It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, a student or the caretaker; this time of the year can be painful for anyone connected to a school in Britain. The shorts are packed away (it’s still sunny but we put them away out of principle), the new pencil case has been purchased and bags are packed and ready for a return to school.
There’s no need to get upset though, after a long day in the education system, you can come home, turn on the TV and relax with… oh… wait a minute.
From BBC comedies ‘Big School’ and ‘Bad Education’ to Channel 4 documentary ‘Educating Yorkshire’ and BBC drama ‘Waterloo Road’, schools are all over our television sets this month. Whilst these shows have had mixed reviews (The Independent described ‘Big School’ as “dated and mild-mannered”), they do highlight how popular the location currently is (‘Waterloo Road’ is on its ninth series).
Why are so many programmes set in schools? Here are some possibilities:
They have instant universal appeal
Independent, State, Academy, it doesn’t matter what type of school we attended; the majority of us did at some point go to school. This means that any show set in one has recognisable set pieces that an entire audience can relate to and connect with. From school dinners to bad teachers, we all know the scenarios and we immediately think back to our own school days. Connecting with the viewer in this way is a very powerful tool for TV networks.
They have comedic potential
Both students and staff can feel trapped and stuck at school. Some of the best television comedies use this scenario to great comedic effect, for example the BBC comedies ‘Porridge’ and ‘Red Dwarf’. The comedy can come from people being forced to spend time with individuals they wouldn’t normally associate with, embarrassing situations (awkward assembly’s etc.) or the misunderstandings that take place every day when staff and students are under pressure.
They have dramatic potential
Take everything I just said about comedic potential and replace the word comedic with dramatic. OK, I should probably make a point with a bit more weight to it but that would work. In a school you have a group of kids facing all the drama connected to growing up, and a group of adults who are responsible for that growth. This means that the characters alone have incredible dramatic potential. Once you add the dramatic situations that school brings, anything can happen. In Waterloo Road for example, the school managed to move from Manchester to Scotland!
They can be warm and comforting
The appeal and comedic/dramatic potential in a school can lead to storylines about family, first loves, friendships and a number of other topics that viewers like to see play out because they make us feel good. Admittedly, you can get these storylines from other settings too, but a school setting allows you to see these events take place with a wide range of characters. It would be much harder to tell a story about childhood friendships at the same time as adult affairs in show set in an office. Another type of show that has this range is soap operas, and they’re everywhere too.
So that’s some notes for you, if you can think of other reasons for the locations popularity then please comment below. One homework tip I’d give is this; the 90’s Channel 4 comedy drama ‘Teachers’ staring Andrew Lincoln (before he started slaying zombies) is probably a better watch than any of the shows set in a school that are currently airing.