Headteacher who banned Black Watch speaks out

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A CONTROVERSIAL head teacher who withdrew the play Black Watch as a study text has spoken out for the first time.

Jane Esson, head teacher at Webster’s High School in Angus, made the decision which divided parents and even attracted criticism from former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Renowned crime writer Ian Rankin also added his signature to an open letter calling for a rethink on the Iraq War play, written by Gregory Burke.

The play details the deaths of three servicemen in a roadside bomb attack
The play details the deaths of three servicemen in a roadside bomb attack

 

The acclaimed production details events leading up to the deaths of three servicemen in a roadside bomb attack in 2004 and contains sexual content and graphic language.

In a letter to parents, Mrs Esson said a review was carried out by the Kirriemuir school’s senior management team after a complaint was made by a parent about the play’s content.

She wrote: “It was agreed that, on balance, it was inappropriate for this to be studied as a class text by pupils, some of whom were as young as 15.

“This was a reasoned judgement based on consideration of the language of the play and the maturity it demands of an audience.

“The content of the play focuses on issues of sexuality, male identity and the psychological damage caused by warfare.

Ian Rankin added his signature to an open letter
Ian Rankin added his signature to an open letter

 

“It is a very powerful and thought-provoking stage play but my professional view is the explicit text is too demanding for our young learners in a classroom setting.”

Some parents reacted angrily to the ban.

One said: “Mrs Esson has evangelical beliefs and this may have some bearing on how… she thinks the school should be run which is basically censorship.

“All of these pupils are young adults and should be treated with the respect they deserve.

“It’s ridiculous in this day and age and I know my kids hear a lot worse at school – and they have heard all the slang words for sex during sex education in first year.

“When my daughter came home and told me they had been banned from studying this play I was furious. It’s like the dark ages.

“The school is in a catchment area of fairly middle-class and well educated people and we just don’t agree with this kind of censorship.”

Bullying

Mrs Esson was recently defended by Dundee High School rector Dr John Halliday, who accused Mr Salmond and Mr Rankin of “bullying” her over the decision.

In his Courier column, Mr Salmond said he was unhappy the “rollicking” production was not being studied.

Mrs Esson said the play, which is not on the SQA reading list, had not been banned and was still available for use by pupils for “personal study or home reading”.

She said it could also be used as a text for Advanced Higher drama pupils.

She added: “Often I am called upon to make some difficult decisions and I realise and respect the fact that this may result in divided opinion.

“I want to reassure you that, when making every decision pertaining to Webster’s High School, foremost in my mind is the best interest of all our pupils.”

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