Where did Waterloo Road get Helen Hopewell from?  Which University admissions’ tutor interviewed her and accepted her onto a programme of Initial Teacher Training?  Was not concern expressed about her teaching ability during her teaching placements prior to qualifying?

Helen Hopewell is only one of a number of apparently incompetent teachers to have been employed at Waterloo Road.  Steph Haydock as has been demonstrated in numerous episodes is another one, and Grantly Budgen is, if not incompetent, certainly lazy.  Should we be concerned at the tendency of Waterloo Road to recruit and retain the least competent teachers?

If Waterloo Road was an accurate representation of a typical comprehensive school, then yes we should be concerned, but it is not. However, this does not mean that the portrayal of teachers in this way should not concern us.  Such portrayals deserve to be examined.

Chris Woodhead, when he was Chief Inspector of Schools told us that around 15000 teachers were incompetent nd should be sacked.  More recently Ofsted highlighted a  ‘stubborn core’ of teachers who were failing to inspire their pupils.  Researchers have also observed the incompetent and lazy teacher to be a feature of fictional portrayals and news media reports. 

Focusing on Helen Hopewell, a more detailed consideration of her character than the series has provided us with so far, might point to the unlikely scenario that there are Helen Hopewell’s to found in comprehensive schools throughout the land.

Pupils had nicknamed her ‘Hopeless Hopewell’, and from the outset it was clear to see why.  While teaching, her classroom management skills left a lot to be desired.  Outside the classroom she revealed herself to be emotionally vulnerable and dependent on  Max Tyler for providing her with a sense of self-worth (she was having an affair with him).   She begged Max for help on numerous occasions and in one episode accused Michaela White of pushing her down the stairs and was determined to get her excluded. She displayed other, problematic and immature behaviour such as  writing apparently threatening notes and bumping a pupil, Micheala White in the common room.   After an unfortunate episode with some spilt orange juice she made an even more unfortunate error of judgement by wearing one of Steph Haydock’s tops – one which enhanced a part of her anatomy which it was probably best not to enhance in a classroom full of hormone fuelled teenagers.   Was she not aware of the attention that she might attract wearing that? Indeed the wearing of that top did result in a cacophony of sexual harassment.  As previously mentioned, Helen Hopewell’s Internet safety awareness was, somewhat lacking and her pupils arranged a party at her home, without her knowledge, causing her to exclaim “Waterloo Road happened!”  It was as if she had stumbled into a Rochdale Comprehensive school rather than having chosen teaching as a career. In a moment in vulnerability in the classroom she revealed her motivation for wanting to become a teacher, she had ‘liked school’.

Helen Hopewell, motivated to do well in her inspection because Max had done so much to help her, faced up to the event by vomiting in the toilets, her affirmations where she told herself how good she was, had it appeared, not had the desired effect.  Her feelings of hopelessness not dissipated, she then paid a pupil, Amy Porter, to ensure good behaviour.  Amazingly it worked.  With her renedwed confidence she announced to her Head of Department that she was relaxed about the inspection:  “Today’s going to be a breeze. Trust me”.  Indeed the inspection went well but her career remained doomed.

When she at last decided that enough was enough she attempted blackmail with a copy of a DVD, which, we have to assume shows her and Max Tyler enjoying some sort of sexual activity with each other.  It can hardly have been a ‘one off’ or on the spur of the moment as she had time to set up the recording equipment and conceal it from Max during those tender moments.  Maybe he was so carried away with showing his appreciation for Helen that failed to notice the video camera in the corner of the room.  So the proof was there, and as we all know by now Max Tyler had given Helen Hopewell a job because he had been sleeping with her.  Of course!  Is it a  typical scenario, that in order for a women to get a job she has to be sleeping with the male boss?  Before we accept this we might ask the following questions:

  • Where was the rest of the interview panel? 
  • Where was the head of department on the day of the interviews? 
  • Or another member of the senior management team?  Where was a representative of the governing body? 
  • Where were her references (especially as it transpired her previous head of department didn’t rate her at all, not even to make the tea as Jo Lipsett announced in Episode 8)? 
  • What were the other candidates like?

These are the steps that teachers in the real world have to climb in order to be allowed in a classroom, the Hopewell story is just an entertaining and exaggerated representation of a teacher who isn’t performing at her best.


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