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Was Saddam bullied at school?

Teachers struggle to help children understand the Iraqi crisis. Adi Bloom reports.

Milton Keynes is unlikely to be high on Saddam Hussein's hit-list, says 11-year-old Spike Wym-de-Bank. "There's no point destroying Milton Keynes.

There is nothing here of interest to anyone."

Spike and his Year 7 classmates at New Bradwell combined school, are discussing the impact a war with Iraq would have on their lives.

Like pupils around the country, Y7 is spending citizenship lessons trying to get to grips with the reality behind the news headlines. To a generation reared on Hollywood action films, the threat appears clear: global domination at all costs.

"Saddam will probably try and bomb the UN, so that he can take over and influence all the countries," says 11-year-old Annie Iorizzo. A case of good versus evil, us versus them, then? Well, not quite.

"If we're trying to stop Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons, why does America still have weapons?" Annie says, brow furrowing. "Do they want them all themselves? Are they fighting to get other people's weapons?"

"And, if he was bullied at school or by his parents, that could affect how he is now. He needs help."

John White, head of New Bradwell, said: "We're teaching children to respect each other, not to fight or argue. Now that's being turned around and they are asking: why are our leaders not doing that?

"They also fear for the children going to school in Baghdad who could be bombed."

The difficulty of tackling war in the classroom, without frightening or indoctrinating pupils, is also occupying contributors to The TES online staffroom. Many have seen pupils turn to them for explanation. The consensus is that there is a need for clarity and balance.

One said: "It is important to deliver reassuring facts without becoming emotive. We are responsible for encouraging the children to develop their own values and become critical thinkers."

Eleanor Hargreaves, a lecturer at the Institute of Education in London, also believes that teachers should generate debate on the issue. She has invited pupils in 300 schools to explore their emotions about the threat of war through artwork and creative writing. Their work will be sent to Tony Blair.

Several private schools, particularly religious foundations, are involved in the anti-war effort and are allowing pupils to attend tomorrow's anti-war march in London.

Diana Gant, head of the Quaker Mount school in York, where girls pay up to pound;14,500 to board, joined 40 sixth-formers in a city-centre protest this week. Mrs Gant is allowing pupils over the age of 16 to travel to London, although not as an official school party, and will be marching herself.

Eton College is also reportedly letting boys attend the march, although it is not organising an official presence. The school is believed to encourage pupils to exercise their rights as citizens.

None of the school teaching unions will have an official presence at the protest, though Natfhe, the lecturers' union, will be there.

FEFocus, 31

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