For a bloke who doesn’t watch too much TV, doesn’t like the media-Essex-bashers, and hated school, I found myself strangely addicted to sitting down to watch Educating Essex each week.
I missed the first episode when it was shown, and as usual, the office talk brought it to my attention, so I watched it on demand. After that 1st episode I was hooked, and very unusually for me, found myself remembering to sit down at 9pm every Thursday thereafter.
Last night was the final (emotional) episode of the series. It focused on the year 11’s and their final days at Passmores school in Harlow, Essex. The episode highlighted two very different kids, Vinni and Ryan. Vinni had been seen before in the series, a troubled kid who’d voluntarily ended up in a care home after a bust up with his Mum. His attitude had got worse, and he ended failing to finish the school year.
Ryan on the other hand, loved every minute of his time at Passmores, having only joined for the final two years after living in Spain. Ryan has Asperger’s syndrome and seemed to benefit hugely from attended a mainstream school like Passmores. As Mr Drew rightly said “Why should he attend a special school… he won’t be given a special job.”
I spent the entire series glued to the screen, with three things in my mind.
Firstly, it made me think of my school days, which ended 21 years ago. I hated school, didn’t perform well, and left with just 2 GSCSE’s of C and above, I failed miserably at my “Computing” GCSE, a subject that I now love and have turned into a paid hobby. Having watched this series, I was left wondering if my school had failed me. I wondered if my teachers sat around a table discussing individual pupils and asking why they were underperforming, and what they could do to ensure they didn’t fail, just like the brilliant bunch of teachers highlighted at Passmores. Maybe they did, I’ll never know.
Secondly I thought of my two daughters at school, one of which is in year 9, the other moving up to senior school in September, both being educated in Essex. The thought-provoking series made me worry about them, and also remember what it’s like for kids going through secondary school, it’s not easy. I worry whether they’ll fit in, whether they’ll achieve what they are capable of, whether or not they’ll truly be prepared for the next steps after school.
Of course as a parent you want them to do well, to succeed, to go onto further education and earn a long list of qualifications. The pressure on people their age to do well at school, and to remain popular with the other kids is huge. I often find myself moaning about petty things to them, but having watched Educating Essex, I realise that if they are doing well at school and happy in life, then that’s enough for me !
Finally, the show made me think about my brother and other teachers in the UK whose poor salary is badly reflective of the effort they put in to ensure as many kids in the UK have the best start possible. The teachers highlighted in Educating Essex hopefully sat back and watched the show, feeling rather proud of themselves, as from where I was sitting, the work and effort they put in was remarkable.
Many times I’ve poked fun at my brother and his seemingly endless holidays and short working day, but deep down I realise that with marking homework and battling to ensure the badly behaved kids do not demand all of your time, so those who want to learn can do. From an outsiders point of view it looked impossible not to lose your rag at least once a day when dealing with some students. Miss Conway is different class, her relentless attempts to steer Vinni on the right path deserved a medal. Mr Drew’s impeccable vision of how standards within the school should be kept was remarkable. And Headteacher Mr Goddard’s attempt to firstly run the school, secondly maintain his staff’s focus, and thirdly ensure that every child was given the best opportunity to achieve success was nothing short of brilliant.
The funny thing is, I am of the opinion that C4 decided to throw the word “Essex” into the title just because it’s a popular term at the moment, on the back of the whole TOWIE bollocks. I don’t know if they were trying to poke fun by choosing to highlight the slighty barmy Mr Drew and a selection of his most time-consuming children, but if that was the case it backfired on them completely.
For me, Educating Essex was a brilliant documentary that showed what a tough job teaching can be, regardless of the county the school is based, good teachers can truly make a difference to a young persons lifetime.
For more details, take a look at the C4 website for Educating Essex