Three MPs and a fly on the wall

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
ALL docu-soaps need heroes and villains. Ray Brown, who immobilised cars with relish in The Clampers, and Eileen Downey, the martinet manager of Liverpool's Adelphi hotel, have become household names.

Whether the same will happen to the eight education select committee MPs who let BBC cameras follow their inquiry into the role of headteachers remains to be seen.

Starting with clips of Jimmy Edwards, the cane-wielding headmaster of Whacko! and the timetable-obsessed John Cleese in the film Clockwise, the programme investigates stereotypes and then asks what headteachers' future role will be.

Education junior minister Margaret Hodge, the committee's then chair; Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, and Nick St Aubyn, for the Tories, become the main stars.

They meet Preet Sahota, of West Heath primary, Birmingham - the essence of a modern-day head, complete with mission statements and hands-on management.

Next they go to Zurich, to a canton which runs its schools without heads. The MPs are impressed at the teachers' of autonomy.

The Zurich backdrop introduces a holiday air to the inquiry, which hitherto had been in in Parliament. Mrs Hodge charms her host teachers and pupils in German. Later she is interviewed for a Swiss newspaper and buys chocolate. Her co-stars have a beer on the shores of Lake Zurich. On the streets, multi-coloured cows loom - a one-off exhibition in the city.

In the end, the MPs get off lightly. The cameras capture Mr St Aubyn at the airport minus his tickets and there is a mischievous shot of Mr Foster chatting to the most attractive teacher in the room.

But for teachers, it is their Swiss counterparts' comments that are most interesting. They are horrified at the idea of having a head in charge. "I am a small king in my own classroom," says one.

The end of the programme sees Mrs Hodge promoted to junior minister. Soon, it could be her turn to face the committee. "I shall be petrified," she says.

"Whacko", BBC2, Monday October 26, 11.15pm

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