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Terry Prone: It's astonishing that parents gave this the go-ahead

It is funny, watching The School, to see the same tactics used by generations of students -- the passive/aggressive stance with the hands deeply embedded in the pockets -- employed by one of the kids in the show.

It is funny to hear the teacher emitting the same kind of noises they have always emitted: the pained "Do you mind taking your hands out of your pockets?" escalating to the ratty "I have neither the time, interest or inclination to pussyfoot around with you".

The refusal to pussyfoot is the response of an assistant principal, tasked with getting two of the young male students back in line. One is in trouble because he didn't take a note to his mother in the sealed envelope in which he was given it.

Instead, he a) opened the envelope, b) read the contents, c) fecked the letter into the playground rather than bring it home.

But the real problem is that he doesn't seem to have the capacity to think his actions through. It never struck him that another student might pick up what was clearly a formal letter and bring it to a teacher. Or that the teacher who sent the letter might wonder when his mother didn't respond.

Having demolished him, the assistant principal moves on to the next student, who is, we learn, in deep doo doo for decorating his school diary with sexually explicit illustrations.

Whereas the missing letter boy tended to shut up when attacked, the illustrator talks back. "It was a bloody line drawing of a mickey," he says contemptuously, as if there's a scale of offensiveness in sex-drawing, and mickeys are low on that scale.

The assistant principal finds his talking back so infuriating that she eventually tells him to shut up. Directly after the encounter, he gives his reaction to the camera. He gestures melodramatically with the school diary, indicating outrage that its rating of students on a daily basis goes only from terrible to good, but doesn't allow for excellence. The weird implication is that because he aches to be outstanding, he is thwarted by this diary system and driven to draw willies as a kind of default.

It was when I watched him flailing with the school diary that I realised that this is much more than a documentary. This programme provides the kind of blink-of-an-eye flashes of self-portraiture that will allow people, 10 years from now, to go back and say, "Ah yes, it was obvious, had we but known it, how this student would end up".

Research in the US has demonstrated that video-clips as short as two to three seconds can demonstrate key traits about the person filmed. That's demonstrably true in The School, and it will be fascinating to see how they later revisit some of the people their cameras have captured in key episodes of self-revelation, to see if the clips turn out to have accurately predicted a great or lousy future for those involved.

Dream

One example: the student who astonishes himself by doing exceptionally well in the Mocks but wants to avoid blurting out his good news lest it make others feel bad, is a prospective employer's dream.

But then there is the kid who doesn't want to get expelled or suspended, but "it just happens, like. It could be a slip of the tongue or I might act out..."

The problem he innocently reveals is that, in his mid teens, he has not developed any mental connection between actions and consequences -- everything is random to him. No point in trying, then...

Given how revealing The School is of the mental equipment of each of the students, it is astonishing that their parents allowed it to go ahead. Because, for some of the kids, the cleverly selected film clips do amount to psychological prophecy. They reveal so much, that we can almost see the future for some of the teenagers. And that's scary.


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