School Life, 2016.
Directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane.
Feature documentary based at a stately home turned boarding school where long careers in teaching are drawing to a close for Amanda and John Leyden.
Closely examining a year in the life of the Headfort School in Ireland, School Life is a charming and inspiring look at the working life of Amanda and John Leyden. After 46 years of teaching, the dedicated couple are considering the rest of their lives as retirement looms ever nearer. This personal side of the tale is well presented alongside the day to day activities of interacting with pupils and showing an experimental and engaging approach to tuition.
The documentary does not judge or lecture on the best ways to teach, it simply showcases the events as they are witnessed during filming. This technique works well and we are introduced to pupils and fellow teachers – intriguingly some of whom once attended Headfort – in a natural progression of experience.
John and Amanda teach an ad hoc blend of Maths, English, Latin, Performance and, as viewers see more than once, pop music and rock and roll. The difference between the two’s teaching styles is captured as John gets the guitars and drums out, while Amanda largely sticks to the books. More than anything else though, it is their passion for teaching and desire to improve the school experience that really stands out.
A thoughtful and engaging look at how education can be both transformative and exciting. Inspiring to look at different ways pupils of all ages can learn. Overall it is an expressive and subtly powerful film about the power of education, and how teaching methods don’t have to be a closed book.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.