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'Until Ofsted inspects the social realities of teaching, documentaries are crucial to portraying the profession's difficulties'

Oliver Beach, former star of Tough Young Teachers, and now assistant head of business studies at Central Foundation Boys School in London, writes:

Educating the East End, the newest fly-on-the-wall edu-reality series, filmed at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow (on the right after Homebase), is coming to your telly this evening. The viewers will be in their millions, poised to be inspired by East London’s teachers and students. There will also, of course, be the cornucopia of critical tweeters who feel that because they went to school they can pontificate on the quality of teaching and incite putrid criticism towards pupils, teachers and parents alike; a whole 140 characters of wannabe-Ofsted-inspectors.

Having just had the privilege of seeing episode one, which is an honest, vulnerable and humorous display of the highs and lows in education, I can lean back in my faux-leather armchair and say job well done Frederick Bremer. As a teacher who has felt the visceral acrimony of viewers as a result of toilet-poetry, I can empathise with the school’s head Ms Smith and her staff, and the realities of school life. It’s unscripted, it’s raw, it’s entertaining, it’s emotional and it emphasises the many challenges in education.

Until Ofsted includes the emotional and social realities of schooling in their inspection reports, these shows are crucial in continually portraying the difficulties of the profession. I’ll be an acolyte of EduTVism for the foreseeable future and hope you are too.

While it appears that production companies are churning out shows about education on a daily basis – and it can sometimes feel like they are simply master puppeteers playing the heartstrings of viewers – they do bring into sharp focus a crucial narrative that teachers should be celebrated for more often, whether in a Big Brother-esque fashion or not. Everybody speaks about a teacher who inspired them in their youth yet at the same time they jovially speak about the perks of the profession thus rendering earlier praise reductive. Shows like Tough Young Teachers and the Educating… series keep it fresh in viewers’ minds that actually we work bloody hard to change, for the better, the lives of the students we teach, for the better. In the enchanting words of the head you’re about to love: “we want to get it right for everyone.”

Frankly, though, we don’t. We make mistakes and we get emotional. This is especially true for new, aspirational, reflective teachers as you’ll see in the first episode of Educating the East End, (and indeed on Tough Young Teachers). Episode One features heavily on Mr Joe “Teddy-Bear” Bispham, a second year Teach First English teacher who faces difficulties with a Year 9 class. Whilst it appears that Teach First are becoming education’s Mossad, appearing in your living rooms left, right and centre, it’s inspiring to hear from a teacher who wants to make a difference; who wants to be the motivational speaker in the classroom. It’s not just Joe though, the culture that emanates from your screen shows a school that is deeply passionate about serving its community and providing a great education for its students.

Filming this sort of shows, whether it be fly-on-the-wall or completely handheld, is a huge risk for the school, the teachers and the students. A risk taken that should be congratulated, in my humble opinion, for the sheer vulnerability of those involved. Teachers are reflective enough without having to consider their every syllable, hairstyle, shoe choice or tie-knot-complexity and they should be applauded for exposing their hills of happiness and valleys of despair to the discerning public. As you watch the episodes, try your best to imagine yourself being 100% professional all the time, never cursing, never appearing outwardly dissident to curricula change, never producing actual tears, and then realise that that is in fact a dream you’re having. The gut instinct will be to say, “oh I would never do that” and “you have to have a seating plan!” but the reality is quite different. What you mean to say is, in the words of Aretha Franklin, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

As we look forward to more installments of this edu-reality offering, I wonder if we will see another heart-warming “Musharaf moment”, or a Miss Noronha-style car baptism. Either way, hats off to the participating teachers, parents and students who will have been subject to post-lesson-camera-close-ups, perpetual lesson reflections and 6am-wakes with a camera in your Frosties. Will we be superglued to our seats? Absolutely. Will the teachers find themselves being stopped in Sainsbury’s? Definitely. Will the public lay off on their "but you get great holidays” comments? Absolutely not. Who cares though? We have the best job in the world and they’re just jealous.

Related links:

The stars of Tough Young Teachers answer your questions

Educating the East End’s stars prepare to see themselves on TV

Find TES' full coverage of this series at the Educating the East End landing page

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