EDUCATION, education, education, will as ever be one of the battlegrounds of this May's General Election.

It has long been a subject for drama and literature too from Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version to John Godber's Teechers, Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickelby to Alan Bennett's Forty Years On.

Pick Me Up Theatre artistic director Robert Readman has picked two northern plays, both set in comprehensive schools but at the opposite ends of academic achievement. The children in Willy Russell's Our Day Out are from Mrs Kay's Progress Class, the "slow" kids; the bright sparks in Alan Bennett's The History Boys are Hector's scholarship class, being sharpened for their Oxbridge exams.

Yet at their heart, the two are not poles apart as two working-class dramatists write passionately of the opportunities afforded by education; in Russell's case, showing the children a world beyond the classroom and the dull thud of a restrictive teacher; in Bennett's case, showing the value of lessons for "the long littleness of life", learned from unconventional lessons that go beyond appreciating the lure of language and a love of literature.

Our Day Out is a youth theatre staple but now the 1976 play is all the better, all the wittier too, for being transformed into a musical by Russell, who reworked the script and added songs and music co-written with Bob Eaton in 2009.

Those rhyming songs play wonderfully on the innately funny sound of the Liverpool accent – just like The Scaffold and Ringo in his Beatles songs once did – while enhancing the pathos of this heartwarming piece as the class trip re-routes from Alton Towers to a zoo, castle and beach in North Wales.

As ever, Readman has assembled a terrific cast, Jeanette Hunter's kindly Mrs Kay battling with Craig Kirby's grouchy, oppressive Mr Briggs, backed up by Martyn Hunter's seen-it-all-before bus driver and Adam Sowter and Katie Glover's young teachers. Emily Belcher excels as the quiet loner, Amy; Kiera Leaper's flirtatious Carly is a hoot, and Emma Moodie and Ruby Johnson's Bored Girls steal the show as always. Barbara Chan's musical direction is a joy too.

Both productions make fantastic use of Adam Moore Tech247's film projections for scenery, first evoking assorted Welsh sites, and then the black-and-white Sheffield city centre of 1983 for The History Boys, which is allied to the industrial electronic music of Cabaret Voltaire from that era.

Again, the casting is eye-catching, BBC Radio York presenters Neil Foster and Adam Tomlinson playing smart, disruptive supply teacher Irwin and the narrow-minded headmaster respectively, while former Bootham School headteacher Ian Small relishes the loose cannon role of Hector and Barbara Johnson's Mrs Lintott is all common sense as history teacher Mrs Lintott.

Among the boys, Sam Baxter is the stand-out as the troubled Posner, while George Stagnell's Dakin pulls out the star pupil stops in the second half and Sam Hird's Scripps impresses too. Ensemble work between the boys needs to be quicker but individual performances are all strong.

The History Boys and Our Day Out, The Musical, Pick Me Up Theatre, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York; performances run until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or