentary series, Second Chance, which aims, in the words of producer Ambreen Hameed, to "show that excluded children can do really well". It's a message much in line with the sentiments of Second Chance's executive producer, Trevor Phillips, recently appointed head of the Campaign for Racial Equality (Friday magazine, March 7).

The first episode of the much-postponed series, due to be shown on Channel 4 from Sunday, documents Ryan's one-year progress from hanging around his local estate in September 2001 to attending Downside, the Catholic school near Bath (boarding fees pound;12,000 a year), excelling at rugby and Latin.

The second programme follows another excluded London teenager, Tammy Watkins, as she attempts to make the most of her second chance at St Marylebone girls' school in the London borough of Westminster. But a third episode, about a boy relocated to Preston Manor school in the London borough of Brent, had to be abandoned when he changed his mind about being filmed. So the final programme in the series is not about one excluded pupil; rather, it focuses on the charity Kids Company - again, London-based - and some excluded children it is trying to get back into education.

"You can make loads of programmes on school exclusion, but they won't necessarily show anything positive - you could follow excluded kids about and see how they get into trouble," says Ms Hameed. "But most surprising to me was just how easy it was to find children who have potential - in Ryan's case, demonstrable potential."

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