What was your favourite TV moment of 2013? Mine was Educating Yorkshire. In fact, I’ve just watched back that spine-tingling moment – you know the bit I’m talking about – where Musharaf plugged in and the words just came tumbling out. It was magic, and played a significant role in the show’s considerable haul of silverware.
Now Channel 4’s Educating series is back on our screens and expectations are sky high as Frederick Bremer School’s headteacher Jenny Smith steps into the spotlight.
Ms Smith came to the Walthamstow comprehensive nineteen months ago, her first head teacher role, and she’s full of ballsy gumption as she patrols her corridors – although there’s plenty to live up to thanks to Passmores’ charismatic deputy head Stephen Drew and Thornhill Academy’s jolly Jonny Mitchell.
She’s certainly a presence around school, but the real star of this first episode is English teacher Joe Bispham (above). Disillusion with the world of politics sent him in the direction of teaching but the daily torment of his gobby year nines – “a force of nature” – leads him to question his resolve. “In all seriousness, I am having a nervous breakdown” he theatrically announces to the class as he nears his Teach First assessment under the watchful gaze of Ms Smith.
Mr Bispham’s that borderline bonkers teacher his students – and we – will remember fondly in years to come. “50% stand-up, 50% motivational speeches”, although he meets his match in outspoken teenager Tawny.
Tawny wants to be “an actress or singer – or both”, pinning her hopes on a place at the Brit School which she’s competing for against best friend Alice. “If she got in and I didn’t I’d be really upset,” she muses, as the metaphorical storm clouds gather. It’s a simple moment that highlights what Educating does so tremendously well. We’ve all lived through those very moments, whether it be a science prize or a place on a sports team. That youthful jostling for recognition and the familiar pit-of-the-stomach feeling that accompanies any form of early rejection is something we can all identify with.
But while peer competition is part and parcel of our formative years, less of us will have had to negotiate the hardships faced by 14-year-old Acacia whose mum has been ill for the last seven years and lies in hospital. Her steely resolve to crack on with her schooling – and the inevitable moment when it all gets too much – had me reaching for the tissues.
So, with two schools already documented on the nation’s screens, does Frederick Bremer have something different to offer us? It’s a question the audience and critics will be pondering tonight but, to me, it’s irrelevant. Channel 4’s award-winning ob-doc gives us bucket loads of real-life drama. Drama delivered superbly thanks to terrific stories, tactful editing and – crucially – charismatic characters who will become the conversation for the next eight weeks.
As Bake Off proves each year, it’s these real-life stories that get us talking. But while last Thursday’s #bingate had us bitching, Educating leaves us in awe of the individuals who sacrifice their time, and often their sanity, to give back. It’s their stories that will keep me tuning in week after week, out of sheer respect if nothing else.