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Educating Greater Manchester, Channel 4 review - a study of hope, humanity and heart | reviews, news & interviews

Educating Greater Manchester, Channel 4 review - a study of hope, humanity and heart

Educating Greater Manchester, Channel 4 review - a study of hope, humanity and heart

Friendship rather than fighting defined Channel 4's new term

Headteacher Drew Povey with pupils of Harrop Fold

Cast your minds back, if you will, to 2011. Remember Jamie Oliver’s Celebrity Fight School?

I think that was the title… in any case, it was an astonishing vanity project which seemed to suggest that the reason so many kids were being failed by education was down to a vital lack of abrasive celebrities in the classroom. Falling standards, we were asked to believe, were not the result of an astonishing lack of investment, or a wider societal ill. No, it was the absence of David Starkey’s generous and engaging influence that was to blame. Oliver may as well have gone door-to-door to every teacher in the country and punched them full in the face. 

I was reminded of this during the opening sequence of Channel 4’s Educating… series, which has been quietly redressing the balance since then with a feelgood fly-on-the-wall format that highlights the actual work that goes on in proper schools every day of the week. I’m not sure why – perhaps it was the fact that pupils seemed to have pizza permanently welded to their hands, or maybe it was the sight of a child drawing a massive cock and balls into the caked-on dirt on the back of a van. Who knows? 

Anyway, the start of a new term took us to Harrop Fold in Salford, once branded the worst school in Britain and since then turned around by the staff, with the help of headteacher Drew Povey, and his brothers, assistant head Ross, and attitude to learning co-ordinator, Ben. 

Jack's friendship with Rani was one of the show’s stand-out tearjerker threads

With a fast-changing local demographic, the school is facing new challenges with children who have English as a second language, and it was two such pupils, Rani and Murad – both Muslim, both from Syria – who were at the emotional centre of this first episode. Both faced prejudice, and when it became apparent that Murad, who had fled Syria on a boat to Cyprus and doesn’t know if his father is alive or dead, could still yet be deported, one couldn’t help but wonder how many of the pupils’ parents would be nodding at this news with furious approval. 

One parent who certainly wouldn’t was Jack’s mum. Jack was a smart lad with a loud mouth and louder heart who befriended fellow Year 7 pupil Rani. Following the attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, which occurred while filming was taking place, he gave the most sober assessment of the fall-out I think I’ve heard. When asked how he felt about Muslims, he replied, ”Some are nice and some are idiots,” intuitively sorting humanity into the only two categories that really matter.  Educating Greater ManchesterJack's blossoming friendship with Rani (the pair pictured above) was one of the show’s stand-out tearjerker threads. Although there’s clearly an arc imposed on proceedings in the edit suite, it’s done with a lightness of touch and transparency that feels like we’re being offered a window rather than a framework. So, when we found out at the end of the show that Murad had been allowed to stay in the UK, the feeling was one of genuine relief for the viewer as well as misty-eyed mentor Drew Povey. 

Speaking of the headteacher, he came across as an incredibly likeable man. The sequence in which he had to take a second to stop laughing in preparation for a quite spectacular bollocking that he gave to the van-defacers mentioned earlier was impressively human and also very funny. The bollocking itself was not, and displayed the passion he feels for the school and how it is perceived by the outside world. 

The real success of the Educating… series is that it often confounds our preconceptions. Amid the thoughtless bullies, the small boys with too-big coats and gobby attitudes, and the young girls sporting cartoonish, calligraphic eyebrows, we saw something else. We saw kindness, openness and decency from adults and children alike. We saw humanity, hope and heart.


The real success of the 'Educating…' series is that it often confounds our preconceptions


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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