Film Review: School Life

There are two kinds of people. Those who loved their schooldays and those who hated just about every moment. To a large extent, your experience probably depended on the school you attended. However, modern schooling seems more to do with SATs, GCSE results, school league tables and ticking boxes than being places of learning. Schools are meant to provide their charges with the skills and knowledge to prepare them for modern life. Step forward Headfort, a school with a difference.

School Life spends a year in the grounds of Ireland’s sole remaining preparatory boarding school. Located outside the leafy village of Kells, it plays host to hundreds of children between the ages of seven and thirteen from around the world. Directors Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane follow Amanda and John Leyden who for forty-six years have dedicated their lives to teaching at the school. Amanda is obsessed with inspiring through literature. John is determined to actually assemble a competent band. Whilst in many ways it resembles any other private school from the outside, Headfort is very different. From a left-leaning headmaster down, there’s no snobbery or classism here. It aims to instil a robust self-confidence in its pupils, encouraging them to express their own individuality whilst emphasising the importance of civic duty.

School Life in a wonderful film which demonstrates what school should really be about. Whilst it’s obviously about learning, it’s not just about scholastic knowledge. It’s about nurturing young minds. It’s encouraging independent thinking, without being judgemental. It’s about bringing kids out of their shells, as John is determined to do with one of his students. School Life is full of humour, love and dedication. It’s certainly not just a job for any of the teachers. It’s filmed within a loose framework which brilliantly encapsulates the institution itself. It’s a wonderful observational documentary full of warmth and hopefulness.

School Life is in cinemas from 13 October.

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