TV drama of school on 'scrap heap'

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Sex, homophobia, debates over behaviour strategies ... a new BBC series written by a former teacher has it all. Nick Hilborne reports

A 15 year-old girl who claims her teacher made her pregnant is just one of the attention-grabbing storylines in a new BBC1 drama about a sink school.

A clutch of well-known soap stars will appear in Waterloo Road, set at a failing secondary school in Rochdale, Lancashire and written by an ex-teacher.

The school is described by programme makers, Shed Productions, as being "on the scrap heap" and "at the bottom of every league table there is".

Its despondent teachers "have given up trying to make a difference as they struggle with their own personal problems as well as their nightmare day jobs" and a constant battle over behaviour.

When the head has a nervous breakdown, he is replaced by a reluctant internal candidate, Jack, who decides to recruit a new deputy head from a private school. But Oxbridge-educated Andrew's traditional approach to discipline brings him into conflict with the more child-centred head of pastoral care, Kim.

"Lack of discipline has turned teachers away from the profession,"

scriptwriter Ann McManus said. "At the heart of this series is a debate between a traditional teacher from a private school, with all his rules and regulations, and someone who wants a more child-centred approach."

Ms McManus, who taught English in some of Glasgow's toughest secondary schools for six years, comes from a family of teachers. Her mother, aunt and two brothers are teachers.

"I enjoyed teaching, but I got very tired of all the new ideas imposed on us by the education authority, often without any reason. They never addressed standards, particularly standards of behaviour."

In the series, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, who looks much older, becomes involved with a teacher whom she meets at the pub where she pulls pints.

In another episode an "out and proud" 14-year-old boy becomes the victim of homophobic bullying and attempts to start a "Gaysoc" at the school, which causes predictable problems.

Apart from a handful of child actors for the lead roles, the programme makers used real teenagers from secondary schools across Rochdale as extras in classroom and playground scenes.

Liz Phillips, head of drama at Springhill high, said around 50 Year 9 students, and around 50 from Year 10, had taken part in filming. She said the film-makers had also used artwork by children from Springhill high, which has specialist performing arts status.

"It has been a really motivating experience. The children have experienced what it is really like to be on TV - from standing around doing nothing, to going through costumes and make-up and filming alongside familiar faces."

Ms Phillips added that an assistant scriptwriter had visited Springhill to check up on the language Rochdale children were using.

Apparently, to a Rochdale teenager, "sick" means "good". In which case, let us hope that we can all look forward to a truly nauseating TV experience.



The cast. Jill Halfpenny, (pictured left) played Phil Mitchell's wife Kate in EastEnders and later had an affair with Den. She also featured in the BBC's popular show Strictly Come Dancing. She plays drama teacher Izzie Redpath, lusted after by an English teacher who is already living with another colleague at the school.

Jason Merrells, familiar to fans of the hairdressing soap Cutting It, is disillusioned headteacher, Jack Rimmer, reluctantly promoted after the previous head has a nervous breakdown.

Denise Welsh, (pictured right) former landlady of the Rovers Return in Coronation Street, plays man-eating French teacher Steph Haydock, who finds the new head impossible to resist.

Angela Griffin, nurse Jasmine in hospital soap Holby City following her role as hairdresser Fiona in Coronation Street, is Kim Campbell, head of pastoral care, who favours a child-centred approach.

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