I know I am not the only one to have noticed the sheer number of school-based programmes on TV recently. Something in the air perhaps? David Walliams’ new sitcom Big School has joined the second series of Jack Whitehall’s vehicle Bad Education on the BBC, prompting this from @jofacer:
It’s been a while. Proliferation of school based comedies on BBC has me wondering… Is it really like this?
— Jo Facer (@jofacer) August 28, 2013
It also prompted the Guardian’s Secret Teacher to write the column headed “TV shows about teachers keep missing the mark“, bemoaning the lack of a “a programme that dares to take the real issues of the school day and dramatise them”. As a media teacher, I have to say that you can’t expect a sitcom to deliver a realistic representation of teaching or the school day. I’ve seen Fawlty Towers, but I don’t think it’s a realistic representation of hoteliers. I watched The Thin Blue Line but I knew that police stations probably weren’t like that. I know that market traders in real life don’t normally end up with a shipment of sex dolls accidentally filled with high-explosive gas.
I’ve watched Big School and Bad Education. Of course they deal in stereotypes; that’s how sitcoms work. They aren’t that original: Phillip Glenister’s Mr Gunn is indebted to Brian Glover’s Kes creation Mr Sugden, whilst the entire class in Bad Education seems to be based on the same stereotypes employed with knowing irony in the Andrew Lincoln series Teachers in 2001 (featuring a young Kara Tointon as “the slutty one” and a pre-History Boys James Corden as “the fat swotty one”). Neither of the current shows is brilliant, but I have chuckled at both; Catherine Tate’s repeated boasts about “my last school” in particular amuse me. However, in both cases the school serves as a situation in which to base the comedy, using the stereotypes to get a pretty cheap laugh. Of course it isn’t really like this.
Hardy perennial drama Waterloo Road is due to return for its ninth series this week. The trailer below gives a sense of where this series sits:
The Science teacher is called Miss Spark – see what they did there? The Secret Teacher bemoans the melodrama of the story lines in Waterloo Road, calling them “far-fetched to the point of disappearing over the horizon.” Of course. What did you expect? The school is the situation in which the melodrama takes place – this isn’t a social realist fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Talking of which, Channel 4 are offering Educating Yorkshire. If you’re looking for a fair representation of life in a school, then a documentary should surely be a better bet than a sitcom or a melodrama? There’s pedigree here as this show comes from the same stable as Educating Essex, which made stars of Vic Goddard and Stephen Drew. I am certainly looking forward to it, and when discussing it on twitter having seen the first trailer, I got this wonderful reply from Mr Drew himself:
— Stephen Drew (@StephenDrew72) August 17, 2013
If Educating Yorkshire doesn’t do it for you, Sky1 have Harrow: a very British school promising an insight into the public school which educated Churchill and Byron. Me? I’m looking forward to All Back To School in which Mr Drew tries to help children at risk of permanent exclusion by intervening with them and their families. In the summer holidays. Why bother with the fictional schools in the sitcoms and dramas when the stories in the real ones are so funny, heart-warming and life-affirming?