School on Film

Sing Street
Sing Street

Education is a way of life, but those formative school years are critical for so many reasons, not least of all in setting us on our way to acquiring knowledge and creating a love of learning. Each of the films on this list explores at least one interesting angle of school life, whether it be inspirational teachers, the value of education, anti-bullying or something equally valuable and positive.

You can also check out our School-themed podcast suitable for secondary clubs.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration74 mins

Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie(2015)

Much-loved Charlie Brown attempts to navigate school life and falls in love with the new girl as Snoopy embarks upon an adventure of his own.

The enchanting Peanuts gang pass from one generation of cinema-goers to another, with Charlie Brown and company returning to the big screen for further everyday adventures. The film revolves around school life – from a class test to a talent show – with every aspect reminding us of the joy of being young and carefree, and how school can shape our personality.

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Inside Out

CertU

Age group7–16

Duration102 mins

Inside Out(2015)

Animated adventure about the five dominant emotions inside an 11 year-old girl’s head, as she struggles to come to terms with moving home.

Another story that puts school at its centre is Pixar’s brilliant journey inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl called Riley. In this film, we see events from the point of view of the new girl. It places the importance of a warm and welcoming school environment at the forefront of the narrative, and shows us the level of impact that adjustment issues can create.

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Matilda

CertPG

Age group5–11

Duration98 mins

Matilda(1996)

Adaptation of the popular Roald Dahl book about a girl with sunny self-reliance and special powers who attends a school with a bullying headmistress.

Conversely, the classic Roald Dahl novel Matilda follows the eponymous protagonist who continuously comes up against adversity. Yet Matilda’s sunny disposition allows her to overcome all challengers, using both her personality and powers for good.

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Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration146 mins

Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone(2001)

The first in a series of magical adventures with schoolboy wizard Harry Potter.

Another film with more than a hint of magic in the air is the first in the incredibly popular franchise from author J. K. Rowling. The Philosopher’s Stone sees Harry transported from his familiar surroundings to the grandiose world of Hogwarts where he must choose his friends wisely, trust his instincts and learn from those around him.

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Nativity!

CertU

Age group7+

Duration101 mins

Nativity!(2009)

Big-hearted and cheerfully silly British comedy about the trials and tribulations of directing a school nativity play.

Harry Potter is always a festive treat, and Nativity! explores one of our favourite Christmas traditions. This is a very British take on the annual nativity play, capturing the event’s inevitable mayhem with a semi-improvised script. Mr. Maddens must negotiate everything going wrong at the last minute as Hollywood come to town in this pleasing comedy all about performance.

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School of Rock

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration105 mins

School of Rock(2003)

Vibrant, uplifting comedy in which an unemployed rock guitarist is faced with needing to get a job, and masquerades as a supply teacher.

Continuing with the theme of musical madness, School of Rock brings with it Jack Black’s infectious enthusiasm for all things music. Substitute teacher Dewey Finn strives to turn the kids of a strict private school onto rock music, harnessing the various talents of the entire class in the process of doing so.

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Monsters University

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration99 mins

Monsters University(2012)

Pixar's prequel to the wonderful Monsters Inc, which takes us back to Mike and Sully's first meeting at university.

A different kind of competition is at play here. One-eyed Mike and furry Sulley weren’t always the best of friends as this sporty prequel shows. Underlining the fickleness of first impressions, Monsters University pits the two would-be friends against each other as they repeatedly clash in their younger years, constantly attempting to out-scare each other.

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From Up On Poppy Hill

CertU

Age group7–16

Duration92 mins

From Up On Poppy Hill(2011)

A beautiful animation about a group of teens trying to save their beloved clubhouse from demolition, set around the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

From games to the Olympic Games as Studio Ghibli’s historical drama is set in the build-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. A group of teens look to save their school’s clubhouse from demolition in this sweet melodrama, emphasising the value of extracurricular activities in education.

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Goodbye Mr Chips

CertU

Age group7+

Duration114 mins

Goodbye Mr Chips(1939)

An ageing headmaster reflects on his almost 60-year career at a boys' boarding school in this unashamedly sentimental British classic.

Also set in the 1960s and a fitting swansong, this black-and-white British classic from 1939 follows the fond memories of a headmaster of a boys’ school. Known affectionately as Mr. Chips, he reflects on his near 60-year teaching career. An unashamedly sentimental look at a bygone era, the film allows for comparison in teaching and educational practices to the modern day.

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Être et Avoir (To Be and to Have)

CertU

Age group11+

Duration100 mins

Être et Avoir (To Be and to Have)(2002)

Heartwarming documentary looking at a small town school in France.

This French-language documentary focuses in on the start of the educational journey. The school in question comprises of just thirteen students, ranging from ages 4 to 12, and the film follows their schoolwork, homework and life outside the classroom. Inspirational teacher Georges Lopez is a clear role model and gets the youngsters excited about learning from a young age.

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La cour de Babel (School of Babel)

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration84 mins

La cour de Babel (School of Babel)(2014)

Insightful documentary following immigrant children in France as they learn to speak French in a special class in Paris.

