When some people saw the title of Channel 4’s latest concoction, instant suspicions were aroused. This was, no doubt, due to the fact that the programme had ‘Essex’ in its title, and if anyone else watches the other diabolical show that contains the name of that county, then perhaps we could forgive people for regarding this series with a critical eye, unsure of what they were about to watch.
As far as pleasant surprises go, however, watching this programme for the first time definitely ranks up there with the best of them. Educating Essex is a show that seeks to portray life in a normal secondary school, and whilst you feel the more entertaining children have been picked out for the sake of good television, you can hardly argue with the programme’s genuine attempts to get the balance right. Despite this, the show has come in for some withering criticism, When The Guardian conducted a poll, asking other teachers what they thought of the show, one teacher responded by stating professionalism “seemed to be lacking in the senior team on the show, despite the deputy head’s attempts to uphold discipline. The girls on phones while in his office, colleagues bursting into a lesson to sing happy birthday and the headteacher’s handling of the girl’s suspension all seemed unrealistic.” Other newspapers have hardly been quiet to launch attacks either, the Daily Mail boldly entitling their assessment with the words; ‘What sort of example is this to set to our children?’ Although what example the Daily Mail wishes to set to our children is anyone’s guess, and probably doesn’t result in a pleasant answer.
This then, is a defence of the show. Even though the editing may have a degree of artistic licence and the worry remains that children watching it could be exposed to bad behaviour, the show is most certainly honest. For a start, it contains incredibly moving and touching moments. In my favourite episode of the series, the one following the behaviour of Mollie, you can genuinely see the relationship that she and Mr Drew have. She freely admits that she knows how to push his buttons and their encounters would make many mild-mannered people shrink, but regardless of this you can see how much she comes to respect him, even if the respect is begrudgingly granted. When she asks at the end if he’ll be there when she comes back with her report, you cannot help but be moved by his response: “I’ll always be here for you, Mollie.”
Similarly, When Vinni drops out of school and doesn’t make it to the leavers ball, you can see the disappointment on the face of the headmaster, who feels totally responsible, and says he has let him down. Even though the Daily Mail may lambast this character for joking around with his deputy and acting in an unprofessional manner, you cannot doubt his dedication and his loyalty to ensure that the children that pass through his care achieve to the best of their abilities. This highlights that another great attribute this fly-on-the-wall programme has, which is the fact that it reflects the personalities and quirks of the teachers, especially head-teachers, who can so often be labelled scary or cold.
With this, comes the true message that I think Educating Essex is trying to promote. You can focus on the chaos and bedlam that results when vast numbers of teenagers are put in one building together, and tut and groan at the education system of this country like some medieval backward peasant, but you would find it very hard to argue against the drive of the teachers in that school and hopefully in all schools across the country. Mr Drew is heard to remark to his Year 11 class that, against all his deputy head duties and the discipline he must administer, they have “no idea how much I enjoy teaching you”. If the programme teaches you nothing else, it should be that being a teacher can be one of the most rewarding jobs anyone can possibly have. You can have the tantrums, the pupils disturbing classes with loud noises and irritating squabbles, but you can also have the laughter, the fun and the overwhelming satisfaction when a child in your care achieves what they want, regardless of what level that might be.
This is the reason therefore, why I am leaving my post as editor of this section, to concentrate fully on reaching the top of the mountain that I have begun to climb. Even though my chosen workplace is the different environment of the Primary School classroom, the same values and satisfactions remain the same. Educating Essex is a programme you should watch not only because you will laugh and cringe in equal measure, but also because it will teach you one fundamental thing. Education is, most definitely worth it. You don’t always get every call perfect (which human does?) but becoming a teacher means you are going into a workplace where you know that everyday a different person will put a smile on your face every minute of the day and where you know, over the course of your career, that you can make a difference to the lives of hundreds of pupils. In terms of job satisfaction, it doesn’t get much better than that.