Headteacher Tony Harpham on letting cameras capture his pupils’ first days at his primary school
Starting primary school is a big step for every child – and their mummies and daddies. And with fourand five-year-olds across the UK beginning their adventure this month, a one-off C5 documentary is taking us behind the school gates to reveal what life is really like for little ones in reception class.
Filmed over seven school days last year at Walton Primary Academy in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, First Day at Big School uses fixed and roaming cameras to capture the triumphs, tears and tantrums as 44 wide-eyed boys and girls navigate their first week.
‘It was my first day at this school as well!’ laughs headteacher Tony Harpham, 50, as he chats to TV Times. ‘I was working at an English school in Kuwait when
I got the job in March last year. Towards the end of the school year, my predecessor emailed, saying: “By the way, did we mention that we’ve agreed to do a TV programme?” I replied: “No, you didn’t!”
‘There have been other programmes, like Educating
Yorkshire, but they’ve all been based in secondary schools. The primary school area is not something I’ve seen much about. Obviously there’s a bit of trepidation about having TV cameras in the school, but I was game.
‘I don’t know how they chose us, but I’d say it’s a fairly typical primary school, so it gives a good snapshot of what goes on in this area of learning for this age. There’s no smoke or mirrors, this programme is just a true reflection of what the cameras picked up – it makes you laugh, cry and smile.’
The hour-long documentary focuses on the journeys of five pupils – confident Oscar, shy Beth, independent Freddie, outgoing Layla and model pupil Emily. We see them flourish in different ways as they learn to make friends and the rules of the classroom.
Is it rewarding to see them grow in confidence in such a short time?
‘It is,’ answers Tony, who’s been in the teaching profession since 1999 and progressed to leadership roles in 2007. ‘It can be the most subtle thing, too. For example, just getting a child to say “Good morning” to you is a big thing for them and it’s a big thing for us as well. It’s important to celebrate the small steps to success, as the slightest thing can make a big difference to a child’s education.’
We chat to dedicated Tony a week before the start of this year’s autumn term – and he can’t wait to welcome a brand new batch of children to the school.
‘I’m looking forward to it – it does feel like a long time since July,’ he says. ‘At the start of each term, I always say to the children, “Enjoy every day because, before you know it, it will be the end of the school year”. I’ve never worked in any other job where every day just goes in a flash!’
Tony aims to give pupils a head start
It was my first day at this school as well The kids soon learn how to behave in a classroom