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That'll Teach 'Em (2003-06)

A Twenty Twenty production distributed in UK by 4Ventures

Main image of That'll Teach 'Em (2003-06)
Twenty Twenty for Channel 4, tx. 5/8/2003-2/5/2006
15 x 60 min edns in 3 series, colour
Production CompanyTwenty Twenty Television
ProducersSimon Rockell
 Jamie Isaacs
 Ludo Graham

Thirty 16-year-old volunteers spend a month in an old-fashioned school - a 1950s boarding school, a 1960s secondary modern, or a 1950s grammar.

Show full synopsis

Following the success of its 'historical reality' series The 1900 House (1999) and The 1940s House (2001), Channel 4 combined history with education for That'll Teach 'Em. Capitalising on contemporary debates surrounding the quality of education, the series tested the abilities of top GCSE students against the standards of 1950s and '60s 'O' Levels.

The first series saw thirty 16-year-olds boarding at the fictitious 'King's School', where they studied for 'O' Levels in English, Maths and History. At the end of their month-long trial the results of both their 'O' Levels and their real GCSEs were revealed, and the two deviated alarmingly. Even students receiving the highest GCSE grades struggled to pass the 1950s 'O' Levels. For the second series, a new group of pupils was given a 1960s-style education, while the third series returned to the '50s, but tested the benefits of single-sex classrooms. That'll Teach Em: Boys Versus Girls (2006) was accompanied by a quiz, That'll Test Em, (More4) in which the students competed against their parents.

While the differing approaches of educational systems separated by half a century were stressed, the test element of That'll Teach Em was used to fuel the popular notion that standards were slipping. This was disputed by participants of the programme, who argued that the conditions in which they had taken the exams were unfair. As with other 'historical reality' series, it is difficult to draw real conclusions about 'experiments' which take place in such heavily constructed worlds. Inevitably the 'reality' aspect of the show wins out as personal tensions generate entertainment and the programme becomes more of a character-building exercise than an essay on education.

That'll Teach Em employed familiar reality television techniques, including diary rooms, where the students were often found complaining about the masters. Gender differences were a major issue, as the girls struggled with the limited options that were available to them in the historical construct, often finding themselves faced with cookery classes as the boys learned to build brick walls. Having been stripped of their modern teenage identities and forced into uniforms, the participants were forced to find new ways of expressing themselves. Nevertheless, despite enduring the temper of 'Matron' and the 'six inch rule' prohibiting contact between boys and girls, most participants seemed to value their time at the school and the camaraderie it inspired.

Lisa Kerrigan

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Video Clips
1. Going back in time (1:00)
2. Personal items (2:19)
3. Dinner time (2:24)
4. Getting on (1:14)
Complete episode (49:10)
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