The Educating series of fly on the wall accounts of everyday school life returned this week with Educating Greater Manchester filmed at Harrop Fold School in Salford. The series has become formulaic, with each weekly episode featuring a different aspect of school life. This week attention was focused on the ethnic diversity of the pupil population and the various responses to this diversity. If the Educating series is a documentary, it is not investigative, and rarely involves a critical exploration the context in which events in the school occur. Instead it appears to be more concerned with the emotive and providing entertainment. Nevertheless, the school exists and the events do occur in such a context.
Focused on telling the story of Rani, a year 7 pupil from Syria, this week’s episode revealed the existence of racism in the school, though this word was rarely used, by the teachers. Instead, various phrases to diffuse the potential harm the racist incidents might cause included:
You don’t mean it though, do you?
It was a joke
It was thoughtless more than malicious
Whilst there was a recognition that such incidents were unacceptable and needed tackling, the reluctance to label such incidents as ‘racist’ (see Pearce, 2014) might be seen as evidence of a tolerance for everyday racist discourses (Grigg, K. and Manderson, 2015; Miller, 2015).
Personal stories were also developed through direct to camera interviews. At times these felt overly intrusive, such as when Marud, another pupil from Syria was asked about his father:
Do you think he’s alive?
As this episode progressed, so did Rani’s friendship with fellow Year 7 pupil, Jack. Rani also transitioned from the SEND class where he was placed to help him develop his English language skills, to mainstream classes. The transition was celebrated with a ‘graduation’, reflecting the effort of the individual involved. Whilst the move from this group might be positive for Rani, the existence of a celebration to mark a moving away from the SEND class is somewhat problematic. What about those pupils for whom a move to mainstream classes may not be appropriate?
Finally, in a scene where we shouldn’t laugh, but probably did, we see Rani taking the lead in exercising their artistic tendencies on the dirt of a white van. Rani writes ‘Fock’ and is followed by other boys drawing ever increasingly graphic phalluses. How everyone laughed, including the head teacher. He asks the assembled miscreants:
What are they going to be thinking of the blue blazer?
Emphasising the importance of the group identity, he reminds us scholars of education that we need to re-read Durkheim (1973) from time to time.