After Vic Goddard's tolerant approach to pupils' negative attitudes in Educating Essex, we have Jonny Mitchell trying to deal with what look like much more difficult problems at Thornhill Academy in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. Educating Yorkshire will remain on C4 for eight episodes, on Thursdays at 9pm..
Five o'clock shadow apart, I found myself liking Mr Mitchell, who is trying to raise standards, disapproves of misbehaviour, and uses the word "punishment". The cliff he has to climb is nevertheless very high, and we can't be sure that he will make it to the top. In the first episode, we see three pupils in his office for tormenting neighbouring pensioners in their home, calling the lady a "white-haired bastard" and knocking her husband's glasses off with snowballs.
One had made up a story about being called a "paki" when it looked as if he had started a fight, and a girl, placed in internal exclusion for smoking, refused to go, saying the head thought "he could do what he f.ing well liked", and didn't care if she was excluded for the day.
Petty misbehaviour, throwing food, swearing and making v signs, is caught by the cameras at every turn. By the time the worst offender was given a "managed move" – sent to another school, in exchange, either immediately or later, for one of theirs – he had been sent to the head's office seventy-three times, and five parents had written threatening to withdraw their children if he stayed.
This is the real broken society, and makes Harlow look like a walk in the park. Mr Mitchell and his colleagues try to hold the line for civilisation with their hands tied by procedures that leave their ultimate sanction as giving a child a day off. Exclude the child, and you run foul of Labour's backdoor changes to Ofsted, which penalised the school. Keep him, and your other pupils suffer the consequences. The staff do what they can to provide opportunity and develop leadership for the willing with a Junior Leadership Team, and a prefect system that has a positive effect on one girl's behaviour.
They are, though, up against educational as well as social problems. When the moved pupil writes a note giving his side of the racial abuse story, he prints in large letters. His literacy seems so poor that he has little chance of getting any satisfaction from his school work. I thought things were looking up when we saw another statement being written in joined writing, until the camera zoomed out and we saw that it was being written by a deputy head. The words of the opening song, "There may be trouble ahead…" were prophetic. I hope Mr Mitchell makes it.
PS The Assistant Head could usefully do up his tie. One of the prospective junior leaders showed him how.