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John Simkin

Educating Essex

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Did anyone see “Educating Essex” last Thursday? Set in a comprehensive school in Harlow (Passmores School and Technology College) it is the latest television “slice-of-life” documentary. For seven weeks in 2010, 62 cameras were placed in the school, focusing on Year 11 students and their teachers.

The programme was dominated by Stephen Drew, the deputy head. Although I have taught in several schools I have never come across anyone quite like Drew. His relationship with the children was very strange. He obviously thinks that he has a great deal of charm (at one point he states that he sees his role as one of entertaining the children). Drew only taught in the classroom for two hours a week. A couple of students from that class praised his teaching but most of all seemed to like his unpredictable behaviour. It is true that students warm to eccentricity. It helps to reduce the boredom of school life. However, to the outsider, I was disturbed by his behaviour and found his sexual humour completely inappropriate for the classroom. Like, one of the girls who came into conflict with Drew, I disliked his sarcastic comments to the students. I thought it an abuse of power.

Drew also has a close but strange relationship with Vic Goddard, his headteacher. Goddard clearly thinks very highly of Drew. One scene, set in the headteacher’s study, Goddard is shown hiding behind the door, before jumping out and embracing his close friend. This was followed by hugs and giggles.

The documentary is full of examples of what I would call unprofessional behaviour. Drew actually comments that he wonders what the public viewing the film would make of these events. Francis Gilbert, who has been teaching for twenty years, is impressed by the activities of the staff of Passmores. He writes in the Radio Times that: “It’s exactly the sort of documentary that many teachers have been crying out for to counteract the pernicious myth that the majority of schools are failing pupils. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

I wonder if the parents of the children at this school will see it that way? I am sure that if I was a parent I would have been on the phone to Vic Goddard on Friday morning asking some serious questions about what was going on in that school.

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I saw the tail end of this programme and would like to say one thing in defence of the Deputy Head. I was particularly impressed by his principled commitment to 'no permanent exclusions'. Too often in 'marketised' education schools, especially those with academy status who are not subject to the same admissions and exclusion regulations as county schools, simply exclude out their problem children and thereby glade graciously up the performance league tables.

However I share John's misgivings over much of what else I saw. I cannot help but question the wisdom of opening ones school to ridicule and criticism by both the Head and the Deputy mincing about on prime time national television like a couple of old unfunny music hall drag acts. I also disliked the use of authoritarian and belittling sarcasm that passed for behaviour management. This was a troubling programme, not least as Ofsted in its infinite wisdom, has deemed the place to be an 'outstanding school.' One suspects that this is a reward for obedience to the acadamies agenda rather than for anything that takes place within its walls.

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The second in the series was even more disturbing. Here we were treated to the clipped and unpleasant toxic sarcasm of the Drew character in his dealings with school girls in stark contrast to his extremely lenient treatment of miscreant boys.

Judging by the quality of the 'lesson' scenes, where clearly no learning is taking place at all, one is left flabbergasted by the Ofsted judgement of 'outstanding'

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The second in the series was even more disturbing. Here we were treated to the clipped and unpleasant toxic sarcasm of the Drew character in his dealings with school girls in stark contrast to his extremely lenient treatment of miscreant boys.

Judging by the quality of the 'lesson' scenes, where clearly no learning is taking place at all, one is left flabbergasted by the Ofsted judgement of 'outstanding'

My observations are very similiar to yours. At least he was a little more professional in this episode. The programme helps to make it clear why so many people have a negative view of teachers. I found it difficult watching Drew without thinking that he was on some "power trip". I witnessed very little compassion for a lad who clearly was suffering from depression. It was a good job that he had a girl-friend who was helping him through this difficult period. Drew clearly had no understanding of the reasons why he was acting in the way he was.

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The second in the series was even more disturbing. Here we were treated to the clipped and unpleasant toxic sarcasm of the Drew character in his dealings with school girls in stark contrast to his extremely lenient treatment of miscreant boys.

Judging by the quality of the 'lesson' scenes, where clearly no learning is taking place at all, one is left flabbergasted by the Ofsted judgement of 'outstanding'

My observations are very similiar to yours. At least he was a little more professional in this episode. The programme helps to make it clear why so many people have a negative view of teachers. I found it difficult watching Drew without thinking that he was on some "power trip". I witnessed very little compassion for a lad who clearly was suffering from depression. It was a good job that he had a girl-friend who was helping him through this difficult period. Drew clearly had no understanding of the reasons why he was acting in the way he was.

Interesting.

I interpreted Drew as immediately dismissive of and on the whole foul to all the girls almost automatically, very similar approach to the lad you refer to up to the point that he had broken him down - at this point he became 'kind'.

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