Ding-a-ling-ding-ding-ding! Is that the school bell you can hear? It is: break’s over, holiday’s over, it’s a new term, new school. New terrifying, inspiring tales from the chalkface. This time we are in Salford, at Harrop Fold school, for Educating Greater Manchester (Channel 4).
Who is going to emerge as an absolute legend this time? In Educating Essex, it was Mr Drew. Deputy head, disciplinarian, but brilliant with it, he was a great teacher and he really cared. In Yorkshire, first it was headteacher Mr Mitchell, also tough, also caring. Then lovely English teacher Mr Burton; you will have cried at the episode when he helped Musharaf overcome his stammer.
Head at Harrop Fold (motto: Making the Difference) is Mr Povey, who certainly seems to be (making the difference). The school used to be run down and desperate, literally the worst in the country; now it is smart and buzzy and is doing well. Mr Povey’s no-nonsense, can-do, positive-thinking leadership must have a lot to do with that. But he is more of a hero for the Department for Education and the local authority than one of those teachers pupils remember fondly and thankfully, and all his motivational stuff is a little tiresome. He has two brothers working there too. That’s a bit weird, isn’t it – a staff-room mafia? Sorry, not staff room, “the leadership centre”. Ugh.
I like Miss Pearce, who takes a special educational needs class called Cogs. I’m not sure what Cogs stands for but Miss Pearce keeps them turning. Her class is warm, lively, inclusive and fun. But I’m handing out my legend award to a kid this time, to a boy in Year 7 called Jack.
First, though, to fully appreciate Jack, we have to talk about Rani. Rani, also in Year 7, recently arrived in Greater Manchester with his family from Syria. He is shy, doesn’t speak much English, or have any friends yet. Already, he has been bullied, in break and in PE. “I’m a little bit sad, and nervous,” he tells Miss Pearce. I think Rani may be playing down his sadness. He was also “a little bit sad” when the bombing started back home, and people started getting killed.
Rani gets plenty of support from the school, from Miss Pearce who introduces him to Murad, an older boy, also from Syria, who will look out for him. But what Rani really needs is his own friend, his own age.
Step forward Jack. “I can see it’s difficult for him ’cos he can’t really bond with other people,” he says. So he takes Rani under his wing, befriends him, looks after him in the playground and in class, whispers answers to him in a test (excellent definition of slavery by the way: “It means when someone has no rights, no freedom and you’re owned by someone else”). And Rani’s confidence grows, his English improves, and he becomes a little bit less sad. And a little bit naughty. A white van arrives at the school to make a delivery. The dirty backdoor is begging to be drawn on and written all over. Guess who begins it. “Fock,” Rani writes with his finger, before running back, giggling, to join Jack. Soon the van is covered in cocks and balls and boobs.
“You started it off, Rani,” says Jack, proud of his mate.
“I started it off,” says Rani, proud of himself. It’s lovely, the best fock ever written, better than any cheesy motto. Room for improvement in spelling, but 10/10 for personal development. Jack also explains to Rani that he doesn’t then immediately have to hand himself in, that he can get away with it, too. Congratulations Jack, you are my legend of the week.
Educating Greater Manchester is great for the same reasons the other Educating shows were: it doesn’t seem to have an agenda, set out to be political, or turn into Waterloo Road in the edit (actually, it’s more like the real Ackley Bridge). It’s an honest, objective portrait of a real school. And a school is the most fascinating, terrifying, hilarious, brilliant institution of all, where you become who you are. Harrop Fold is an especially interesting one, too, not just because it used to be the worst. But also because of Rani and Murad, and Girhan from Afghanistan (who a kid called Robbie calls Osama) and Estera from Poland. It’s a school adapting to change and a new reality.
Manchester is attacked, some of the pupils are at the concert, but none hurt, thank God. But tensions and sensitivities in school are heightened, more silly things are being said, Mr Povey and #TeamHarrop (inevitably) have fallout to deal with. Hell, this isn’t going to affect the beautiful friendship between Jack and Rani is it? Is it, fock.