Oliver Beach, former star of Tough Young Teachers, and now assistant head of business studies at Central Foundation Boys School in London, writes:
And breathe out. Educating the East End: Boyz II Men Edition has just demonstrated to the nation a handful of the many inspiring stories within our country’s schools. It also demonstrated that our nation demands more education telly – this was evidenced by #EducationTheEastEnd trending on Twitter. I’m concerned.
In this week’s instalment, the protagonists were Halil, the tormented Year 8 pupil, Mr Palombo, the MI5 operative hidden within a Walthamstow comprehensive and Lamar, an aspiring Lionel Messi. There was much less Bispham ‘bantaaa’ and a more serious undertone, despite Halil’s cheeky face and his proclivity for attracting acerbic wit.
The theme of this week’s episode was supposed to be about boys, yet seemed to place hairstyles on the frontline thus rendering any possibility of an intellectual debate during part one redundant. However, after the vapid drivel of the hairstyle-drama came the story of a 13-year-old boy who is holding the world on his shoulders. At several points in that episode, I thought the senior leadership had forgotten that. But as someone who has been the recipient of playful editing, I’ll overlook it. I’ve met Ms Smith, I think she’s a fantastic headteacher and I know she cares tremendously for the welfare of the students in her care.
For me, 13 was the age that I started getting bullied, but throughout those dark days I knew I had a home to go to that would support me and all of my woes. For Halil, with the infectious smile and ‘thug lyfe’ earring, the reality is rather different. Did anybody really think that an emotionally unstable, immature Halil would be able to stand up to a gang outside of school and say, “Hold on a minute folks, I don’t want to be a part of this robbery, I’m going to go home”? While I’m passionate about having perpetual high expectations of my students, sometimes there has to be a degree of flexibility. As the eminent educator Rita Pierson famously said in a TED talk, “it’s the power of relationships” that make the difference in schools. Never is this more the case than with students such as Halil. Halil needs a mentor, a friend and someone to inspire him. The teachers can do that, they just have to remove their "head of discipline" and "head of detention" hats, and use their hearts.
Palumbo. ALERT ALERT. Palumbo is coming. Hide under the dining tables and try not to find yourself in his sixth sense radar. Last week when Mr Bispham was angry with his students, they were in shock and their behaviour changed as they respected him. I’m not sure the same applies to Palumbo. At first I was rooting for him and wanted him to make a positive difference to his students’ behaviours but then he referred to detention as "the place of pain". Following that came the "ratemyteacher" experience, featuring gasps, squirms, fearful eyes and insults at the mentioning of his name to students. I understand there has to be some figurehead in the school who manages behaviour, but a ruthless, military attitude to intervention is rarely a positive step to change. When he called Halil’s grandpa after bounceball-gate, he ruined all chances of inspiring Halil.
The standout characters in episode two were Hazel Turner, the mother to all, the inspirer, the leader and the real superhero at Frederick Bremer and Mr Abberley, the cool, calm and collected PE teacher, who's teaching like a champion. Hazel made Lamar feel less apathetic to an NUT strike detention and Halil more positive about his situation. She’s a shoulder to cry on and a safe haven for these remarkable young people. Mr Abberley gave us the quote of the night when he asked Lamar what his Plan B is when the world keeps spinning. It was fantastically rational and inspiring.
Celebrated US educationist Doug Lemov asked at Policy Exchange’s Education Lecture on Wednesday, “Where are the Superheroes?” Educating the East End is currently showcasing those heroes and, for that, we must thank it.
Find TES' full coverage of this series at the Educating the East End landing page