Another French-language documentary, School of Babel shows us an older age-range – between 11 and 15 – attempting to learn the native language. The children are from countries all over the world – Ukraine, Ireland, Venezuela, Libya, Senegal, etc. – and must overcome difficulties in their lives to achieve their goals across the year and beyond.

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Sing Street

Cert12A

Age group11+

Duration106 mins

Sing Street(2016)

Forced to change schools and fed up of hearing his parents arguing, 15-year-old Conor forms a band to impress a mysterious older girl.

John Carney (Once) continues to impress with a joyous coming-of-age musical narrative. Set in 1980s Dublin, Conor decides to start a band with his new classmates and together they write and record a series of endearing pop songs about the trials and tribulations of growing up, citing the subjects they know best: school, family and young love.

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The Falling

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration100 mins

The Falling(2014)

In a strict English girls' school in the 1960s, a fainting outbreak occurs after the pupils are rocked by a tragedy.

Sing Street has pinches of fantasy within it, but Carol Morley’s beguiling tale of reality-gone-awry places the question of real vs. imaged more centrally. Previously known for documentaries, Morley’s first fiction feature captures a female insight into those seminal teenage years and the alien-like quality they often possess.

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Die Welle (The Wave)

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration105 mins

Die Welle (The Wave)(2008)

In an attempt to instruct his students about the dangers of fascism and autocracy, a German high-school teacher stages a bold experiment.

A different kind of mass hysteria is at play here in this cleverly constructed German language drama, playing heavily on the country’s recent dark history. The film shows the power of tribalism and the impact of idol worshipping by presenting a slippery slope argument of how, without the right guidance and moral framework, any of us can easily slip into dangerous waters.

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The History Boys

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration107 mins

The History Boys(2006)

British film about an ambitious headmaster who hires a specialist, but eccentric history professor to get a group of pupils to get into Oxbridge.

Influential teachers are everywhere: in this adaptation of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed stage play, Hector is a mentor to the boys, revered by them. When Irwin comes on the scene – his ethics and ethos entirely at odds with that of Hector’s – the boys are challenged by notions of loyalty and have to decide just what it is that education means to them.

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He Named Me Malala

CertPG

Age group11–16

Duration87 mins

He Named Me Malala(2015)

Inspirational documentary about equal education advocate Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel peace prize.

A film demonstrating the importance and value of education which follows the journey of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Despite being shot and almost killed by the Taliban in 2012, she continues to speak out against the unjust lack of opportunities for schooling – particularly for girls – across the world. An inspiring documentary full of hope and determination.

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Waiting for Superman

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration106 mins

Waiting for Superman(2010)

Five youngsters from different social groups give shocking statistics a human face in this documentary on America's failing public education system.

A number of case studies profiling what happens when the education system goes wrong, or when it is skewed to benefit some over others. Waiting for Superman delves into several aspects of the American system, including lottery draws and the downside of tenure. A reality check highlighting the bureaucratic pitfalls which need to be hurdled to overcome inequality.

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The Class

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration124 mins

The Class(2008)

Director Laurent Cantet's riveting, Palme d'Or winning drama chronicles a year in the life of a rough school in a working class suburb of Paris.

A superbly-crafted French language film which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival in 2008. François Bégaudeau plays a teacher – based on his own life experiences as one – in this ultra-realist and semi-improvised docu-drama exploring the varying experiences of students with different backgrounds in a tough Parisian school.

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Election

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration98 mins

Election(1999)

Reese Witherspoon made her name in this razor-sharp satire that uses a school election to send up both moral and political corruption.

The Class touches upon teachers overstepping the mark; Election uses this as its premise. Based on an incredible true story, it’s full of Alexander Payne’s trademark dark humour. This film chronicles high-school politics and explores anti-bullying in its own eccentric fashion, with the irrepressible Tracy Flick gaining high-school film folklore status.

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Easy A

Cert15

Age group14+

Duration88 mins

Easy A(2010)

Provocative high school comedy that is as smart as it is funny.

Also putting a modern slant on familiar themes, Easy A follows Olive Penderghast as she attempts to use the rumour mill to her advantage. Olive soon learns that a small lie can lead to big consequences, with her reputation spiraling out of control, causing a crisis of identity. This witty comedy features a great soundtrack and strongly references its predecessors.

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GBF (G.B.F.)

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration93 mins

GBF (G.B.F.) (2013)

Tanner is outed as gay by his classmates and becomes the focus of three popular clique leaders anxious to mould him into their very own G.B.F.

A further high-school film which turns the conventions of the genre on its head. After Tanner is outed, he suddenly becomes the most popular ‘asset’ around as three of the trendiest girls in school each vie for his status as their gay best friend. This progressive title remains perceptive to teenage sexuality in the modern day and the difficulties that come with it.

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Dazed And Confused

Cert15

Age group16+

Duration102 mins

Dazed And Confused(1993)

Coming-of-age comedy from famed indie director Richard Linklater, about the last day of high school in 1970s small-town Texas.

Many high-school movies end with a prom – just as GBF does – but Dazed and Confused follows on from that moment. Richard Linklater’s revered last-day-of-school drama follows in the footsteps of films like American Graffiti, perfectly capturing that moment in time filled with uncertainty and optimism.

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