Representations of teachers on TV

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 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.


Advert for Educating Yorkshire designed by Saskia in Year 10

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:

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?

6 thoughts on “Representations of teachers on TV

  1. I’d actually thought Teachers was really well done. Certainly far, far better than bad education or big school.

    The forth series of the Wire is all about education and it’s probably the best TV show ever. Proves that you can make an authentic drama about school compelling and rich.

    • Yes, I loved Teachers – sorry if that wasn’t clear! It had its tongue firmly in its cheek and whenever it used those stereotypes it did it almost with a knowing wink to camera. Clever, funny, postmodern telly. My point was supposed to be that Bad Education has lifted the complete set of classroom stereotypes originated in Teachers and planted them, with hardly any change, into Jack Whitehall’s classroom.
      As for The Wire, well, that was just genius. Although still the bits in the school were (comparatively!) weak, I thought?

  2. This reminded me how much I liked Teachers when it was on, its still available on 4OD as it turns out – there’s a brilliant bit at the start of Series 2 when they’re all going into the staffroom which pops into my head at the start of every school year. Just watched it again and may be wasting much time this weekend on it all….Thanks for that!

  3. Pingback: Bullying, Blame and Behaviour Management: what Educating Yorkshire can teach us | Teaching: Leading Learning

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