Back in Time for School – 21 October 2021 – BBC Two
Series 1 Episode 6 of 8 – 15 pupils and their teachers embark on an extraordinary time-travelling adventure to discover just how much life at school has changed over the past 100 years. The school itself is their time machine, transporting them through seven eras of British history. From Victorian grandeur and the age of Empire, through a postwar grammar, a 60s Secondary Modern, and finally the dawning of the digital revolution in the 80s and 90s.
Guided through their time travels by presenter Sara Cox and social historian Polly Russell, everything the students and teachers experience – from the lessons they learn, to the dinners they eat, technology, discipline and playtime, will be based on historical data and school records from the past.
Our pupils and teachers arrive in the 1980s. The revolutionary spirit of the 70s has all but disappeared and in its place, a return to discipline, rules and uniformity. The focus of teaching is all about competition, entrepreneurialism and technology. Their first lesson embraces the technological revolution as the teacher unveils a cutting edge gadget, a 2XL robot. As they attempt to answer the robots questions, they are baffled about how this could be called high-tech – even if it might have been acceptable in the 80s.
Next up, it is double maths. But by now even this everlasting bastion of the classroom has had a facelift. With the latest BBC microcomputers making their way into schools in 1982, this very 21st-century tech-addicted class try out a new maths programme – they just don’t have a clue how to work it.
School dinner has left behind its silver service roots as the canteen opens for business. Dinner ladies in tabards serve up fast food, to a fanfare from the students. They eat chips for the first time in 87 years, paired with crispy pancakes, wrinkly sausages, beans and potato waffles.
In 1983, with the arrival of affordable synthesisers, the class get the chance to embrace the booming synthpop industry in the UK in their music lesson. And there is a very special guest, Nik Kershaw, who listens to them playing some smash hits, before performing his own song especially for them. Inspired by their new love for synth, the kids, parents and teachers rock out to some of the most iconic tunes of the decade at their very 80s school disco – all finished off in true style, with a slow dance to Spandau Ballet.
Amidst all the technology, there are some school traditions that never change. For the boys this means a cross-country run. Despite Seb Coe winning gold at the Olympics in 1984, some of our class aren’t feeling the competitive drive. And while they struggle through hedges and fields, the girls are trying out a brand new sport complete with leotards, leggings and of course, leg warmers. It is rhythmic gymnastics, complete with ribbons and hula hoops.
In 1985, the teachers go on strike, so the kids head to a local park where they get stuck in to a class 80s past-time, breakdancing to Run DMC. And they are joined by professional b-boy Steady.
The 80s are a decade of business, and in 1988, the pupils embrace their inner-entrepreneurs, as they are tasked with inventing ideas in their class for top inventions like the Motorola Dynatec, a Sony Walkman and a Kodak fling.
As the end of the era draws in, the school truly embraces Britain’s need for competition and ambition, by hosting a sports day. With winners’ podiums, races, a megaphone and a starting pistol, the pupils see out the 80s with trophies in hand.
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About Back in Time for School
Fifteen pupils and their teachers embark on an extraordinary time-travelling adventure as they fast-forward through more than 100 years of school life.
This show is broadcast on BBC Two, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
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