Big School, Little Humour


The chances are that at some point you have watched Little Britain, or David Walliams and Matt Lucas in Come Fly With Me  – hilarious send-ups of life in Britain built on closely observed stereotypes, provoking fun at the current politically correct and socially acceptable behaviour.

So perhaps like All Change Please! you also tuned in (well, pressed the button on the remote as we tend to do these days) to watch Big School (Friday, BBC 1 9pm), Walliams’ latest comedic contribution to our understanding of the way we live now. If you were fortunate enough to miss it, it features Walliams as a love-struck science teacher, Catherine Tate as the object of his affections, and Philip Glennister as a brutish and sex-struck PE teacher.

Not so funny now it’s the world of education being satirised is it? Well, that was entirely the problem – it just wasn’t funny at all, and without a laughter track to hint at what was supposed to be a joke and what was serious, it was hard to tell which was which. If anything ever deserved a ‘U’, Big School certainly does. Walliams, Tate and Glennister are all fine actors. It’s difficult to imagine how they agreed to take part in this show.

Therefore if you’ve not seen it, don’t bother. And if you know someone who has, please tell them that schools are nothing like that whatsoever – and that’s the problem in that it’s yet another completely inaccurate and misleading prime-time media representation of what goes on in our schools. If it didn’t know any better, here’s what All Change Please! would have learnt from the first episode…

•  Children leave a lesson immediately the bell goes, not when dismissed.

•  Staff rooms are silent places, where everyone just sits calmly and quietly, except for the more vocal members of staff who address everyone.

•  Schools have no more than about a dozen staff, and a hundred or so older pupils.

•  Pupils heckle from the audience during assembly, and their comments can be supported by a member of staff who can then publicly challenge another member of staff to respond.

•  Children are allowed to use their mobile phones while in detention and can leave when they like.

•  There are no computers in schools.

•  French teachers have never been to France.

•  Headteachers smoke in their offices and are alcoholics.

•  There is no senior management team in schools, let alone any concern that Ofsted will be in shortly to place the school into Special Measures before converting it into an Academy.

But what’s even more extraordinary is this review from the Daily Mail:

Well, being from the Daily Mail, perhaps it’s not that extraordinary. However, The Mail Says:’s a scene that would fit neatly into Carry On Teacher, the black-and-white 1959 movie with Ted Ray and Leslie Phillips. If we were expecting old-fashioned comedy, we’re certainly getting it. The traditional approach brings benefits. There’s no wobbly handheld camera work, no improvised dialogue, no barrage of foul language, no filthy single entendres.

In response, All Change Please! Says:

There is absolutely no comparison here to the ‘Carry On’ films, which were full of daring innuendo, slapstick and grossly exaggerated but somehow believable characters, or to classic ‘old-fashioned comedy’ that at least had well-written and funny scripts. Indeed just about everything that Big School failed to have, except for a quite explicit single entendre that the Mail somehow seemed to miss.

From St Trinians to Teachers and Whack-O to Waterloo Road, Big School follows an impressive lineage of books, films and TV series set in schools, as discussed in this article, Big School: what education dramas tell us about ourselves. To a greater or lesser degree they all portray a distorted view of what goes on in our schools, but somehow this can be usually overlooked and forgiven because they are well-constructed and genuinely amusing and/or dramatic.

Big School is so out-dated, misinformed and irrelevant it’s almost as if Mr Gove had written the script himself…