The 7th series of Waterloo Road enables renewed opportunity to examine a popular construction of comprehensive schools. Waterloo Road is a stereotypical comprehensive; it is urban, it is working class, it is struggling to improve standards, pupil behaviour is unlikely to be graded outstanding, and a number of the teachers are portrayed as incompetent. Thus, it should be seen as undesirable, a place unsuited for educating the future generation. Yet, it is estimated that 4.91 million people tuned in to watch the first episode in the new series last Wednesday night . There is clearly something attractive in the undesirable comprehensive school.
A pupil we had never seen before, Ali Redback, left her newborn baby in the changing room. Her decision to leave him in this location meant that someone was likely to find him, sooner, rather than later. The baby’s chances of survival were also much greater having been left in a findable location. As it turned out, the finder was the new site manager, Rob Scotcher.
In a departure with convention, the staff at Waterloo Road did appear to contact the emergency services, but it was the police, not a team of paramedics that arrived to take charge of the baby. When a pupil asked why the police were at the school, Eleanor Chaudry, the new English teacher offered the rationale that “a serious crime had been committed”. She is, technically, correct (child abandonment is a criminal offence, however, in appeals at least, police tend to focus on the welfare of the mother rather than a potential prosecution).
Thus, Eleanor Chaudry is constructed as a character unsympathetic to the lives of the pupils she teaches. We also know this because Tom Clarkson described his new colleague as “Maggie Bloody Thatcher” in reference to her right-wing political activities. It is possible that this character was created with more than a passing reference to Katharine Birbalsingh, the author of To Miss with Love. Birbalsingh was enthusiastically received by the Conservative Party conference in 2010 because she ‘exposed’ the apparently failing comprehensive system. Katharine Birbalsingh is an experienced teacher, a former deputy head, and, whether you agree or disagree with her understanding and analyses of her teaching experiences she does appear to have genuine empathy with her (now former) pupils. Eleanor Choudry, judging by the comments she made in this first episode, does not.
Meanwhile, Head teacher, Karen Fisher, identified AIi as the mother of the newborn, and Kyle Stack came forward, believing himself to be the father. Christopher Mead, who has not always demonstrated the highest standards in sexual politics, gave advice to Kyle on his sexual responsibilities. It is safe to assume that Mead is unlikely to be a fan of Nadine Dorries’ proposals identified in Sex Education (Required Content) Bill 2010-11.
Such curriculum content as recommended by Dorries would have been inappropriately out of touch with the pupil’s reality in this case. It transpired that Kyle was not the father. The biological parent, was, after all, Ali’s stepfather, Callum. Upon this revelation, Chris, committed an act which might have earned him respect among some. He punched the paedophile stepfather square in the face, sending him to the ground. Mead’s justification for this act was that people like Callum are monsters. If only they were Chris, it would make them much easier to spot.
As ever, not much teaching went on.
- According to BARB figures reported by Paul Miller in Digital Spy
- There are a few studies on abandoned babies. A useful article looking at the way media reports on cases can be found in: Sherr, L; Mueller, J; Fox Z (2009) ‘Abandoned babies in the UK – a review utilizing media reports’, Child: Care, Health and Development, 35, 3, 419–430