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'Under-prepared and not ready to inspire': a headteacher's review of Channel 4 TV show Ackley Bridge

Channel 4's new school-based drama does little to promote the teaching profession despite some strong performances in the lead roles, says this headteacher from Leeds

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Channel 4's new school-based drama does little to promote the teaching profession despite some strong performances in the lead roles, says this headteacher from Leeds

When you watched Channel 4's Teachers back in 2001, you couldn't help but giggle at the mischief the teachers got up to. Meanwhile, watching the first ever series of Waterloo Road, with Jack Rimmer fighting LEA closure, you felt inspired. Similarly, seeing Lenny Henry having a change of heart in keeping Hope Park open in Hope and Glory, you left wanting more, wanting to teach and wanting to make a difference.

Sitting down tonight to watch the first part of Channel 4's new education drama, Ackley Bridge, I was very much hoping that the last six weeks of term would be complemented with a brilliant new thought-provoking drama, to inspire us all and to promote what quite simply is the greatest job in the world.

Unfortunately, I was about to be disappointed.

The first scene started in a skip, the final scene ended in a skip, and my fear is that this drama may well end up in a skip. As an observer, I thought there were too many ingredients thrown into the pot. All the stereotypes that are associated with working-class life were packed into 45 minutes and the programme became muddled. 

The premise of the show is that a new academy is being formed through merging two schools: one school that is predominantly white British and the other predominantly Asian. Would this happen in a small mill town in Yorkshire? Would the schools not already have been a mixture of all religions and ethnicities — especially as the students all seem to live on the same street?

'Cringeworthy'

The staff didn’t help matters, with a new PE teacher seeming clueless about how to run a lesson, asking "who picks the teams?" before the inevitable happened: the Asian captain picked all the Asian players and the white British boy picked all the white boys. There were no representatives of any other ethnicities in the school, it seemed.

Some of the most skilled people I have worked with in the last two years have been the staff involved in Safeguarding. So imagine how cringeworthy I found the Prevent teacher who seemed like he was on work experience from the private school down the road. He didn't have a clue how to speak to a child who was demonstrating racist behaviour.

Teachers work really hard and really care about the children in their care, and yet, in Ackley Bridge, the teachers are shown arriving to school after the children, and on the first day as well. They seemed under-prepared and not ready to inspire. This was further exacerbated when an English teacher called Emma (Liz White) was not spoken to for missing the inset day. "You should have been at the inset day then," was all the headteacher had to say on the matter.

Believable characters

On that note, I have never seen a quicker conclusion to a disciplinary for a teacher having a picture of her “flashing her boobs” spread all over Twitter. It started and finished within two minutes and was far too rushed. I mentioned that there were too many issues put into the pot. Another example of this was the teacher punching a student at the end of the episode. I can only hope that Steve (Paul Nicholls), the PE teacher (but who always wears a suit), will be rightly dismissed. However, I think that this issue could be like a toothache: drawn out for the next six weeks. 

Perhaps I am being hard. It is worth a second watch as the three best performances were very strong. I could really relate to the friendship and fall-out between Nas (Amy Leigh Hickman) and Missy (Poppy Lee Friar). Both were believable and both characters accurately reflected the peer pressure that teenagers find themselves under in today's society. The actresses looked comfortable in their roles and really became the characters.

I also think that the character of Emma was very believable and White plays the part well. She gives the show credibility, and has clearly researched what it means to be a teacher and mum to an angry daughter very well. She looked and spoke with the children in a way that made her a believable teacher.

It saddens me to write this, as I was so much looking forward to a drama that would grab people's attention and make them think, "I am going to rule the world, I am going to teach, inspire and bring people together." 

I hope very much to be wrong with my first impression. But sometimes less is more.

Chris Dyson is headteacher at Parklands Primary School in Leeds. He tweets at @chrisdysonHT

Ackley Bridge is on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 8pm

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