Educating the East End review: Jenny Smith takes the lead in Frederick Bremer

by Matt D
Ms Smith

Ms Smith

There’s no denying that one of the TV highlights of last year was Channel 4’s Educating Yorkshire. The documentary, which shone a light on the good work that our teachers do on a daily basis, was honoured with a BAFTA nomination and a National TV Award. Due to this success nobody was overly shocked when it was announced that a third school would be chosen to be part of a new Educating series. That school in question was Walthamstow’s Frederick Bremer School who face the pressure of living up to their predecessors in Educating the East End.

The first thing I noticed about Educating the East End was the way in which it differed from both Educating Yorkshire and Educating Essex. Although the structure is much the same, Frederick Bremer is a lot different to both Passmores and Thornhill. The most notable difference is that this is the first Educating series to be fronted by a female head in Jenny Smith. Whilst Mr Goddard and Mr. Mitchell were quite dominating physical presences it is quite evident that Ms. Smith has to rely on her steely attitude to command authority from pupils and staff. I was quite surprised how little Ms. Smith actually featured in this first episode although at the same time you could see she really cared about the wellbeing of every one of her pupils. In particular she’s dedicated to motivating the school’s 900 pupils who, in her own words, have bags of potential but not much self-belief. Ms Smith’s deputy Ms. Hillman has similar aspirations and is particularly passionate about stopping the female students piercing parts of their body other than their ears. But, just like with Ms. Smith, we see Ms. Hillman’s caring side as she goes out of her way to provide support for a student who has problems at home.

Mr Bispham and Tawny

Even though we get to see insights into how Frederick Bremer is run, the focus of this first episode was trainee English teacher Mr Bispham and his struggles to control a rowdy bunch of Year Nine girls. I do feel that Mr Bispham’s story is an important one to tell as it highlights the struggles that trainee teachers face on a daily basis. Coming from a career in politics, Mr Bispham enrolled on the Teach First scheme which has meant that he has had to learn on the job; a daunting prospect for any teacher. But, judging from the evidence on display in this episode, he has certainly learned quickly even if his pupils liken him to an angry Teddy Bear. The major story running throughout the episode is the build-up to one of Mr. Bispham’s lesson observations that will count towards his final grade. As the weeks count down, we see Mr Bispham struggle to control the Year Nine class that he will be observed teaching and there’s one pupil in particular that’s causing the English teacher all sorts of problems.

That pupil is Tawny an energetic teenager who wishes to either be a singer or appear in Eastenders as Bianca’s long-lost sister. Tawny’s application to the performing arts-centric Brit School is another story that runs alongside Mr Bispham’s. Although the teachers know of Tawny’s application, the youngster hasn’t informed any of her friends specifically her oldest pal Alice who has also applied. So it was a bit of a shock when Mr Bispham let the cat out of the bag during one of his lessons, leading Tawny to verbally attack him. Another of Mr Bispham’s Year Nine Class, 14-year-old Acacia, is also experiencing her own personal struggle as her mother is suffering from a serious illness. I found Acacia’s story incredibly emotional especially when her mum accompanied her to the school for the Year Nine options evening. But Acacia’s tale demonstrated how the school is able to care for each student as both Ms. Smith and Ms. Hillman are on hand to ease her burden.

Ms Smith and Ms Hillman

It’s amazing to think how much effort goes in to creating each episode of Educating the East End; from the construction of the cameras themselves, to the editing of the footage to create several interlinking narratives. Tonight’s episode provoked plenty of different emotions in me from the sadness of Acacia’s predicament, to the joy of Mr Bispham’s pupils’ effort to aid him in his lesson observation through to the hilarity of him missing his bus. In fact I would go as far as to say that the stories featured in this first episode of Educating the East End were more engaging than many of those in recent scripted drama series. I feel one of the reasons I enjoy the Educating series so much is that these are real people going about their daily lives and at the same time are attempting to make a difference. Before these series starting airing, teachers were often attacked by members of the public as a profession that had numerous lengthy holidays and who often clocked off at 3:30. But if you watch just the first episode of Educating the East End you’ll see that that’s not the case with Mr Bispham admitting that he’s physically exhausted to the extent that he often falls asleep on the sofa by 9pm most nights.

It’s fair to say that Educating the East End has more than lived up to the precedent set by Educating Yorkshire. More than that, after watching just the first episode, I can say without a doubt that this is definitely its own beast. All of the characters we meet in tonight’s instalment, especially the wonderful Mr. Bispham, are likeable and we are made to care about their various struggles. Without having watched the rest of the series it’s hard to say whether or not Educating the East End will have the success that Educating Yorkshire did but its definitely on its way to being as compelling a documentary series as its predecessor was.

What did you think to Educating the East End? Do you feel it lives up to the standards of Educating Yorkshire?

Leave Your Comments Below.


  1. carol on September 11, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Watching educating the east end and all I am seeing is children being oppressed and groomed, all their will is mentally beaten out of them and their spirit destroyed for the good of joining the corporate labour force. Talk about dumbing down the population!

  2. Rhodri Mayer on September 13, 2014 at 10:41 am

    I agree! I think this series is completely different to Educating Yorkshire but I have to respect it for that reason. Educating the east end focuses on a different school in a different part of the country with a different mix of people. It’s good for a series to freshen up and broaden its horizons in terms of what it touches base with. We may never see another “Musharaf” moment like in the previous series but I dare say this series will have its own unique moments that make it memorable for a different reason. =)

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