Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 15 May 2008

Can you ever make a good film about teaching? In the recent Happy Go Lucky the girl made a completely unconvincing primary teacher.

Hillary's Advice

Couldn’t agree more. The teeth-grindingly irritating Poppy glided about her classroom like an actress pretending to be a primary school teacher, touching a caring hand to one child’s shoulder and frowning meaningfully over another who seemed to have Problems At Home. Luckily she and the handsome social worker were quickly able to sort out these problems, before repairing to his flat for an energetic night of multi-agency working…

So why is it so hard to convey the true texture of school life on film? Happy Go Lucky had quite a good stab at it, with its bright classrooms and rainbow-of-nations kids, but the essence just wasn’t there.

I think it’s two things. First of all there’s all the smell. Films can’t do this, but if you walked into a school blindfolded you’d know at once where you were. It’s that distinctive mixture of musty sweatshirts, school dinners, glue, paint, lab chemicals, floor cleaner, damp coats and too many people’s sweat in too small a space.

Then there’s the pesky question of narrative structure. Films need to narrow their focus to one or two relationships – usually ones where teachers are ‘saving’ kids from themselves, or their backgrounds -- but real teachers build relationships with all their pupils. As a result, the true hallmarks of their days are fragmented conversations, countless bits of business started and left unfinished, and an awful lot of chasing their own tails.

It would never cut it on the big screen. Audiences couldn’t stand either the pressure or the frustration. A vacuously-smiling Poppy is much easier to take.