Outrage over Dutch broadcaster's use of fake pupils at school for TV show

Empty classroom

Teachers and pupils at a secondary school in Veenendaal were shocked to find out that five new pupils at the school weren't high school kids at all, but actors placed at the school for a television program, De Volksrkant reports. Recordings for the RTL 4 program, called Klasse, have since been halted.

The Christelijk Lyceum Veenendaal (CLV) management organized a meeting in which the school admitted that it was aware that the five new pupils were actors. But the teachers and pupils had no idea and the revelation caused quite a bit of unrest last week, according to the newspaper.

The new "pupils" were found out when other pupils discovered they had fake profiles on social media, one anonymous teacher told the newspaper. "After that teachers discovered that nothing was known about the new pupils' school past. There were no old results available."

Shortly before the summer, the school informed pupils and parents that it agreed to cooperate in a documentary series Vincent TV Producties was making for RTL 4. After the summer holidays, the school reported that the recordings were postponed to the end of the year. Last week teachers were told that five new pupils will be enrolled in the school for the documentary, and that these pupils will be more intensively followed than the other pupils .

Vincent TV explained that every year hundreds of pupils have to change schools for a variety of reasons, such as because they are bullied or their parents are getting divorced. "We asked five of these pupils to join CLV, so that through the eyes of these newcomers we can record daily life in a secondary school. Through the eyes of these newcomers, for whom nothing is self-evident, we get a better picture of what is really going on at the school", the production company said, according to the newspaper.

Only the new pupils weren't pupils at all. According to the Volkskrant, the five actors were older than the other pupils. In some cases they already had a college education or a theater background. Many pupils didn't like the fact that there were people in the class who could not be trusted, the teacher said. "A socially unsafe situation was created. That is unacceptable."

On Wednesday the management convened all teachers to explain. The show makers were also at the meeting. "Excuses were made, but strangely enough the school management still wanted the documentary to happen", the teacher said to the newspaper. "Why they cooperated with this plan is still a mystery to me." According to the teacher, many of their colleagues are outraged. They put time and effort into these "pupils" and feel betrayed. 

RTL told the newspaper that the format of this documentary came from the United States, where it is called Undercover High. Students with a difficult school past would secretly return to schools as "expert pupils". Because the Netherlands is a small country, the fake pupils were discovered before the big reveal could be made, the broadcaster said. "So much unrest arose as a result that we have decided to stop the recordings."

The rector of the school told the Volkskrant that he saw "some ethical objections", but hoped that the program would yield something beautiful. Looking back he realizes that it was a mistake. 

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