Is Educating Yorkshire exploiting misbehaving schoolgirl Georgia?

An attention-seeking, belligerent teen is the star of tonight's instalment of Channel 4's school-set obs-doc - but should an entire episode be based around her misbehaviour, asks Terry Payne

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I’ve had Georgia on my mind for quite a few weeks now. Loud, belligerent, foul-mouthed and, yes, occasionally funny Georgia whose gobby immaturity is going to be laid bare before an expectant and trailer-hyped TV audience tonight. 

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Georgia is the star – or, more accurately, starring – pupil in this week’s instalment of Educating Yorkshire. You know the series: life inside a Dewsbury comprehensive school, captured in all its raw intensity by 64 cameras strategically placed to observe teachers and pupils in classrooms, corridors and staff offices.

To some of her classmates, Georgia’s “proper mental”. In a good way, obviously. To Thornhill Academy’s head Jonny Mitchell, she’s “difficult, but charismatic”.  

To any parents watching she may well be their worst nightmare; an attention-seeking firecracker of a teenager whose disruptive behaviour makes teaching more a peacekeeping function.

I saw tonight’s programme a few weeks ago at a screening in London. Many in the audience produced the laughter that the editing clearly seeks to elicit. Perhaps it’s a parental thing (or too many sausage rolls), but I felt only discomfort.

This was a problem pupil whose wilful unwillingness to comply with school rules was being served up as a form of entertainment. I suggested that she was being exploited. Of course not. The filmmakers took very seriously their duty-of-care responsibilities. Besides which, both pupil and parents had seen the finished film and were happy for it to be aired. No surprise there, perhaps. It’s fame of sorts after all.

The argument is not whether she should be featured, but whether an entire episode should be structured around her misbehaviour. It turns observational documentary into soap opera. I’ve watched it again since. It still feels exploitative. The last thing an attention-seeking teenager like Georgia needs is this kind of attention – a moth dazzled and drawn in by the camera lights. Time will tell whether she’s badly burnt by the encounter.

Terry Payne is a Radio Times commissioning editor

Educating Yorkshire is on Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4


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