Back at the chalkface
PICK OF THE WEEK: Educating Cardiff, Channel 4, Tuesday, 9pm
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.