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School drama just didn't do it for me

Some of you reading this -- the ones trapped between this generation and the one that we're raising -- will remember your time at school, that place where you used to get whacked across the fingers, which tingled for about 10 minutes after the event, with a bamboo cane.

Or maybe, in your case, it was a leather strap, the punishment being administered by a man with a leather face and a pair of leather elbow patches attached to a horrible tweed jacket. Or perhaps he was wearing a collar -- but not the type that requires a tie to complete the look.

Anyway, that's the collective memory of the Irish education system pretty much summed up in a couple of paragraphs.

On we move to The School, RTE1's reality series, which isn't really a reality series at all. It's more of a soap opera -- and a very bad one -- replete with all the things that a bad soap opera involves: poor plotlines and a cast determined to ham it up to the point where they might as well be a pig on a spit.


Most of the hamming comes from the teachers, who seem determined to give as positive an image of their profession as possible.

That's perfectly understandable; if it was a fly-on-the-wall documentary series set in a newspaper office, all of us would be mugging for the camera. We'd be smiling and mugging and hugging (who knows, maybe even hugging the editor, an event which has never happened in recorded human history) and laughing our heads off.

That's the nature of television and reality television programmes. Let a camera invade a particular space and everything changes. People get peculiar and behave differently. Faces change; attitudes change, people change.

No one is ever totally at home when there's a television camera pointed at them, for the simple reason that having a television camera pointed at you is the most unnatural thing in the world.

The School (which has been lauded in some circles for its realism, despite the fact that every now and then someone will shatter the illusion of reality by looking at the camera to see if it's looking back at them) invades the worst possible space: the school. Basically, you don't go there.

This is an environment that belongs to your children, their classmates and the teachers. You get snippets of it when they come home in the afternoons. Snippets are more than enough; a three-part series like this is an unwelcome intrusion.

But that's the reality of modern reality television.

TOMORROW: Pat reviews Newswipe (BBC4) and learns How To Look Good Naked on a Budget (C4)


The School *