Small Axe S01E05

Small Axe S01E05 is part of the Small Axe anthology film series directed by the award-winning director Steve McQueen. The anthology consists of five films which tell distinct stories about the lives of Black immigrants in London. Entitled “Education”, Small Axe S01E05 focuses on young Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) as he struggles with school in the 1970s.

Like the previous four films in the anthology, Small Axe S01E05 highlights yet another obscure aspect about the Black immigrant experience in England. This time, the issue concerns the insidious manner in which proper eduction is denied to the children of Black immigrants so that their progress in life might be stunted and kept back in favour of the majority white population.

The plot of Small Axe S01E05 provides a fictionalised account of real-life events of the 1970s, when some London councils followed an unofficial policy of transferring disproportionate numbers of Black children from mainstream education to schools for the so-called “educationally subnormal” (ESN).

The story is simple and uncomplicated, being told through the eyes of little Kingsley, who is unable to read (and not receiving any aid to improve in school) and acts out because of that. Kingsley ends up in an ESN school where no education is dispensed and the teachers neglect the students. Ultimately, Kingsley’s situation is recognised first by a social organisation and then his mother, and he gets the assistance he requires.

“Education” presents this despicable scenario in unvarnished manner, in a very matter of fact approach, realistic and gritty, without over-dramatisation. There is a ludicrous sequence where a teacher sings “House of the Rising Sun” to a group of bored students. McQueen visualises the ‘performance’ almost in its entirety, giving the viewer an upfront experience of what the students had to put up with. Annoying as hell but point completely taken!

Highly effective and engaging, with an utter lack of trite sentimentalism, Small Axe S01E05 is a cinematic triumph. Recommended viewing!

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