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In the United States (where most of our readers live), Teacher Appreciation Week comes at the beginning of May each year. While the UK doesn't have a Teacher Appreciation Week, they do have a Teacher Appreciation Day on October 5th.
Given how important and influential teachers are, we're going to side with the US on this one. Teachers deserve a full week to be recognised (if not a month) – and for the love of all that's holy, let's try to do it with something other than a mug or tumbler. Most long-time teachers we know could fill several crates with teacher mugs they've gotten from well-meaning kids and parents. Gift cards, items for the classroom wish list, or volunteer time are often much more useful.
In celebration of teachers, we decided to put together a list of British TV shows that revolve around schools and teachers. To our readers who are (or were) teachers, thank you for your service to society – and extra thanks to those who've been holding things together through the pandemic!
British TV Shows Set in Schools
While a sizable percentage of kid-oriented shows include school as a major setting, we didn't want this to turn into just another list of kid shows. Instead, we were looking for shows where school life is central to the plot and teachers are real, ongoing characters rather than just side pieces to be pulled out when someone needs to get in trouble.
Set in northern England, this series begins when two struggling schools (one mostly white, the other primarily Pakistani) that merge due to budget cuts. Unlike some school-based shows that focus almost exclusively on the kids, this one gives a good amount of air time to the adults who run the school, too. Watch it HERE
This sitcom follows the relationships between the teachers at Greybridge Secondary School. David Walliams plays Keith Church, a naive chemistry teacher with a serious crush on new French teacher Sarah Postern (Catherine Tate). Ms. Postern thinks quite highly of herself, believing she's both inspirational and “in tune with the kids”.
Philip Glenister also appears as gym teacher Mr. Gunn. He appreciates Ms. Postern, too, but in a much more aggressive way. Watch it HERE
While this brilliant Northern Irish series does focus mostly on the students, it's headmistress Sister Michael who gets to deliver some of the shows most gut-bustingly hilarious lines. Set in Derry during The Troubles in the 1990s, it's sure to bring up all sorts of teenage nostalgia for viewers who grew up around that time. The first two seasons are on Netflix, and while a third has been commissioned, it was postponed due to the pandemic.
Before Steven Moffat wrote Sherlock and episodes of Doctor Who, he was a teacher in Scotland. Those experiences surely factored into his decision to write Chalk, a sitcom set in a comprehensive school called Galfast High. In an interview with The Scotsman, he described his own teaching experience as follows:
I was a phenomenally lazy schoolteacher. I'd like to think I was funny, I'm pretty sure I was quite popular – but I was lax at marking exams and often I'd just give the kids a book to read so I could doze at my desk.
Fortunately, he left the field pretty quickly.
The series focuses on deputy headmaster Eric Slatt (David Bamber), a man permanently stressed out by chaos of his own making. Avid British TV watchers will recognise Nicola Walker as English teacher Suzy Travis. Though studio audiences enjoyed it, Chalk got a lot of flack from teachers and teaching unions. It doesn't always portray teachers in the most favourable light.
Class is a non-traditional take on the classic school-based TV show. A spin-off of Doctor Who, it follows 5 students and staff members of Coal Hill Academy who've been tasked with handling alien threats (while also managing their school and personal lives). Though it received solid reviews, it only lasted for one season in 2016. Watch it HERE
In 2018, Big Finish Productions began an audio series to continue their adventures. You can get them all HERE.
Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) stars in this series about the lives of secondary school teachers. The show originally aired between 2001 and 2004, and it lasted for four seasons. It's unique in that it lets the teachers be drinking, smoking, dating “real people” instead of just a bunch of squares who stand in front of a classroom. Most episodes include scenes down at the local pub, and music of the time period (The Dandy Warhols, The Libertines, Supergrass, etc.) features throughout.
The show also features early performances from Shaun Evans (Endeavour), Mathew Horne (Gavin & Stacey), and James Corden (Gavin & Stacey). Watch it HERE
Half Moon Investigations
This is one we almost didn't include because it DOES put most of the focus on the kids – but we decided to go ahead and throw it in because it's a really cute Scottish show and it's a great one for parents or grandparents to enjoy with their little ones.
The series follows Fletcher “Half” Moon (called “Half Moon” for his small stature) as he investigates minor crimes around Saint Jerome's School. While the books were set in Ireland, the TV series moved it over to Scotland. Watch it HERE
Hex offers a dark, modern, supernatural story set at a remote English school that was once home to a series of witchcraft trials and executions. A number of teachers and students have unusual abilities, and there's quite a lot of drama and fantasy mixed into the ongoing story.
Though not currently available to stream, you can pick it up on DVD HERE.
This British sitcom stars Greg Davies as Dan, a man whose life isn't what he'd hoped it would be. His girlfriend has just broken up with him, and he hates his job as a teacher. It may not be the most positive portrayal of teaching life, but it's good for a laugh.
