Television Review - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Television Review

THERE HAVE been plenty of films about dedicated teachers bringing hope to dead-end schools: The Blackboard Jungle, To Sir with Love, Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver - there was even the dance movie Lambada which was about a character who wiggled his hips by night and inspired slum kids to learn by day. At first glance, Lucy Gannon's new serial, Hope and Glory (BBC1), looks like just another one to add to the list. It has all the tropes of the genre - the sink school, the graffitied exterior, the chaotic hallways, the yelling, cynical teachers who see the kids as beyond redemption: "More containment than education." There is the dedicated, empathetic, talented but demoralised teacher who is on the point of quitting. And there is the idealistic newcomer who is going to change all this.

Hope and Glory puts a contemporary spin on all this. We are in the age of school inspections, the exclusion of unruly pupils and that most tiresome cliche, "naming and shaming". Hope Park School (the irony is driven home rather too hard for comfort) is on the verge of closure. And - a touch that distinguishes it from all the other teacher dramas I've mentioned - Lenny Henry's idealistic newcomer, Ian George, is not just a rank-and- file teacher, he's a head teacher.

The notion that everything, good and bad, about a school flows from the head may well be correct, but its acceptance as dogma by the educational establishment has been comparatively recent. The death of Philip Lawrence, the head teacher who was fatally stabbed outside his school while going to the aid of a pupil, played a part. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the rise of the head and the emphasis on leadership has coincided with the rise of our most presidential Prime Minister - though which is cause and which is effect would be hard to say.

It seems a bit ironic, then, that Gannon apparently sets out to rubbish the Blairite educational agenda. Last night's episode opened with George, a celebrity head, giving a keynote speech at a teachers' union conference and taking the opportunity to rubbish the government. He wouldn't be used as a stick to beat other teachers, he said; instead, the government should just give his colleagues the resources they needed and leave them to get on with the job. And the whole thrust of the drama was to argue that it is shortsighted and cruel to staff and pupils to declare a school past helping. As George patrolled Hope Park, inspecting it with a view to recommending its closure, he kept on being touched by little signs of humanity, and offended by the offhand cruelty of the departing head teacher.

It came as no surprise, then, when at the end of this first episode George decided to take over as head of Hope Park. In fact, the moment had been so heavily signalled for the past 20 minutes that in dramatic terms it was completely ineffectual. This first part had its pleasures - notably Peter Davison cast well against type as the burned-out head, screaming "You filthy little whore" at a pupil. But it also had an irritating "Your 100 Best Tunes" classical soundtrack and a vein of manipulative, saccharine sentimentality. Gannon, go and stand in the corridor until I call you.

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