Private school head criticises Rankin over Black Watch row

A PRIVATE school chief has accused Ian Rankin of “bullying” a headteacher who banned the hit play Black Watch.

The Rebus author, Alex Salmond and others publicly criticised Jane Esson for her decision to ban the play because of its sexual content and swearing.

But they have come under attack by Dr John Halliday, the rector of Dundee High School, for “attempting to suppress…freedom of expression”.

Ian Rankin was accused of "bullying"
Ian Rankin was accused of “bullying”
Black Watch, by Gregory Burke, was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006 and details events leading up to the deaths of three soldiers in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq in 2004.

Mrs Esson, the headteacher of Webster’s High School, Kirriemuir, Angus, has not publicly explained the ban on the text.

Ian Rankin was one of several writers who signed an open letter accusing Mrs Esson of “ignoring” important issues about society and demanding a U-turn. Former First Minister Alex Salmond separately criticised the ban.

Dr Halliday – the Rector of £11K-a-year Dundee High – yesterday wrote to his local paper to express his concern that Mrs Esson was being “vilified”.

He wrote: “I wish to express concern at the way the Headteacher of Webster’s High School, Kirriemuir, has been vilified by Alex Salmond, Ian Rankin…and others over the reported issue with the play Black Watch.

Freedom of expression
“They are making political cheap shots and indulging in what could be seen as a form of bullying. At the very least it is contemptuous of the professionalism of headteachers.
“They all talk about freedom of expression. In fact, by twisting facts and rounding on an excellent headteacher in this way they are themselves attempting to suppress that freedom of expression.”

He added: “Black Watch is a powerful drama, but it is not necessarily everyone’s first choice of theatrical experience. In schools heads and English departments make decisions every year about which texts to study and which not to. They do so based on their professional expertise and experience.

“The SQA itself makes decisions as to which Scottish texts to recommend and which not to. Interestingly they have not included the said play Black Watch.”

The ban on Black Watch has been criticised by parents, one of whom said it was “ridiculous and childish”.

Mrs Esson, who has been the principal at the school since last August, is reported not to have attended a parent council meeting last month to discuss the issue.

She has been invited to another meeting on March 17 but has yet to confirm whether she will attend.