WHILE most schools forbid fights in the playground, one school in Germany is encouraging kids to beat each other with fists, clubs and even the occasional gun.
It is all part of a normal day at the "Movie Kids" school in Dusseldorf, where up to 450 five to 15-year-olds are getting first-hand experience of the rough-and-tumble career of being a stunt performer.
However, a child welfare expert has branded the school dangerous and irresponsible. "How can anyone imagine it's good for children?" asked Sabine Walther, of the German Child Protection Association. "What happens when they take these things into everyday life?"
Manfred Kaufmann, a German actor who piloted the stunt school, said it originally intended to run acting courses for youngsters hoping to break into the film and television business. But many of the children were scared of the physical contact involved in acting. When they were given lessons in how to fake punches and fall without hurting themselves, they became enthusiastic and more confident, Mr Kaufmann said.
"Then we started to offer stunt courses in the evenings, we were inundated with kids wanting to join up," he said. In the first few weeks, the school had to change its location to accommodate the growing demand.
The company has now renovated a warehouse in Dusseldorf, which houses an acting school and casting agency in addition to the stunt school.
The teachers of the two-hour after-school courses, which cost around pound;10 per session, are trained stunt performers, choreographers and martial arts specialists. First-aid professionals are always on hand, as well as a psychologist to make sure the children are not upset by any of the make believe violence. To date no one has been injured, and parents can watch or even join in the course.
The children also learn the important difference between the violence on television and in real life, said Mr Kaufmann.
But Sibylle Brandel, of Stunt Crew, a Munich company, said accidents were just waiting to happen at the school. She said children under 12 should not be put in such situations and that there was not enough work for stunt children in Germany. Parents could be building up expectations that cannot be satisfied, she warned.
"If a child is needed, people find one from an acting family or the stunt would be performed by an adult," she said.