Facts should not fox pupils

10th June 2005 at 01:00
Campaign group wants politics in the classroom debate, reports Joseph Lee

An animal rights group is planning to campaign in schools to win over a new generation to its anti-hunting cause.

With the foxhunting ban now law, the League Against Cruel Sports is turning its attention to calls for new controls on shooting animals for sport.

The charity is recruiting an education officer to train teams of speakers and produce education materials about the alleged cruel practices in sports shooting.

At the same time, the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance is also trying to win the hearts and minds of children, by adopting the fashion for charity wristbands and offering free membership to young people.

Lucy Westmore, campaign co-ordinator for the league, said there was nothing inappropriate about bringing political campaigning into the classroom.

She said: "We have always been firm believers that we have to educate the youth of today so they will be the future.

"After our success with the Hunting Act after many years of campaigning, we decided it would be a good time to move into schools. We want to give children all of the facts so they can make up their own minds. We're not talking about forcing anything on them. If the Countryside Alliance wants the same, it is free to do so."

The campaign will focus on exposing allegedly cruel intensive farming methods used to breed pheasants for shooting and the use of snare traps to control predators, which the league says often harm pets as well as protected species such as badgers.

The league said it would not expose children to some of the explicit videos of cruel practices obtained by undercover investigators. "We are not into shock tactics," Ms Westmore said.

The Countryside Alliance said it had no plans to go into schools and criticised its opponents' tactics. Isobel Walsh, spokeswoman for the alliance, said many teachers, particularly in urban areas, did not know enough about the rural case for hunting and shooting to put anti-hunt views into context.

She said shooting was now worth an estimated pound;1 billion to the rural economy. "A teacher's job is not to force their opinion or any particular opinion on to children. It is to broaden their minds," she said.

Ted Huddleston, project manager for the Citizenship Foundation, said schools were increasingly inviting campaign groups to speak to pupils, but it had to be managed carefully.

"There are groups which will try to promote their views and say it is for educational reasons. But there are safety measures which schools should adopt," he said.

Since the ban was introduced some of the country's top private schools have switched to drag hunting, where the pack chases a scent and no animals are harmed.

Eton college, Stowe school, Radley college and Marlborough college are among the schools which kept beagle packs. Eton said that next year it would switch to drag hunting.

* joseph.lee@tes.co.uk

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