Pupils told to write ‘suicide notes’ in class on Macbeth
PARENTS reacted in horror after their children were told to write suicide notes as part of a class project on Macbeth.
More than 60 pupils were asked to write a suicide note to their loved ones after studying the Shakespeare tragedy.
The Year 8 pupils – aged 12 or 13 – were told to imagine what Lady Macbeth would have written to her murderous husband before committing suicide ‘ by self and violent hands’ after becoming consumed by guilt over King Duncan’s death.
Parents said their children were ‘very distressed’ by the project, and branded it ‘insensitive’ at a time when suicide is the biggest cause of death in young people.
The school has apologised and promised that the assignment will not be set again.
While Lady Macbeth’s death takes place off-stage in the play, and there is no suicide note, the play makes clear that she kills herself while racked with guilt at goading her husband into killing King Duncan.
In one of the best-known scenes, Lady Macbeth is seen sleepwalking and bemoaning ‘ the smell of the blood’ on her hands.
‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,’ she says.
Overhearing her, a doctor tells her gentlewoman to take away anything with which she could use to harm herself. Macbeth is given the news that his wife is dead moments before the climactic battle.
Pupils at the 1,700-pupil Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke, southeast London, were asked to write the suicide notes in an English class after studying the play.
They are understood to have been asked by a supply teacher to imagine how Lady Macbeth would have explained her decision to take her own life.
The exercise – and similar tasks focused on Romeo’s suicide in Romeo and Juliet – is understood to have featured in GCSE coursework in previous years.
But a girl in the class who had three friends who committed suicide told the teacher she was upset by the assignment. Her mother told the News Shopper newspaper: ‘They were doing Macbeth in English (and) the assignment they were being given was writing a suicide letter.
‘My daughter has had personal experience with people her age committing suicide. On what universe was it ever, under any situation, a good idea to ask a group of teenagers to write suicide notes?
‘At least two classes have done this assignment. My daughter is very outspoken but there are other kids not as vocal who might be suffering
from depression.’ Another parent, who did not want to be named, said: ‘It’s fine for children to learn Shakespeare, but it is certainly not fine to get them to write suicide notes. Whoever came up with this needs to go back to teacher training college.’
Head teacher Carolyn Roberts said: ‘The exercise is a well-known method for getting students to understand this dramatic twist in the play. I apologise wholeheartedly on behalf of the school.
‘We care deeply about the emotional well-being of our students and of course wish no distress to be caused to any of our students.
Ofsted inspectors rated the school good and well led, with pupils’ performance in English lessons ‘outstanding’.
The Office for National Statistics said 231 children committed suicide in 2015, the highest figure for 14 years.