TV puts spotlight on Dewsbury school with tale to tell

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STAFF and students at a Yorkshire school are set to become household names following their return from their summer holidays next week.

The life of Thornhill Community Academy, near Dewsbury, will feature on Channel 4’s new Educating Yorkshire series, which will hit TV screens in September.

The show is a follow up to the Bafta award-winning documentary Educating Essex, which followed Passmores Academy, in Harlow and turned head Vic Goddard and deputy Stephen Drew into celebrities.

Thornhill Community Academy’s head teacher, Jonny Mitchell, hopes the decision to allow the cameras in will provide a boost to his school, his profession and his home town.

Mr Mitchell was born and raised in Dewsbury and took over the school as his first headship in 2011.

The school has recently converted to academy status and league tables show it to be the most improved in Yorkshire.

“I hadn’t been here long when the approach came to ask us whether we would be interested and I thought we would have a good story to tell,” he said.

“Dewsbury has had a lot of negativity over the years. People think of Shannon Matthews, the place where people hide kids under the bed, or where terrorists have come from. We have a chance to show the town and the area in a positive light.”

Mr Mitchell said he was confident the new series would show the best of Yorkshire.

Cameras started filming in January this year at 64 points in the school collecting 2,000 hours of footage over seven weeks.

At around the same time Government published secondary school league tables showing that Thornhill Community Academy was the most improved in Yorkshire having produced year-on-year increases in GCSEs from 2009 to 2012.

The school, which used to be known as the Community Science College at Thornhill, had 29 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths, five years ago.

Last summer 63 per cent of its GCSE year achieved the mark. This was greater than any other school in Yorkshire and the 25th best in the country. Mr Mitchell said the improvement was down to the quality and commitment of the school’s teaching staff.

Educating Yorkshire has been put together by the same team at TwoFour Productions which filmed the Essex series. It will follow the same format, with shots of school life unfolding mixed with interviews with members of staff and pupils.

Producer Grace Reynolds said: “The series is meant to be a celebration of a good school and we were only looking at good or outstanding schools.

“After Educating Essex we wanted somewhere which could represent a different part of the country and there is a lovely ‘Yorkshireness’ to this school.”

She said the focus of the series would be on the pupils in year 11 who were studying toward their GCSEs at the end of the school year.

All pupils who feature as main story lines within the documentary have been made aware of this ahead of the programme being shown.

Mr Mitchell said that within days staff and pupils had become used to the cameras and the production crew had become a part of the academy during filming.

“There was one or two who were playing up to start with but once they realised this would not be included in the show everyone has just carried on as normal,” he added.

Mr Mitchell said he had been in contact with Mr Goddard at Passmores to ask for advice.

Thornhill Community Academy has a mixed intake, with a close to 50-50 split of pupils from white and South Asian backgrounds as it serves the neighbouring area of Thornhill and Savile Town. Staff say the way in which the school is able to bring pupils from different communities make it a “jewel” in the middle of Thornhill.