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I TALK Educating Cardiff

First there was Essex, then Yorkshire, then the East End and now the Educating series is heading to Willows High School in Cardiff for its fourth series, Educating Cardiff.

The Educating series captures every detail of life in a school, from playground antics, inspirational lessons, life-changing friendships and important school events.

I remember when Educating Yorkshire came around, and I had my doubts as to whether it would be able to match its predecessor, Educating Essex. Of course it did, and Educating Yorkshire is to date my favourite series. That emotional ending when Musharaf overcame his severe stammer to address the school's assembly is hard to beat.

I have to admit, Educating the East End didn’t impress me that much, I found myself not caring if I’d missed an episode, however with Educating Cardiff I’ve only seen one episode and already I want more.

Willows High School was one of the worst performing schools in Cardiff when Head Teacher Joy Ballard took it over in 2011, her first role as a Head.

Speaking in a Q&A session after a recent screening of the first episode, Joy revealed that she had never seen any of the Educating series when she was first approached.

I later asked her if she had gone on to watch any, and if any of the previous staff members from any of the Educating series had been in touch with her. She told me:

"Once we considered being involved, I watched all of them. Some of the Educating Yorkshire stuff I was really touched by. I certainly watched that Musharaf moment, and that was some extraordinary teaching.

I did enjoy watching them, but it was a bit like a busman’s holiday, because in a school you’re making decisions quickly, so I could almost feel myself analysing the Head Teacher’s decisions.

We had Mr Mitchell from Educating Yorkshire come down and meet with me, and all of my staff. What was great was that we were able to find out the stuff that we wouldn’t have been able to know just watching the series."

I also asked Joy if she had any concerns in agreeing to take part in the series. She said:

"You always have concerns. Will they show the full story? Is that really showing the school in a way that you want it to? But the fact is, they always follow the child’s story right the way through, and we always get a happy ending at my school.

I think there’s something very special about opening up places that for most people, they don’t get to see what it’s really like inside.

Maybe it’ll defamiliarise some of the stereotypical stuff about kids and about schools, and I think that’s a good thing."

What struck me the most after watching the first episode of Educating Cardiff was the tone. It was funnier than most of the other episodes across all three series, without losing the warmth and integrity the other series had.

There are several moments in the first episode that made me laugh out loud. For example, when Harry, the school newspaper’s undercover reporter, puts his ear to the staff room door to try and catch some gossip on the teachers and the moment when we see a kid running down a corridor shouting "Shit! I’ve got an assembly."

The first episode focuses on two very different female pupils, Leah and Jess.

Leah is one of the school’s popular girls, and has one of the school’s worst attendance records. As she nears the end of her education, if she passes her GCSE’s, she will be the highest achieving member of her family.

She has a tough exterior and is afraid of ever asking for help or letting go of what she reveals is “an act”, so it’s no surprise that she wants to be an actress. Drama is her favourite subject because it’s the perfect opportunity to put on an act, even if it is only for an hour.

Leah requires Mr Hennessy, her Head of House and Maths teacher, to call her every morning to make sure she gets out of bed and into school on time? Does it work? Of course not, Leah plays by her own rules although eventually understands why Mr Hennessy does what he does. He really does go above and beyond, and it’s great to see that there are some teacher’s out there who go to great lengths to get the best out of their students.

That said, Mr Hennessy is the teacher most of the students are scared of, something we find out during a very funny montage in the first episode.

Jess on the other hand, has 100% attendance and is one of the school’s hardest workers. She is hugely focussed on being successful, enjoys her studies, and can’t understand why other pupils would mess around.

In a bid to boost her social skills, Joy has put Jess in charge of a new school newspaper and one of her first tasks is to find some staff. Cue a very funny audition process, think The Apprentice meets The X Factor.

As the first episode went on, I felt my opinions on both Leah and Jess change, the more I got to know them, the more I understood why they were the way they were, and began to empathise with them as characters, and learn not to judge people by face value. The first episode proved that no matter which end of the social spectrum you’re from, being a teenage girl, and Leah and Jess are perfect examples of this.

And that’s what I particularly love about the Educating series, the ability it has to show us inside a world we all have pre-conceived ideas about, and very often change our opinions. For four series now, the show has shown that there are many teachers out there who go above and beyond the call of duty, and it’s fantastic that a series like Educating is able to highlight just some of these teachers.

So where to next? Well my money is on Scotland, or Northern Ireland… after all, at the Q&A, the producers revealed that it was between Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland for this current series. Although the question of course, is whether or not they’d want to go outside the UK again.

Only time will tell of course, but I have no doubt that the Educating series can just run and run!

Educating Cardiff begins Tuesday 25th August at 9pm on Channel 4


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