PARENTS complained to a headteacher after youngsters as young as nine were set homework to research whether Santa is real.

The task which was then followed by a classroom debate on the question provoked anger among some parents who say it has taken away the magic of Christmas.

But the man behind the project, which is being put on at five schools in Blackburn with Darwen, defended the sessions.

Year five children at St Cuthbert’s Primary in Darwen were set the work last week and the debate went ahead on Monday – despite several protests from parents to headteacher Michelle Smith.

One mother said: “This has caused a lot of upset. Choosing this topic to debate, especially this time of year, takes away from the magic of Christmas. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

But Belthorn actor Paul Simpson who goes into schools to teach the festive lessons revealed pupils at the school decided Santa – who of course switched on Blackburn and Darwen's Christmas lights last month – DID exist.

The 46-year-old said: “It is not about taking away the magic of Christmas but using it to engage the children in a project where they can learn and use new skills in terms of research, public speaking and debate.

“I am sad some parents objected. Had they spoken to me so I could have explained the project to them.

“As with every other school, the children really enjoyed it, coming down decisively in favour of Santa’s existence.”

The controversial debate has the backing of education boss Cllr Maureen Bateson as the project visits four other schools – Wensley Fold, St Thomas’s in Newton Street, St Michael and St John’s, and St Silas’s.

Cllr Bateson said: “I believe in Santa and the spirit of Santa. He visits my house every year.”

St Cuthbert's headteacher Mrs Smith said: “The aim was to help develop their research, reasoning and promoting empathy for other people’s viewpoint.

"The topic was chosen to help get into the Christmas spirit and help bring back the magic of Christmas for any children who have doubts."