A SECONDARY school head teacher is at the centre of a censorship row after being accused of banning Higher pupils from studying the acclaimed Scottish play Black Watch because of bad language and sexual content.

Parents and fifth-year pupils at Webster's High School in Kirriemuir, Angus, say they are outraged that the SQA-approved Higher text play Black Watch, written by Scottish dramatist Gregory Burke, has been removed from the curriculum. The play is seen as one of the greatest dramas to come out of Scotland in recent years, and was performed internationally. It won four Olivier Awards.

They claim head teacher Jane Esson's evangelical beliefs are behind her decision to ban the play because she found the content offensive.

Pupils were in the middle of studying the play and had produced detailed course work as part of their Higher Drama when the ban came into place.

The 16 and 17-year-olds wrote a letter to Esson and called a meeting to urge her to rethink her drastic move.

Parents also invited her to a Webster's High School Parent Council meeting last month but she failed to attend because she had a prior arrangement at the local drama group's showing of The Wizard of Oz that night.

Burke's other well-known play called Hoors is also studied by Higher pupils throughout the country, and is littered with sex and foul language. Esson is the first teacher to ban his text from a school curriculum.

Burke told the Sunday Herald he didn't want to be drawn into the censorship row and had nothing to say about the ban.

One parent said: "Mrs Esson has evangelical beliefs and this may have some bearing on how ... she thinks the school should be run which is basically censorship.

"All of these pupils are young adults and should be treated with the respect they deserve.

"It's ridiculous in this day and age and I know my kids hear a lot worse at school - and they have heard all the slang words for sex during sex education in first year.

"When my daughter came home and told me they had been banned from studying this play I was furious. It's like the dark ages.

"The school is in a catchment area of fairly middle-class and educated people and we just don't agree with this kind of censorship. We want our children to have this kind of choice.

"There are very few plays or books which are part of the curriculum that don't have some bad language or sexual content in them and you cannot avoid it really, so what is she going to do, ban all of them?

"It's crazy. She was asked along to a meeting to discuss this and explain the reasons for her decision but she refused and went along to see The Wizard of Oz instead which was pretty insulting.

"I think she's hoping it will all just go away [but] if we let her away with it this time I dread to think what she'll come up with next."

Angus Council education chiefs insisted there was no ban and that the class had simply "chosen" another text to study. However, both parents and pupils strongly refute those claims.

A council spokesperson said: "While the play has not been banned, it is not being used as a core text this year. The play is not on the SQA's prescribed reading list, and this year the class has chosen another text to study.

"The head teacher was unfortunately unable to meet as the time given for the meeting clashed with another school meeting. The head teacher has requested another date for the meeting."

Parents claimed Esson hadn't even taken the time to read or watch the play before making her judgment.

Another parent, who didn't want to be named, said: "Black Watch is one of the plays on the SQA approved list ... the pupils certainly didn't choose another text, they were told they had to pick something else."

The parent said that Esson told pupils "she didn't want them knowing about all this sexual stuff ... she said she didn't want them talking about it, studying it or even thinking about any of these sexual references but kids these days can go online and watch worse on the TV. There are other English texts which are just as bad, if not worse. What is her next step I wonder, is she going to ban all the drama and English text books with swear words?"

The Webster's High School Parent Council said the issue was raised at their last meeting on February 4 by a number of parents who "expressed their annoyance" at Esson's decision to ban Black Watch.

Chairman Geoff Hobson said there was a lengthy discussion among parents, and the depute who turned up in Esson's place told them the head teacher deemed the text "inappropriate".

Hobson added: "It was also noted that a parent of a pupil in the drama class had objected to the bad language in this text. The views from this discussion have been passed to the head teacher.

"There is clearly a balance to be struck between allowing pupils to study a wide range of texts [and] obliging pupils to study texts containing bad language and sexual content that they are uncomfortable with.

"It is the Parent Council's role to express to the head teacher the views of all parents. It is the head teacher's responsibility to ensure that what is taught in the school is appropriate."

Kirriemuir councillor Ronnie Proctor, a retired Black Watch Major and also secretary of the Black Watch Association and chair of the Angus branch, said: "It is up to the head teacher to decide what is taught [and] she has exercised that prerogative.

"I know there are others who are not happy. She made that decision and I respect that. She maybe felt uncomfortable with some of the language.

"We recently visited the school to give them a lecture. She welcomed this with open arms, she certainly isn't anti-military."

The National Theatre of Scotland said:"While we would entirely support the right of any individual head yeacher to exercise choice for his or her school, Black Watch has been studied by, and seen live by, thousands of Scotland's school pupils, very many of whom have testified to [its] power, emotional punch and contemporary significance."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Curriculum content is a matter for schools and councils to decide on."