You can watch this one on Netflix.
Though we've tried to stick with English-language shows from the British Isles, it's hard to talk about teacher shows without mentioning the Danish hit Rita. The dramedy follows Rita Madsen, an unconventional teacher and single mother who says she became a teacher to “protect students from their parents”.
The series lasted for five seasons, and you can watch it on Netflix.
This is another one that does put most the focus on the kids – but it's worthy of a mention for Greg Davies' performance as Mr. Phil Gilbert. He features heavily in some of the show's funniest scenes, and he gets to say things many teachers probably think at times.
This vintage series ran from 1968 to 1972, and it was an early creation by the legendary Esmonde & Larbey writing duo (they wrote The Good Life). The title is based on the phrase students use to interrupt teachers with a question.
Please Sir! is set at the fictional Fenn Street Secondary Modern School, with most scenes set in the classroom, the staff room, or the playground. It follows Bernard Hedges, a young teacher fresh out of training, as he learns the ropes.
The Demon Headmaster
Based on the children's books of the same name, this series revolves around a school where the demon headmaster is plotting to take over the world using hypnotic powers. Terrence Hardiman (Doctor Who) stars as The Demon Headmaster. It's a fun family series, and it was nominated for a BAFTA in 1997.
Though not available on any of the major streaming services (at time of writing), you can pick this one up on DVD HERE.
This series is set in a comprehensive school of the same name, and it features an ensemble cast led by school staff members. Initially set in the English town of Rochdale, it later moved up to Greenock in Scotland. It includes all manner of drama and dysfunction and disease, so it's a good watch if you enjoy a lot of ongoing tension in your shows.
Though not currently available to stream, you can get this one on DVD HERE.
The Harry Potter Films
This may be a series of movies instead of TV, and it may focus primarily on the students – but the teachers at Hogwarts are played by some of the finest actors the UK has to offer, and many of the teachers have substantial and interesting storylines. In case you've somehow missed the Harry Potter craze, the series follows an orphaned young boy as he goes off to wizarding school. There, he'll make friends, learn about his parents, and grow into a talented and powerful young wizard.
The entire Harry Potter library is available on Peacock, or you can buy/rent them on your favourite streaming service like Amazon, Google Play, or Vudu.
Though this one's a film, it's worth mentioning because it stuffed full of prominent British TV talent. John Cleese (Fawlty Towers, Monty Python) stars as Brian Stimpson, a time-obsessed school headmaster on his way to a conference. The film also includes appearances from Alison Steadman (Gavin & Stacey), Joan Hickson (Agatha Christie's Miss Marple), Stephen Moore (Fish), Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey), and Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By). Watch it HERE
Other British TV Shows Set in Schools
We wanted to keep the focus on shows where teachers are a little more prominent in the story – but there are quite a few more school-based shows to consider if you enjoy them.
- Grange Hill – This long-running series ran from 1978 until 2008, and it portrayed life in a typical British comprehensive school. It's sort of a children's soap opera, and it offers a really neat look at how things changed between the late 70s and 2000s, but it IS more of a kid show than anything.
- Skins – This edgy teen drama takes a look at some of the bigger and darker issues facing teens in Bristol, England.
- Sex Education – This Netflix original is British, but it feels weirdly American in many ways. It follows an insecure teenager and his sex therapist mother.
- Bromwell High – This British-Canadian animated series takes place at a British school in London where most students are immigrants from the Caribbean and Asia, while many of the teachers are decidedly lower class.
- Educating… – Though it's not available on any legal US streaming services at the moment, this British reality series uses a fly-on-the-wall format to look at the everyday lives of teachers and students around the UK. If that sounds like your kind of thing, it's definitely worth making a request at your favourite streaming service.
- The Secret Teacher – This is another series not available on any legal US streaming services, but one never knows when it might pop up. It takes the “Secret Millionaire” format and mixes it in with the British school system. A millionaire goes undercover at a school and gets a chance to meet teachers and students who are struggling. At the end, there's a big reveal and the millionaire helps out in some way.
- Bonjour la Classe – This 1990s series follows Laurence Didcott (played by Nigel Planer), a new French teacher at a prestigious school. When he arrives, he discovers an attitude of doing what's best for the school and its coffers rather than the students. Unfortunately, it's not on DVD and there are no legal sources for watching it (at the moment).
- Hearts & Minds – This is another 1990s series you won't find on DVD or legal streaming services in the US (as of May 2021). Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, The A Word) stars as a factory worker who managed to get an education and become a teacher in Liverpool. Though he wants to share what he knows about rising above his circumstances, he'll have to contend with the modern issues facing disadvantaged kids in Liverpool – racism, homophobia, and tough home lives. Creator Jimmy McGovern based the series on his three years teaching in Liverpool, and critics praised its realism.
What's Your Favourite British TV Series Set in a School?
Do you have a favourite from the list above? Or one we've skipped? Let us know in the comments!
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