Did we like it?
This fascinating documentary following four families and their quests to get their children into the schools of their choice made for cautionary viewing for parents. Different social backgrounds, different approaches, and different reasons for wanting their child to get into the school – but all were fixated on making the cut. Some tales were inspirational, others made you despair. All were worth watching.
What was good about it?
• The production team had done a good job of getting a broad mix of social backgrounds. From Bradford, Hannah, whose parents sold birthing pools, and Helen, who was a vicar’s daughter, were both hoping to get into Dixons City Academy and avoid their failing local state schools. With 700 children competing for 100 places, the odds were stacked against them. Then there was six-year-old Alex from Norfolk, whose mother Eileen wanted his obvious intelligence challenged in a small independent school. Finally, Mehdin from Surrey, whose father Mahmood had him sitting entrance exams for the top three schools in the area.
• Eileen took the stereotype of apathetic single mothers and smashed it to smithereens. Though earning a pittance, she was determined to do the very best for Alex. Unable to make up the 50% of fees not covered by the scholarship her son had won, she tried every avenue to secure the extra funding, including trying to get him classified as special needs due to his intelligence, and writing to companies to secure sponsorship. Their segment ended tantalisingly with a clip of them both at the door to 10 Downing Street…
• Never having sat an exam before, Alex continually asked the supervising head if his answers were right. If only we’d thought of that when we were kids!
• The unintentionally hilarious moment in Alex’s interview with his prospective headmaster. When asked if money was no object, what would he most like, a hyper Alex replied, “A mansion!” As the head chuckled indulgently, Alex followed up with, “So I could smash everything up inside!” The head’s grin froze in place. Despite this, Alex got his place.
• The opening of the envelopes from the schools and sheer joy of the parents whose kids had won places was a genuinely heart-warming moment.
What was bad about it?
• At one stage, I thought Mahmood was a set-up by the producers as a more stereotypical pushy parent it would have been hard to find. He was spending two hours every weeknight (upped to three in the month before the exams) and four hours on a Saturday and Sunday helping Mehdin with his work. While obviously wanting his son to do well, he came across as a humourless slavedriver. You just wished he’d give Mehdin a hug.
• Mahmood was obsessed with the status and appearance of other parents – commenting enviously on the matching jackets that some couples wore. He’d obviously never seen Howard and Hilda in Ever Decreasing Circles or he’d have realised that they should have been ridiculed not admired.
• The crass comments uttered by Mahmood. “Mehdin’s tutor is the best around, and I won’t tell other parents who she is because we don’t want to share her!” “I’m a winner!” “If Mehdin doesn’t get into these schools the future is bleak!” He was too blind to realise that it’s the child who is important, and a good school would only facilitate that. People can go to state schools and still be personally and professionally successful. And they can go to expensive private schools and still turn out as dickheads.
• When Mehdin received his two offers, Mahmood threw a celebratory feast for friends and family. There then followed an excruciating piece of TV as Mehdin made a speech (surely scripted by Mahmood) in his living room through a PA system in which he thanked his family for their support and pontificated how important his prospective admission was as it would set him up for life. Let’s hope he gets some emotional guidance and perspective at his new school.
• You could feel the crushing disappointment of Hannah’s parents as she read the letter confirming that she hadn’t been successful, and sense their desperation as Ruth admitted to regularly attending mass despite not being Catholic. The reason? Their second choice was a Catholic school…