Window on our world

6th December 2013 at 00:00

My parents first took me to the pictures when I was 7 and I've been in love with film ever since, even converting my loft into a little cinema. So I was fascinated by the recent TES feature listing readers' favourite films ("Top billing, 22 November). It was interesting that there were hardly any about teaching. I wondered what might have topped the list if teachers had been asked to choose films about the profession. Here are my favourites.

Goodbye, Mr Chips is an acknowledged classic, and Robert Donat's heartfelt performance a joy to watch. Who could forget the scene in which he has to face a rowdy class after learning that his wife has been killed in a bombing raid? Or the film's final moments when, after a lifetime of devoted teaching, another master says it is a pity that Chips never had children of his own. "You're wrong," Mr Chips whispers. "I have. Thousands of them."

I first read The Blackboard Jungle, Evan Hunter's novel about teaching tough kids in a rundown New York school, when I was at college. It was a real page-turner and enough to put anyone off teaching for life. The film was a watered-down version of the book, but it was pretty violent for its time. It featured a mesmerising Sidney Poitier as the black kid made good and Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock over the opening titles.

Fancy a good thriller set in a school? Try Les Diaboliques. Made in 1955, it is a tense and involving story in which the wife and mistress of a cruel headmaster plot to kill him. After the murder, the corpse disappears and strange events plague the two women. I won't reveal more, but the denouement involving a bath and a body is certain to have you peering carefully behind doors before you go to bed.

Lindsay Anderson certainly revealed his hatred of public schools in his superb film If ... The plot follows student Mick and his friends as they suffer abuse and punishment from both seniors and masters. Eventually, they rebel and the film crosses effortlessly into fantasy. But there will be many moments that ring true for people who have experienced the British public school system. One stands out: when Mick and his friends are thrashed by prefects, the scene is so cleverly constructed that we feel every moment of their pain, putting us firmly on their side when they decide to do something about it.

Two of my favourite films about education are utterly true to life. Kes, the story of a boy heading for a dead-end job who spends all his spare time caring for his beloved falcon, is a masterpiece. How we sympathise when he brings the headmaster a message, only to be forced to join a queue of badly behaved boys waiting for a caning.

And whatever you do, don't miss The Class, in which teacher and novelist Francois Begaudeau plays a version of himself as he works through a difficult year with students in a tough Parisian neighbourhood. Every teacher who watches this film will find themselves nodding frequently and saying, "That's exactly how it is."

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email:

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