Top Class



Susan Calman


ITV Studios for CBBC, 12 September 2016 to 1 January 2020 (75 episodes in 5 series + 5 specials)


A knockout quiz tournament for primary schools.

Two teams of four students in their school uniforms play against each other. These students are aged 10 and 11, at the top of primary school. The captain always sits in one of the middle seats - for one team it's second from right, the seat occupied by the captain on University Challenge; for the other team, second from left.

They're asked "control" questions, individual questions on the buzzer, no conferring. A right answer wins control of a curriculum subject, and four bonus questions on a theme. Which of these things are electrical conductors, where are these European capitals? These bonus questions won't be passed to the other side. Definite shades of University Challenge there.

Also in the show is "Test the Teacher", Calman's self-confessed favourite round - classroom staff are asked about popular culture for one minute. "Pet subject" is questions for each team on a topic they've nominated. And the show finishes with a 90-second buzzer round. In the latter round, rather bizarrely, incorrectly-answered questions are not offered to the opposing team, but questions in which a contestant buzzes in and fails to answer are offered.

The scoring is simple: one point per correct answer. Winners of each show go forward to the next round, losers go home.

Top Class Susan introduces the show with the teams in the background.

Quite a lot of chat on the show, introducing the teams to viewers at home, and Susan joshes with the competitors after each round of questions. She can be a little shouty at times, if truth be told, but that's only a very minor point and certainly doesn't spoil our enjoyment of the show. Top Class isn't an intense quiz, it never forgets that it's an entertainment programme, and it meets the brief well - entertains while it's gently educating.

A few slight changes for series 3, shown in late autumn 2017, onwards. The show now begins with a wordsearch for each team, find eight colours or eight animals in a small grid. This gives both teams a score, neither is shown with zero points. In later rounds, this changes to crosswords - unlike with the wordsearches, whereby the contestants simply buzz in when they see a word, Calman reads out the crossword-clues and the contestants have to buzz in to answer, with no conferring. In the semi-finals and grand final, it changes to anagrams, in which Calman once again reads out the clues. Later in the show, one of the control question rounds is a "mystery round" - it could be about anything, school curriculum or not.


2016 St Pius X Preparatory School from Preston, Lancashire
Spring 2017 Tilston Parochial Church of England Primary School, Cheshire
Autumn 2017 St John's Primary School, Somerset
2018 Cardwell Primary School, East London
2019 Chobham Primary Academy, East London

Key moments

Watching the teachers attempt the 'Test the Teacher' round. The results have been variable; some have done very well, while others struggled: several teachers have only scored one point, and at least two failed to score. Calman does tease them a little if they don't do well, but only in a good-humoured manner that is in keeping with the spirit of the show, and always taken in good part by the teachers.

The brief but amusing moments during the 'Test the Teacher' rounds, in which a piece of music is played and we see Calman jiving to it.

Calman herself being put on the end of a Test the Teacher set of questions during the 2019 Christmas special, after Karim Zeroual's teacher was stuck on a train. Radzi Chinyanganya from the opposing team asked the questions.

There was a rather bizarre moment during one of the semi-final matches in Series 1, in which one of the teams, who were wearing white shirts with red ties, suddenly appeared to have donned blue sweatshirts and the other team also appeared to have had a change of clothes (seemingly in keeping with the picture above). Presumably it was a piece of mistaken editing, dropped in from a different edition - or was it a 'spot the deliberate mistake' moment to test whether the viewers were awake? OK, most likely the former.

When contestants buzz in, Calman simply calls out their names with no mention of their schools. As a result, in the event of contestants sharing first names, they've had to be named as 'Isaac B' and 'Isaac W', or whatever. This was also the case on Masterteam and The Great British Quiz many years ago, but never on University Challenge, whereby both the universities concerned and the contestants' surnames are always used.

Pleasingly, there's been a reasonably equal mix of male and female contestants throughout all the series, bearing in mind that similar quizzes, certainly University Challenge, have encountered criticism for having predominantly male teams. On 'Top Class', many teams have comprised 2 boys and 2 girls, a fair few 3 girls and 1 boy, and a goodly number 3 boys and 1 girl - all-male and all-female teams are relatively rare. This may well be at least partly down to the schools concerned ensuring as good a gender-mix as they can when entering teams, but, whatever the reason, it's certainly good to see that such a mix has been consistently achieved.

A change to the show's opening sequence occurred in 2019, whereby each contestant would walk out on set as Calman introduced them, each with his or her own trademark wave, salute, thumbs-up or whatever. Previously, they had already been seated behind the desks and would thus make the trademark gestures from there. While there was nothing actually wrong with the new sequence, it seemed a bit unnecessary: the old system had worked perfectly well and was most likely easier for the contestants.


"...And we kick straight off...with a Lightning Round" (followed by the appropriate sound-effects).

"The next subject is (whatever) - here's your control question..."

"It's time to Test the Teacher". This has been changed to, "...It's time for my absolute super-duper favourite round - Test the Teacherrrrrr!" (yes, that's an example of Calman's shouty bit). The adjectives are varied at times.

(To the teacher, after he/she has been tested): "...But for now - you are dismissed!"

"Here's your next control question - and it's a mystery round..." (accompanied by a chorus of 'Woooooo!' from the audience).

"OK, teams, this is it - it's your last chance to bag some points - it's the Battle of the Buzzers. 90 seconds on the clock - start the clock..."

"...You've all done incredibly well..."

(To winning teams): "...I'll see you in the semi-finals (or whatever) and (to the viewers) I'll see you next time - goodbye".

Title music

Craig Brown is credited as "composer".


Pre-production began on a series for 2020, with some teams auditioned. Then the pandemic struck and the series was abandoned.

Web links

CBBC show site

Wikipedia entry

See also

Weaver's Week review

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