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TV school series star talks about real teachers

Teachers Channel 4 on Wednesday at 10pm and for the next eight weeks

Andrew Lincoln didn't have far to go for tips for his star turn in Channel 4's new drama Teachers - his brother is on the staff at a Surrey comprehensive.

Before saying yes to the role he sought his brother's advice, who gave the thumbs up after realising the show was about a group of young people who just happen to be teachers, rather than another Hope and Glory .

He plays Simon, a charming yet self-obsessed 27-year-old, popular with his students but who does not know where his life is going. His close mates Brian (who teaches PE), Kurt (IT) and Susan (psychology) help him mark essays at the pub and, in the first episode on Wednesday night, break into the school after a drinking binge to celebrate his birthday.

Lincoln, who shot to fame as Egg in BBC2's This Life in 1997, says Simon has a problem handling the authority he has. This leads him to do things such as sharing a joint with students, which the actor admits no sane teacher would ever contemplate.

However, Lincoln says the irreverent eight-part drama tries to explore "the fact that you have young people teaching young people. There is such a fine line between their professional and private lives."

To research the role, he spent time at his brother's school and some in Bristol - the fictional Summerdown comprehensive is a central Bristol school that closed last year. "I take my hat off to teachers, I really do," Lincoln says. "I am just in awe of them. The ones we saw are all so good with the kids, especially the young ones."

Nevertheless, the idea that teaching is the profession many turn to as a last resort is one he has some sympathy with, and Lincoln hopes the show will re-open the debate about the quality of teachers.

One way to address the problem, he believes, would be to make the job more appealing, primarily by compensating teachers for their workload. "If there was a better wage, you would get more teachers, because the rewards - from what my brother tells me - are extraordinary."

He expects Teachers will spark protests from certain quarters, as the five main characters do not conform to the popular image of teachers. Jane Fallon, the show's executive producer, who has worked previously with Lincoln as producer of This Life , says it does not aim to court controversy but "because teachers are paid so badly people think they are saintly".

Teachers might do the profession a favour if it conveys the message that young teachers would rather have lives than spend their nights and weekends marking exams or preparing lessons.

Robin Buss reviews the series in Friday magazine in this week's TES

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