A HEADTEACHER has defended an English homework assignment which asked teenaged pupils to imagine the final words of a suicidal character.

Year 9 and 10 pupils at Beauchamps High School, Wickford, were set the exercise as part of studies connected with JB Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls.

The drama, set in 1912, involves the suicide of a young woman, Eva Smith, and the factors which led her to take her life.

For their homework, 13 and 14-year-old GCSE pupils were asked to imagine Eva’s final journal entry –a request which prompted an angry response from parents and relatives of pupils.

The older sister of one girl wrote: “My sister is reading An Inspector Calls at school and for her homework she has to write a suicide note from the girl in it.

“I’m fine with the fact that, yes, the girl writes it, but why are teachers thinking it's acceptable to get 13-year-olds to write them as if they were the girl?

“Personally, I think this is so wrong and feel really uncomfortable knowing they think this is normal.”

However, headteacher Bob Hodges said: “An Inspector Calls is a text which has been set by the exam board, just like Romeo and Juliet and many other pieces of literature.

“With regard to the homework that was set, it was to write Eva’s last journal entry, explaining her thoughts and feelings.

“It is part of the syllabus, looking at the themes of responsibility and the role of every character in the play.

“I am sure every school in the country will be studying something like An Inspector Calls, and this is part of the theme of the text.”

Mr Hodges insisted he had no concerns for any pupils involved who might have had personal connections to suicide.

He added: “Individual students in the school have tremendous support from our pastoral team, which would deal with any concerns.

“It has been very successful in doing that.”

In 2012, a Staffordshire school apologised after a pupil’s mother mistook a letter her child had written as part of a creative writing exercise for a genuine suicide note.

Educational child psychologist Mike Hymans said: “It’s important children and young people have an opportunity to share and express their feelings.”

Mr Hymans suggested schools should make parents aware of such assignments in advance, adding: “It’s about direct communication and making sure that emotional literacy is discussed with parents.”