Keelan Balderson, Contributing Writer
UK school children have once again been frightened after a careless stunt, allegedly used to improve their creative writing .
Nine and ten year olds attending the Wincheap Foundation Primary School in Canterbury, were interrupted mid lesson by a commotion outside. As they were encouraged to peer out the window they saw their school caretaker abducted by a man wearing a red-wig. The kidnapper forced the caretaker at gunpoint in to a vehicle, before speeding out of the school grounds.
In reality it wasn’t a real abduction. The man in the red wig was Clive Close, the school-headmaster. What appeared to be a gun was actually an old water-tap used as a prop. The whole incident had been premeditated as part of a bizarre teaching method, allegedly used to spark children’s imagination and help improve their creative writing in English lessons.
The most worrying aspect of the incident however was not the performance itself (a lack of visual stimulation in classrooms is a major criticism of modern teaching), but rather the fact that pupils were first led to believe the incident was real!
One parent commented: “There are a lot of other ways they could have debated something like that.”
Although Deputy head Nicola Dawson was quick to remind parents of how it was helping them in the league tables: “These sort of things have had a huge impact on our writing results,” parents did not appreciate their children being left scared.
“I am of the opinion – as are several other parents – that primary school children should not be scared stiff in class,” remarked another parent.
This Shock-and-Awe approach to school lessons has slowly sneaked into the curriculum over the past few years, without a clear explanation as to why pupils have to be lied to. Surely the same kind of performance could be used for the same ends, without blurring the lines between reality and fiction? Imagine the giggling and fun that would be had if the kids were informed beforehand and then watched their teachers goofing around in a performance. Instead children are more often than not left traumatized.
As first reported by The Telegraph, in July 2009 at Southway Junior School, in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, Children saw a ‘spaceship’ crash near their school and then aliens grabbed a member of staff as part of a “performance”. The “alien invasion” show, which was supported by Sussex Police, took place without parents being informed, leaving some furious that they had to comfort their terrified children. Police contributed to the invasion by providing sirens and flashing blue lights to signify the landing of the craft just before morning classes on July 10.
It wasn’t made clear to some students, even after the staged events, that it was indeed a performance.
One unnamed mother recounted her story:
God only knows what the school was playing at. I mean to shock children into thinking that the aliens have landed and have abducted a teacher is just a little too much for seven-year-olds. My daughter was deeply upset by it all and came home looking shell shocked. She wasn’t sure what had happened and really wanted to know that everything was going to be alright.
Many parents share the struggle of getting a child soundly off to sleep when they see something on the TV, they don’t expect them to then be terrified in the classroom.
In November, 2009 at the Foxhill Primary School in Sheffield, children arriving at the school in the morning were greeted with a pool of blood and a police crime scene. One female member of staff in on the act, pretended to have been assaulted, and some children were then tasked to help police in the investigation, under the impression the attacker could still be on school grounds.
The school made no attempt to put the traumatized children’s minds at ease, because the alleged problem solving exercise wasn’t exposed as such until 4 days in to the week!
One parent told The Telegraph: “I think it’s disgusting – the children are too frightened to go back to school because it has not been made clear it’s a fictitious incident.”
St Hilary’s Primary School in Lanarkshire, Scotland, has also undertaken similar stunts. As reported by Mail Online:
A group of stunned primary schoolchildren began crying when their teacher told them during a bizarre Holocaust game that they were to be taken away from their families. The pupils, aged 11, became upset after a number of them were segregated and told they were being sent away or might end up in an orphanage. The ordeal was meant to give the youngsters at the Lanarkshire school an insight into the horrors faced by Jewish children during World War II.
One parent who stood up to the system and lodged an official complaint wrote:
Mrs McGlynn told the children they would probably have to be sent away from their families and that their parents had been informed about this and knew all about it.
‘When one child asked if that meant they might have to go to an orphanage, they were told that might be a possibility.
‘At that point many of the children became very distressed.
‘One boy kicked his chair over, one was angry and demanded to speak to someone in charge but most were crying on a scale ranging from mildly to severely.
‘Their ordeal lasted between 12 and 15 minutes before the children were informed that it was all an act but that the role play would continue until lunchtime.’
In March, 2010 at the Blackminster Middle School, in Evesham, Worcestershire, children were left crying and traumatized when they saw a man brandishing a gun shoot dead Richard Kent, their science teacher, as he ran across the school field.
Following a loud bang simulating a gunshot, other staff involved in the act rushed to the teacher’s aid and appeared to try to resuscitate him.
There was a delay of 10 minutes before weeping pupils were taken back to the assembly hall where teachers explained that the pretend shooting had been laid on as part of a science lesson.
Some children were so upset that they were sick afterwards, parents said.
As reported by BBC News: Head teacher Terry Holland admitted the acting was “a bit too enthusiastic,” and apologised to parents.
Under the guise of “problem solving”, “creative writing” or “science”, the UK’s children are being exposed to psychological trauma. Whether this is for a deliberate purpose, or due to a complete lack of common sense is not clear.
The most worrying aspect is that despite criticisms and media coverage that shows children are being frightened, schools carry on regardless and don’t even inform parents beforehand. Furthermore in all cases parents have done little to hold the schools accountable.
Who are these people that think something like this could be a good idea? Where’s their common sense gone?
Whose Idea Was It?
We now know at least one of the culprits behind this method of teaching is the National Literacy Trust, although details are scant.
In a 2011 resource available for teachers, that looks at improving children’s writing skills, it suggests : “Try bringing in local role models such as fireman or stage an alien invasion to stimulate creativity.“
According to the NLT’s website, for £75 per school per year up to 5 members of staff can register to gain access to their resources .
There is also a “Leader’s Network” that brings consultants, lead teachers, coordinators, librarians, advanced skills teachers and other leaders, together, and may be where these kinds of ideas have sprung up from .
It should be noted that the Trust is an independent charity, and it’s not clear what safeguards are in place to prevent it from promoting these bizarre and possibly dangerous programs.
This article first appeared at Wide Shut.
Keelan Balderson is an independent journalist, documentary filmmaker and Internet radio host from the UK. You can listen to his WideShut Webcast every Monday at 8pm GMT on Resistance Radio. Please support his work by visiting his website: WideShut.co.uk.