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School Shows Ranked!

By Emily Doherty
Posted:22/04/2024 12:38:15
Let's break down the best school dramas and sitcoms...
Let's break down the best school dramas and sitcoms...

School dramas and sitcoms have been a mainstay of British TV for decades, and with the recent popularity of Netflix’s smash hit Sex Education, are proving to be a genre that won’t lose traction any time soon. School TV shows work for different people for different reasons. If you’re at school, you can see bits of your life reflected on screen – when I was at school, my friendship group of 4 had a self-titled Simon, Will, Neil and Jay from the Inbetweeners (I was the Will, which I continue to tell myself is the best of a bad bunch!). Equally, school shows remain popular with those of us who have left school – maybe we’re clinging on to a simpler time, watching our youth reflected back at us, experiences that thousands of us across the country have shared. Loved it or hated it, our school days shaped us and the shows help us switch off our adult brains to enjoy a simpler time. 

So, here’s our ranking of the school shows you can binge right now!

6. Fresh Meat

Yes, I am shoehorning a show about university into this ranking because Fresh Meat deserves to make the cut. From the creators of the iconic Peep Show, Fresh Meat follows first year students who have been thrown into crumbling student housing together. The show is a demonstration of the classic ‘finding yourself at uni’ experience with the student-stereotype characters including; JP the daddy’s money, signet ring one, Vod the anti-establishment rebellious one, Josie, the innocent goodie-goodie and Howard, the one who’s been at uni far too long, get out of bed at 3pm and looks like he smells a bit. For anyone who has been to university, you’re in denial if you can’t recognise a little bit of yourself in at least one of the characters. The show does a great job of zooming in on the bizarre ecosystem of university communities and all the angst, existential crisis, broke-ness and hangovers of student life.

5. Ackley Bridge

Some might refer to Ackley Bridge as a modern classic for Channel 4. Ackley Bridge follows the lives of staff and students at a multi-cultural academy school in Yorkshire. Hitting the nail on the head balancing drama and humour, the show gives an authentic look into themes of multiculturalism, religion, and identity. The strong female leads stick out in this one, telling the complex story of merging a segregated White and Pakistani community together, and the relationships and conflicts that develop as a result. The series has been praised for representing minority groups in the UK, particularly in the North, and addressing real-world issues. Packed with ALL THE DRAMA, if subtlety isn’t your thing Ackley Bridge is one for you. (nb. Subtlety is boring anyway 😉).

4. Skins 

An oldie, but a goodie, first airing back in 2007, Skins follows Sixth Form College students in Bristol. It gained a reputation for being an honest, raw, authentic portrayal of teenage-hood by hitting on some seriously hard topics. Every episode gives us a look into a character’s life and relationships, exploring mental health issues, dysfunctional families, sexuality and gender, substance abuse and grief. No great show comes without backlash, Skins earned itself the label as ‘controversial’ for its explicit and shocking approach, presented to us by actual teenage-aged actors. For a mid 00’s production, the show did a brilliant job of unashamedly championing diversity and representation. In 2024, Skins also serves as a bit of time capsule, giving those of a certain age a look back to their early 00’s school life. It definitely isn’t a sugary, clean portrayal of being a teenager, but a rebellious, hormonal, messy look back to teenage-hood with nostalgia, but relief that we survived it!

3. Big Boys

The newest one our list Big Boys is also set at a university following the memoir of writer Jack Rooke representing his journey through grief and discovering his identity. Equal parts heartwarming, melancholy and funny, Big Boys has a real personality that gives us a look into a personal uni experience, that for Jack included mourning the loss of his dad and learning to accept his sexuality. Big Boys turns that irksome statement that ‘university will be the best 3 years of your life’ on its head and gives us the real nuances and difficulties of early adult-hood, all played out to a background of 2013-esque telly references. Themes of grief, love and life are set out with warmth and care - a valuable rarity to be so tenderly presented through young, male characters. With the very recent release of series 2, it’s fresh, unique, uplifting and definitely one to catch. 

2. Derry Girls

It’s the mid 90’s in Northern Ireland, and we’re joining denim clad teenagers Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and James at their Catholic Girls’ School. Derry Girls gives us a look into the historical context of the violent conflict of the Troubles through the eyes of teenage girls as they navigate adolescence, friendship, and family. The show doesn’t shy away from weaving in real political events and figures of the time, all set to a nostalgic 90’s mixtape of a soundtrack (if you’re a fan of The Cranberries, this is one for you). Somehow Derry Girls achieves the seriously delicate balance of tackling real political issues with a healthy dose of buffoonery – like trying to bite into a crisp in a silent church, you probably shouldn’t, but when it works it’s worth it! It’s no wonder the show smashed records as Northern Ireland’s most watched TV series ever and has firmly asserted itself as one of Channel 4’s classics. 

1. The Inbetweeners

The pies de resistance, the Charles Dickens/Jane Austen (I’d go as far as to say) SHAKESPEARE of Channel 4 history – The Inbetweeners tops my list as number 1. This show is like a well-worn pair of trainers, completely grubby, smelly but fits just right. It follows 4 misfit teenage lads Simon, Will, Jay and Neil through the outrageous (yet equally somehow relatable) situations they get themselves into at school – navigating friendships, parties, teachers, and girls. It gets the vibes of normal UK comp school experience just right and you can’t help but revel in the excruciatingly cringe-worthy moments and boy-ish ‘charm’(?) of the characters. All topped off with some iconic one-liners that are already proving to stand the test of time, referenced by year 10’s up and down the country. It’s no doubt that The Inbetweeners is a trailblazer for the school comedy genre, so if you haven’t checked this one out, come out from under that rock you’ve been living under and go and binge! 

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