A good observational documentary has at its heart the same ingredients as a work of fiction. Engaging, complex characters, a well-told narrative and the ability to create a variety of emotions in its audience. Educating Yorkshire demonstrates this perfectly, whilst also shedding light on that political football that is the education system. Every aspect of school life has been repeatedly tinkered with by governments and education secretaries prioritising their own ideological agendas over the needs of children for decades, and neither the political left or right can be judged as particularly shining examples.

The producers have chosen not to take a direct political line, but instead spent the first episode telling the story of three particular students, and in doing so perhaps told us more about the realities of childhood today than any manifesto driven programme could. First, Bailey, full of teenage girl swag, wearing several layers of make-up and generally being a bit bolshy. ‘Ugh, how ridiculously dolled-up she looks’ was no doubt everyone’s first reaction. But in a lovely tender moment, she explained to the camera why she painted herself: she was attacked by a dog as a small child leaving her with facial scars. Even in the age before Heat magazine and the like this would have left her feeling awkward, but no this was almost a social death sentence. In an loving cut-away, two teachers discussed Bailey’s issues, showing genuine concern about a lack of inner confidence that could be her undoing. If only that outward energy could be channelled into being a role model for the younger girls instead of being disruptive. Sadly, Bailey’s hopes of being made a prefect were dashed by her own behaviour, that left the viewer wondering if her inner demons would forever lead her to self-sabotage.

Another student facing demons was Kamreem, a mixed-race student who it appeared was never given the right start in life, although the exact details were kept private. Forever butting heads with other students, sometimes literally, he was becoming a regular fixture in the head teacher’s office. His mum seemed a sweet sort who wasn’t entirely sure what to do with him. He broke down in tears when he realised the consequences of weeks of his misbehaviour, but was quick to say no-one ever listened to his side of the story. This wasn’t entirely true it seemed, at least not as regards Mr Mitchell, but again the viewer was left with questions that this documentary couldn’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, answer. Who did Kamreem have at home to look up to? More importantly perhaps, should teachers be social workers and child psychologists, stepping in where parents have failed? Would we as a society let them intervene if they were able to?

Amongst these two stories full of shade came a ray of sunshine in Ryan. Sweet, good-natured and a little cheeky in a way that 12-year-olds should be (asking his teacher if she was going through the menopause was the second funniest moment in the show, beaten only by the Head of Year 7 being flummoxed by ‘sexting’.) Like Bailey, he too wanted to be a prefect. His speech came from the heart – like so many of the kids, he only wanted a chance. He wants to become an actor or a policeman, wanting to either entertain or help people. One teacher suggested he could be prime minister. If he does become a politician, I hope he becomes education secretary at some point. Having seen teachers keep going despite being driven to the edge, he is better qualified than anyone else to know what schools need.

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