It's not clever and it's not funny


Teachers are all over the telly at the moment. Soaps, documentaries and the two sit coms Big School and Bad Education. Are you watching? Our pupils are...

“It’s not funny and not clever!” goes the prune-faced cry. I fear the humour by-pass of the drearily correct.

Now, you’re probably too busy failing something or other or just plum knackered to watch, so let me be your guide.

David Walliams’ Big School is tired, dire, dull and, crucially, unfunny. All a bit of a “Carry On”. Bunsen burners blow up, teachers are idiots, PE teachers are morons and pupils are ciphers. That area. We seem to be in my 1950s grammar school without the laughs.

Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education is infantile, filthy, woefully incorrect, quite indefensible – and often extremely amusing in the modern heartless fashion. A sort of Green Wing with cracking gags. Teachers are beyond idiots, pupils adult stand ups, it tells us nothing significant about education and it has me laughing like a drain, perhaps because it taps into that cruel schoolboy humour, which has nearly ruined me for life. 

As a pupil I got caned by the head for laughing at a Latin teacher, who seemed sectionable. As a teacher, I got sent to the governors for laughing at jargon, which seemed gibberish. They docked my performance-related pay for ever. I’ve had to leave classrooms several times crippled with infant laughter. I’ve seen nothing funnier than two prize pupils emerging like Bill and Ben from the foliage of a giant designer flowerpot during the Demon Head’s grim Briefing. 

It is a scene to which I often return, when losing the will to live in Behaviour Modification Workshops. Perhaps more serious stuff is more your ticket, like the excellent Educating Essex and now Educating Yorkshire – nicely observed and nearly real. But the quotidian experience of a classroom trumps them all. It’s richer and more complex and extremely difficult to catch on film.

In the meantime, you could get your management to cancel all those workshops and show the real thing – The Wire, Series 4 or Jimmy McGovern’s Hearts and Minds or Phil Beadle’s Unteachables or Laurent Cantete’s Entre les Murs.

Or peruse the works of Nigel Molesworth in Penguin Modern Classics hem hem for the reality of skool life – “so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder”. The tome is “advanced, forthright, signifficant”, says he – and much funnier than anything on the telly.


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