18-rated video game used to teach primary pupils ... how not to be violent
The notoriously violent Grand Theft Auto video games are being used to teach primary school children about real-life violence.
The controversial 18-rated gaming series has been employed as part of a pilot taking place in primary schools across Liverpool to try to curb aggressive and anti-social behaviour at an early age.
The Get Real education project is being run by group Support After Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM) Merseyside and Merseyside Police, and is expected to be rolled out at grassroots level across the country to help reduce violent crime.
Years 5 and 6 pupils watch clips from the games, which allow players to beat up prostitutes with baseball bats, as well as from The Itchy Scratchy Show, the violent Tom and Jerry-satirising cartoon featured in The Simpsons, as part of one-hour sessions. Their aim is to try and help the children understand the consequences of violence.
Pupils are also given trading cards that show pictures from the video game and cartoon series alongside real-life images of knives, parents arguing or a drunk wielding a bottle. The children are then asked to identify what is "good real-life, bad real-life or not real-life" and discuss it with their peers.
The idea is to encourage pupils to think about what it is they see around them every day and link them with real-life issues that affect the country, such as knife or gun crime.
The pilot was launched at Barlows Primary School in Fazakerley, Liverpool, which was recently awarded "outstanding" by Ofsted.
Year 3 teacher Paul Brooksbank says the programme was extremely impressive, allowing the pupils to express their opinions on the difference between fictional and real-life violence.
"If implemented at these age groups across the country, it could have an outstanding impact," Mr Brooksbank said. "The fact it was peer-led allowed the children to talk through their thoughts and ideas when identifying the difference between what is good real-life and what is bad real life."
Jan Taylor, the school's head, added: "The teachers who have been involved in the project have been blown away by it."
The programme of one-hour sessions also includes role-play exercises that are then linked to the curriculum.
Kevin Browne, a professor of forensic and family psychology at the University of Birmingham, said such approaches can work but do have their drawbacks.
Professor Browne said: "It sounds really high risk; cartoons won't work when it comes to showing violence, and computer games rarely depict violence realistically so the consequences the children would see would undermine the real consequences of violence.
"But it can work and it isn't a particularly new method. It works in terms of raising awareness, it makes the children aware of the realism of hitting someone with a crowbar or whatever."
Gaynor Bell, chair of SAMM Merseyside, has been spearheading the project and believes it to be the best she has worked on.
"The best thing about it is that it's the children that are leading the sessions," Ms Bell said. "Using the cartoons and the games allows us to ask 'Does this happen in real-life?' and the comments we are getting back from the children are unbelievable.
"They are seeing this in their homes. Getting to them at a young age could really have an impact when they are older."