Channel 4’s popular Educating documentary series returned to our screens just two weeks ago with Educating Greater Manchester. Since then, we have fallen in love with the touching friendship between Syrian refugee Rani and classmate Jack, and laughed at the toils, tears and tantrums that come with being a teenage girl. So far, Educating Greater Manchester has proved itself to have every bit as much heart and humour as its award-winning Yorkshire counterpart.
We’ve seen Rani’s struggle to integrate into an English-speaking school and cheered at his ultimate success with the help of Jack. We’ve giggled at the children’s mischievous antics and watched headteacher Mr Povey struggle to contain his own laughter on having to scold them. And last week we were introduced to teenage mum Mia as she struggled to maintain her attendance during her pregnancy.
Rani, Jack and Mia have gone on to be the topic of many discussions in newspapers and magazines since their TV debuts, so what did this week have to offer?
This episode, we followed Year 11 boys Mitchell and Callum as they prepared both for their exams and auditions for the school production of Into the Woods. Within the first few minutes, we learn that there has been an incident regarding Mitchell. Head of Behaviour Mr. Chambers is seen with his head in his hands as he calls Mitchell into his office to discuss the fact that the fifteen-year-old has made an account on dating app Tinder.
Described as a “diva” by his mum, he is loud, stubborn, but ultimately likeable. Although Mitchell is often in trouble throughout the episode, it is his sense of humour and passion for make-up and theatre that draw the audience in. What the Educating series does best is to introduce us to a misbehaving child that society would normally cast aside as hopeless and show us their most endearing qualities, which Mitchell has in abundance. Though, there are times where he pushes both the audience and staff too far, with Mr Chambers imploring his Mum and Grandmother to do something as the school is at a loss with how to handle him.
What is most interesting about Mitchell, however, is his openness. In his interviews with the production staff he discusses his love of wearing make-up and choosing to describe himself as bisexual. He is unapologetically himself, whether that means mouthing off at teachers or plastering his face with foundation and contour. But perhaps what is most surprising to older audiences, is how accepting the student body is of him, with even his own mother voicing her early worries that he may be too different. Years ago, someone as open as Mitchell would have been unimaginable, and so yet again the series shows us the welcoming and unrestricted nature of today’s youth.
At the Into the Woods auditions, we meet Callum, another Year 11 and self-professed “football lad.” He’s a man’s man who is torn between his desire to go to drama school and not wanting to be labeled as ‘a drama kid’ by his friendship group.
While Mitchell is a much bigger and bolder character, Callum has a lot of heart, which we see mostly through the scenes between him and girlfriend, Maddie. Maddie is the reason Callum feels able to audition. However, when rumours that Callum has been seen out with another girl reach Maddie their future in the production and as a couple is put in jeopardy. On the surface this might be seen as a schoolyard tiff but what the show demonstrates so brilliantly is how well the staff rally to support any pupil in distress. In a poignant scene Head Mr. Povey takes Callum to his office to try and get to the bottom of things. Mr. Povey treads a difficult balance of talking to his student as a Headteacher but also as someone who has been in his position before and who he wants Callum to open up to. It’s a fascinating scene that demonstrates again that schools aren’t just placing for learning they have the tougher job of preparing their students for the world outside and helping them cope when the challenges of live prove too tough.
Being from Manchester, these characters are all too familiar to me and Educating does them absolute justice. While the children can often be mouthy, tactless and temperamental, they are undeniably Manchester. Though whether you come from Manchester or not, there is something for every public-school child to connect with and relate to.
Overall, what Educating Greater Manchester does is transport us all back to the angst, drama and joy of our school days. Often, students can push themselves to fit into groups that they may not necessarily belong in. What this show does is to suggest that maybe we are beginning to move past this, as we watch both Callum and Mitchell step outside the restrictions of these boxes. It also paints a heart-warming picture of the dedication of teaching staff. There are many points where the teachers come close to giving up on Mitchell, however, instead they do everything within their power to help him improve. And in the end, despite not getting the part in the play that he wanted, he gets to lend his make-up skills to the cause.
Educating Greater Manchester Continues Thursday at 9.00pm on Channel 4