#School: Does the documentary series paint a biased picture of gloom and doom or is it the raw reality of today’s state education system? Episode 3 changed my view.

#School: Does the documentary series paint a biased picture of gloom and doom or is it the raw reality of  today’s state education system? Episode 3  was the game-changer for me.

If I am honest, I did not enjoy episodes 1 & 2 of #school. I found myself as a school leader shouting at the screen  and thinking why are leaders here making fundamental errors and simply just blaming it all on lack of money.  As a school leader, I was thinking why are you managing the redundancy meeting in such a poor way and why are you simply blaming the issues on  money when indeed poor performance certainly had a large part to play with respect to the dire situations the schools faced under scrutiny. I didn’t feel much empathy towards the staff.  Speaking to education colleagues and others, the consensus amongst my network of friends and professionals was that this MAT was poorly managed.  When I looked on twitter, there was an explosion of sympathy and empathy for the MAT – outrage about public sector cuts and admiration of  the staff in  #school. It made me think, why did I not share the same moral outrage as a school leader after watching episodes 1 and 2? I thought the episodes were bleak, painted a biased picture of gloom and doom and the agenda was anti- government policy.  I  must confess I have never watched  other  fly in the wall school documentary programmes such as Educating Essex or Manchester and my experience watching episodes 1 & 2 of #School reinforced my prejudices that such programmes should be avoided.  However, I decided to give #school one last chance and watched episode 3. I’m glad I did.

I wept watching episode 3 of  #school.  I found it unbearable as a professional of 26 years standing to witness a school in turmoil. The pressures of Ofsted were clear. The candour of the students was glorious to watch. They cared about their school. The Geography teacher’s compassion and sense of failure compelling. The Headteacher’s humility and courageous staff briefing. Breathtaking.  This was not just compelling television worthy of awards but a window into real life where real people were not just displaying hope, commitment and a desire to do the best thing by the children but were also suffering. The absurd juxtaposition of hope, suffering and fear from Ofsted  made me cry. My emotional response resonated with aspects of my own professional life but here in my living room, I was witness to not only careers being damaged but real people being failed by a system that is in chaos and is indeed broken.

The fragmentation of our school system through the multi-academy model coupled with high stakes management and Ofsted accountability, compounded by real terms cuts in education has presented the perfect storm. Education is in crisis by a government blinded by its own dogma, Minister ‘Champagne’ challenges and  blinded by its Brexit obsession.  Our young people, teachers and fine school institutions are not weathering the storm and we need to get our heads out of the sand and recognise that education is on life support and needs not only additional resources but a new managerial paradigm that places well-being of children and school staff at its heart. #School episode 3 reflects reality.    Episode 3 reminded me that teaching is a noble profession and I will watch the remaining  episodes and expect to shed more tears.

Colin Cattanach





Leave a Reply