The latest part of Channel 4 school reality series, ‘Educating Cardiff’, has received fantastic reviews, as it shines a spotlight on the modern teaching profession. The TV show gives its viewers an insight into the reality of the role of teachers. The focus is not upon OFSTED reports and academic targets, but instead allows viewers to see the important relationships of teachers with their pupils, and the vital role teachers play in supporting and developing the most challenging students. The programme reminds us just how fragile and impressionable teenagers are, and that the influence of one teacher can change the course of a child’s future – for better or worse.
Teaching as a profession has been reported to be in trouble in the UK, with many teachers noting the introduction Michael Gove as education minister as the catalyst. The Independent reported in April 2015 that the number of teachers entering the profession is in decline. It is therefore refreshing to see the passion driving the teachers at Willows High School in ‘Educating Cardiff.’ At schools such as Willows, the job is considered even more difficult due to the challenging circumstances which the teachers work in. The low social-economic status of the school and the surrounding area mean that the children are at an economic disadvantage from the beginning of their school career. The Teach First charity have published that only one in 10 teachers would consider teaching in a challenging school such as Willows. This highlights a huge problem with education in the UK, as difficulty to attract teachers to these areas creates a huge gap in the educational standards of these schools, and schools where the average household income of the family of each child is higher.
It is this lack of strong teaching in challenging schools, and other factors, which contribute to the wide-spanning problem that is educational inequality in the UK. It is a sad, but true, fact that the income of a child’s household determines the chances that child has in terms of education. 21 per cent of children eligible for free school meals make it to university, compared to 85 per cent of children from independent schools. With this in mind, the determination of the staff at Willows in ensuring that the children at their school get the best chance they can to defy this statistic.
It is teachers like Headmistress of Willows High School, Mrs. Ballard, who are leading the way for change in education. She recognises the problem and says herself that she “doesn’t think it’s fair that your postcode can determine your life chances.” ‘Educating Cardiff’ shows Mrs. Ballard’s talent as a leader, as she treats each pupil and teacher as an individual. The development of certain pupils on the show is a direct result of her refusal to write any child off; tailoring opportunities to ensure all pupils at Willows are given something to aim for. Jessica, for example, is made editor of a new school newspaper to help her improve her social skills with the other children. Although nervous at first, we can see her glowing when the newspaper sells out entirely in the school cafeteria. It is small actions like this for each individual, which has allowed Mrs. Ballard to drag Willows High School up from the bottom – from one of the worst schools in Cardiff, to one which is almost unrecognisable.
It is clear from watching ‘Educating Cardiff‘, that educational inequality can be targeted by injecting schools with strong and passionate leaders, like Mrs. Ballard. Teach First is an initiative in England and Wales working to confront this problem in this way. Teach First is a charity which trains the UK’s top graduates through their unique leadership development programme – a two-year commitment combining teacher training and a fully-funded PGCE qualification with one-to-one leadership coaching and skills development. Participants develop leadership qualities that can be applied to any working environment, no matter where your career takes you afterwards. Teach First believe that, alongside the classroom, educational inequality should be targeted from all angles of society.
Teach First’s Undergraduate Programmes Officer, Victor Bamigboye, is a shining example of the powerful, positive impact that a Teach First participant can have on the life of an individual. Previously, Victor’s ambition was to work in Foot Locker. Now, he is successful and driven and works for Teach First to help other teenagers in Sixth Forms and Colleges to know what opportunities are out there for them.
Teach First have started their Leadership Development Programme in Wales in recent years, and will be driving up standards in schools like Willows High School all across the country. And while ‘Educating Cardiff’ shows its viewers that teaching is not just about academia, it’s general message of seeing each child as an individual and knowing that some of them just need someone to believe in them is integral to the experience of being a student.