JM

Educating Yorkshire airs Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4…

16-08-2013

Two years ago, the students and teachers at Passmores Academy in Harlow became legends in their own break time courtesy of Twofour’s BAFTA-winning fly-on-the-wall documentary series Educating Essex. Now, it’s the turn of Thornhill Community Academy near Dewsbury. Here, Thornhill’s head teacher Jonny Mitchell reveals why he allowed cameras into his school, and what he feels about the experience now.

On taking part in the show: “I thought we could present ourselves as a really positive role model for others in education and others outside. Dewsbury has suffered quite a lot in the last ten or 15 years with some adverse press. I thought this was an opportunity for us to show the positive side of the town as well. And the third reason is – I think the kids are brilliant – I think they deserve to experience something a little bit different.”

On Educating Essex: “My initial impressions were that it was funny, pretty honest, quite raw on occasions. It was quite an emotional piece of documentary-making on occasions. Some of the individual stories were very moving, and I thought some of the relationships between the students and the staff were really quite powerful.

On support from Passmores:  “We were advised by Twofour to get in touch with Vic, the headteacher down at Passmores. I’ve stayed in constant contact with Vic throughout the process, he’s been very supportive and very, very helpful.”

On Thornhill being chosen for the series: “ …I would say the thing that stood out – not that this is unique to our school – is that we’re not a massive school, we’re quite small and reasonably intimate, and most of the staff know most of the kids, so that’s quite important. But I think the thing that really sold it was the brilliant relationship between adults and children at the school. The fact that every adult who works in this school bends over backwards just to make sure the kids get the best deal. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen in a lot of other schools, we really do take that family responsibility very seriously. I think that’s what came across. The fact that we’re immensely intelligent and brilliantly funny as well obviously is a major boost!”

On his concerns entering into the project: “The niggling concerns I had were, “How will some of our more vulnerable students come across?” – because we don’t want to put them in any sort of situation where they’re status is jeopardised or they’re going to be laughed at or ridiculed or mocked. Whatever misgivings anybody had, we discussed them very openly as a staff body and I was able to take those concerns to Twofour. They were able to talk us through their experiences working in Essex, and what their intentions were behind it. And that built up a huge bond of trust, so that you never felt that you were talking to TV and media professionals who were spinning you a line, or saying things to appease you, you actually believed what they were saying. And on the back of the fact that I’ve seen a cut of a couple of the programmes now, I can absolutely say that if all the other programmes are done in the same way, it will reflect very well on the school and also vindicate the trust we placed in Twofour to make the programme.”

On having cameras everywhere: “From my own point of view, and some of my staff have commented on this as well, where they had the fixed rigs in their offices or classrooms, the first couple of days were weird, and you were very mindful of everything that you said or did. After that, you just forgot the cameras were there. It was only on occasions where a camera might have moved that you suddenly remembered they were there. But there was absolutely no deterioration of behaviour across the Academy – and you could argue, based on our behaviour trawl and our data and our teaching and our kids’ results over the period in question that behaviour actually improved while the cameras were there. So maybe that was an added benefit.”

On showing everything on camera: “…there was nothing where I actually asked them to stop filming. We did have really open dialogue with Twofour – I met them at least once a day, normally at the end of the day, where they’d talk me through the things they’d been following in particular that day, and they’d ask me if I had any concerns or comments to make, and on occasion I’d say, “I’m not concerned about that as long as you’ve treated it sensitively, and as long as you’ve not included this or that.

I never vetoed anything. Essentially, I had no editorial control. Channel 4 retains ultimate editorial control. But the strength of the relationship we had with Twofour and latterly with Channel 4 has been that we can talk openly about things that might concern us, and it will be taken into consideration when the final cut is made.”

Educating Yorkshire airs Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4. #educatingyorkshire

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