'Fancy a night at the movies? let's go to school'

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The lights dim and the audience settles back in front of the gleaming expanse of cinemascope screen for a classic movie.

The lights dim and the audience settles back in front of the gleaming expanse of cinemascope screen for a classic movie.

the film buffs relax in their plush seats while the gleam of the 35mm projectors plays on the projection-room window and the sound rises from dolby surround speakers as the titles roll.

it could be an art-house cinema in a trendy district of north london, shoulder to shoulder with nightclubs and the odd bar serving tapas and bottled mexican beer.

in fact, it is the school theatre of an ordinary, 1,100-pupil comprehensive on the western edge of grimsby. whitgift school in lincolnshire is the only one of its kind in britain, blessed with a high-quality 203-seat cinema in the heart of the school buildings.

pupils walk past the foyer packed with classic movie posters every day on their way to lessons - and can enjoy the magic of the silver screen, where their colleagues elsewhere might have to put up with just a video player on a stand in the corner of the classroom.

the cinema will be in use next week, as teachers and the managers of the grimsby screen put on a special season of movies for children from whitgift and other schools across the region.

with the nearest modern multiplex 40 miles away, for some it will be their first taste of the real magic of cinema the way the film directors wanted it to be.

whitgift is the product of 1970s planning, when the british film institute's plans for a network of regional film theatres coincided with the local authority's plans for a new school on the outskirts of the town.

the school serves the neighbouring wybers wood and greatcoats estates, and is making the cinema a full part of its mainstream curriculum.

teachers have arranged for students studying shakespeare to watch films as part of their course, while the media-studies department has arranged a mini-season of classic documentaries, starting with the post office classic night train, for their gcse students.

laurie boxer, the school's head of media studies and drama, said the use of the big screen was increasing after it was bought out from grimsby council by a group of enthusiasts who saved the cinema from closure.

he said: "they have a huge film library and are happy to arrange a screening if we say we are doing romeo and juliet, for example. we also use the theatre to show videos on a much bigger screen.

"if you don't show film and television, you might as well not teach english. visual media is now a normal way of communication. we have had 100 years of film, 150 years of photography and thousands of years of painting. people talk and think in filmic terms."

the cinema is open to the public four days a week, but has become a real part of school life.

"the children appreciate that a film is a bit more than a video. we showed them the crucible, by arthur miller. it's quite a heavy film for a lot of ordinary kids, but after the first 10 seconds there was total silence. emotionally they were gripped by it in a way they would never be by the telly.

"there's always a changing display of film posters in the foyer, so the children are aware of films they would not normally encounter. they are seeing films that perhaps they have never heard of and thinking 'that looks interesting'."

the school, unsurprisingly, has built up a reputation for its media-studies courses, which developed out of the old film studies a-level once taught in whitgift's sixth form, which has now been abolished after the opening of a new sixth-form college.

"it brings the community into the school," said mr boxer, who once worked in marketing for columbia pictures in soho's wardour street during the early 1970s.

he said: "i remember someone brought round the british film institute's newsletter which said they were opening all these film theatres, including one in a school," he said.

"we really had a good laugh about it. thirty years later i am here."