Is education the way out?

Growing Up Gifted, BBC2, reviewed by Maria Demetriou.

This series follows the stories of six students from disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds across the UK over a period of three years. The cameras reveal the challenges they face as they progress from ages 13 to 16 in preparation for their GCSEs. Social, economic, emotional factors all play their part in their development, in addition to coping with the inevitable angst that comes with being a teen. The series aims to explore the concept of social mobility and the factors affecting it in today’s Britain.

A year on from the first series, the two episodes aired in February 2019, focus on the students as they prepare for their GCSEs. All have been identified as ‘gifted’ by their schools – whether they excel in art, music or academics. But what the series is really about is whether young people from disadvantaged backgrounds can realise their true potential and thrive, despite the individual difficulties they are facing at home.

In a recent interview with Radio Times, programme maker Edmund Coulthard said: 'Why is it that half of the children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t do so well at GCSE? The answers are partly to do with confidence and partly aspiration. If your horizons are small and very few people around you have gone to university, it seems the best thing you can hope for is to get a job rather than move into higher education.'

Child Psychologists were brought in to assess the students’ suitability for television and ability to express themselves. However, it is overwhelmingly evident that no matter how talented or determined, the home environment plays a massive part in the child’s potential achievement and success. All of the students are keen to do well academically, improve the lives of their families and to elevate their position in society, but it is these additional stresses that ultimately lead to anxiety issues and a lack of confidence as they go into their GCSE year.

At this stage, the students are not only facing educational pressures, but also questioning their place in the world. Struggles with gender identity, homosexuality, parental conflicts, friendships and bullying influence their school-life and manifests as disruptive behaviour, slipping grades and a lack of motivation. It seems that – despite inspirational university visits, teacher investment and the student’s own desire for success – low income, a lack of support from care givers or inadequate space to study at home greatly affects their potential going forward. Indeed for those taking early GCSEs in specific subjects, the grades achieved are lower than expected in all cases.

It will be interesting to see how their paths progress as they undertake their final exams. The third and final instalment is due to air in 2020, although programme makers admitted there is no guarantee that the students will agree to taking part. To complement the series, the BBC website is offering support on many of the issues covered.

- Maria Demetriou is a freelance writer, who has completed a Certificate in Counselling and volunteered at a local secondary school as a mentor in the school’s student support centre.

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