"He's 70 and I'm 71. I've got angina, right? We don't need this," complained a local resident to newly appointed headmaster Mr Mitchell, whose pupils have just pelted her with snowballs. Even though this is Mr Mitchell's first headmaster job, he remained unfazed, as this is just one of many misdemeanours he has to deal with in a day. Other crimes were less tangible – "I hadn't heard of it," said a shocked head of Year Eight, Mrs Stevens, on her office phone, "but apparently it's a massive thing, they call it… sexting."
This first episode of this new series, Educating Yorkshire, which follows on from Channel 4's successful Educating Essex, focused on a handful of affable characters at the Thornhill Community Academy in West Yorkshire. There was Mr Mitchell, a hard but fair disciplinarian with a sense of humour, Bailey, a quick-tempered, overly made-up Year Nine rebel, with aspirations to become a prefect, and Year Eight boy Ryan, who resembles a mini Boris Johnson, but with better hair, who wants to become an actor, or a policeman, or a fireman, but for whom his teachers foresee a career in politics. He was already sweet-talking the voting public, sidling up to his teacher at the end of class, bowing and stating: "Miss, it's an honour to be taught by you." Then there was Cameron, who is troubled and gets into trouble, but the teachers have a soft spot for him.
As with all other school documentaries, our assumptions were challenged as we got to know the students – Bailey's love of thick orange foundation is intended to cover up facial scars, not for an on-screen audition for a bit-part in TOWIE. Mr Mitchell brought in some unorthodox punishments, such as "isolation", where children are made to work alone. It's less severe than the prison version, solitary confinement, but Bailey still described it as: "Death: two boards, a wall and work."
Through it all, Mr Mitchell kept his sense of humour. We saw him arduously collecting testimonies, like a detective, over an alleged racial slur, finally concluding the evidence was insufficient, "I'm not Poirot," he told the accuser, before explaining how he'd just have to punish everyone equally. His charm worked and he slowly won over even the naughtiest of students, who admit he is tough but fair. Surely, though, we have seen these characters before. Before Educating Essex, Channel 4's Jamie's Dream School took a similar tack with its radical treatment of struggling pupils. But although this was not ground-breaking, it was occasionally funny – and heart-warming.
A documentary that seemed even less innovative was Mum and Dad Are Splitting Up. Arbitrarily hooked on to the long-known statistic that one third of children now live with just one parent, it told the story of five families who have broken up. It would have been far more interesting to have a longitudinal study of the children, seeing if they would repeat the mistakes of the parents, but that would take time and money, so, instead, we had this. One message is clear: even though divorce is common, it doesn't make it any less hard to deal with. Particularly poignant was Darryl, a strapping 20-year-old whose parents separated nine years ago and who was convinced they will get back together. He justified the gap in their union, saying: "After spending a bit of time apart, maybe it would… start again."
Then there was Tasha, 16, whose father walked out on her and her mum when she was 10. She never sees him. Dressed all in pink in a bedroom covered in posters, she openly discussed her trust issues, which are the clear result of her DJ dad's departure. Cut to her dad, who was no longer the wild-haired stud her mum fell for but a lonely man in a sparse flat, the only sign of personality being his guitar, just in the frame. "Having kids has been a life experiment for me," he said, remorseless. Some people shouldn't be allowed to have children.
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