Back at the chalk­face

PICK OF THE WEEK: Ed­u­cat­ing Cardiff, Chan­nel 4, Tues­day, 9pm

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Television -

ILL it be as good as Ed­u­cat­ing York­shire? Well, there’s no Mr Bur­ton and no Musharaf to pro­vide the tearin­duc­ing fi­nale, but Ed­u­cat­ing Cardiff should be worth a watch.

Since start­ing in 2011, Chan­nel 4’s fly-on-the-wall Ed­u­cat­ing... se­ries, which started with the Bafta-win­ning Ed­u­cat­ing Es­sex, has thrown a spotlight on the ev­ery­day lives of teach­ers and pupils in sec­ondary schools across the UK.

All se­ries have cel­e­brated the daily tri­umphs and chal­lenges that young teenagers and school staff face, from cy­ber ha­rass­ment to the ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment in Ed­u­cat­ing York­shire when a pupil over­came his stam­mer with the help of his English teacher. And in the latest in­stal­ment, Ed­u­cat­ing Cardiff, the cam­eras are rolling in Wil­lows High in South Wales.

The new eight-part se­ries will fol­low head­teacher Joy Bal­lard, who is de­ter­mined to lift the school’s wal­low­ing aca­demic achieve­ments and show­case the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­la­tion­ships be­tween the pupils and staff. Once again, cam­eras will catch the highs, lows and laughs.

From the off, Chan­nel 4 was look­ing for schools which served “de­prived and chal­leng­ing com­mu­ni­ties”, says Bal­lard, but also ones that “were suc­cess­ful and cur­rently do­ing well”.

“I think they were inspired by the warm, fam­ily at­mos­phere and the close re­la­tion­ships the staff de­velop with the pupils,” she adds.

When Bal­lard joined the school in 2011, it had a very poor rep­u­ta­tion, with just 14 per cent of pupils achiev­ing five grade A-C GCSEs. Serv­ing a gen­er­ally chal­lenged catch­ment area, gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies had “un­der­achieved” at the school, while many pupils have “over­come ter­ri­ble hard­ship” to get to where they are to­day, she points out.

“The re­sults weren’t the worst in Cardiff; they were the worst in Wales, and prob­a­bly worst in the UK,” ex­plains Bal­lard of the school’s pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tion.

But over the past three years things have steadily im­proved, with 50 per cent of pupils now achiev­ing those grades, so she be­lieves there’s a lot to celebrate.

“There’s a his­tor­i­cally neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to our school within Cardiff,” adds Bal­lard. “Hope­fully the show will turn that around.”

Like many of the pupils she teaches, Bal­lard had a dif­fi­cult start in life and was brought up in Southamp­ton, on one of the big­gest coun­cil es­tates in Eng­land.

“I lived a life of disad­van­tage,” re­calls the head, who also suf­fered from rheumatic fever as a child. “I didn’t get any qual­i­fi­ca­tions from school. My chance in life came at col­lege. They re­ally made me be­lieve in my­self.”

Her ex­pe­ri­ence means that she iden­ti­fies with chil­dren who have low as­pi­ra­tions, and sees her­self as proof that any­one can be­come a “very pos­i­tive role model”.

“It’s so im­por­tant that those sort of kids have pos­i­tive role mod­els in their lives,” Bal­lard adds.

“Wales is a very spe­cial place. As a small coun­try, they’re a lit­tle bit of the un­der­dog, but with a great big gi­ant spirit, the dragon spirit.”

LEARN­ING CURVE: Wil­lows High head­teacher Joy Bal­lard and her staff and stu­dents face eight weeks in the spotlight when Ed­u­cat­ing Cardiff hits the na­tion’s TV screens.

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