BBC’s Excluded School Drama In True Portrayal Shock

Excluded

We’ve become so used to TV dramas painting wholly unrealistic versions of life in the classroom that it was oddly disconcerting to watch the BBC ‘Excluded’ this week. Here was a portrayal of school-life in an urban comprehensive that was right on the money. Documenting the slo-mo train-wreck of the young lad heading for exclusion (with perhaps the inevitable ‘broken home’ background being the only stereotype), the show set up a series of conflicting tensions: life in the swanky academy, contrasted against the home school just missing out on the Building Schools for The Future programme; the need to ‘include’ difficult pupils to boost exam results, with the need to exclude overly-disruptive students to boost the exam results of the others. Most impressive, was the  conflict in pedagogies – between the teacher who taught maths drills (‘they’ll have forgotten how to do it by next week’) to the newly qualified teacher who adopts a more challenging, but longer-lasting, approach to solving maths equations by employing reasoning and logic.

The former imposed order by shouting, intimidation and lots of copying from the board. The latter had to earn the respect of students, but eventually became the only teacher the young classroom-disruptor would engage with. Some of the older hands seemed resigned to never achieving  student engagement, merely settling for getting the borderline Ds, to become Cs (which has insidiously become the Whole Point of Schooling for many English schools under the cosh of exam results). I was reminded how lucky we are, in the Learning Futures programme, to have schools who have the respect of their students because they listen to them and treat them as equals – the kinds of democratic communities I described in the Learning Commons post earlier

Watching it was a poignant experience for me, because in the past two weeks I’ve visited two schools who sat on either side of the BSF axe: Matthew Moss High School, in Rochdale, signed their contract the day before the closure of the scheme was announced, whereas Villiers School, in Southall, have had to put all of their exciting designs in a box. Both are excellent schools, both in challenging circumstances (high proportion of free school meals kids, and kids who have English as their second language). They perform everyday miracles, but Villiers sadly are now stuck with a Victorian building which prohibits flexible use of teaching spaces, and severely curtails team teaching, cross-curricular work any number of teaching innovations they were working on. It won’t stop them from innovating, because they have courageous and inspiring leadership, but they were getting ready to fly, and now they’re having to just make the best of it.

I wonder if the people in the Treasury ever thought that closing the schools building programme half-way through would have a direct impact upon the quality of teaching, and therefore the life-chances of half a generation? Presumably not, since the previous administration never get around to asking schools how having a shiny new school would change their curricula, until the scheme was well under way.

The decision, to pull up the drawbridge and leave hundreds of schools like Villiers  in wholly inadequate accommodation, will create one of the most vivid examples of  ‘haves-and-have-nots’ in the public sector  that you could ever wish to find.

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