The rector of a church in Stevenage has "ruined Christmas" by telling children at a carol concert that Santa isn't real.

More than 200 Year 7 pupils at Stevenage's Barclay Academy attended a carol concert at St Nicholas Church, hosted by the rector, Reverend Edward Keene.

At the end, Revd Keene gave a speech on truth.

"He decided the whole of Year 7 needed to know Santa isn't real, as they are entering the real world," one angry parent explained. "There were tears."

"Each to their own beliefs, but don't ruin the small bit of magic still left in the world for those who do believe."

Parent Emma Race added: "My daughter was upset and confused. Lots more children were affected in similar ways.

"I would like to make other parents and schools aware, as this has ruined my daughter's Christmas."

In response to parents' complaints, Revd Keene pointed out that the concert was "free of charge" and that his "encouragement to the children was that, now they are at secondary school, to think carefully about what is true and what is not."

He continued: "As the Year 7 children are at, or nearly at the age of 12, I considered it would be acceptable to point out that Father Christmas is not real."

However, parent Steve Shaw said: "This guy doesn’t know about the children’s home lives and situations. Why did he need to say this? Who is he to deliver this news?"

Revd Keene told the Comet that he was "taken by surprise" by some of the reactions of parents.

"As the event to that point had included songs and readings about a range of characters, including Father Christmas and the sleigh, the Grinch and Jesus Christ, I did note that discernment had to be exercised and that some of these are real and others are not," he said.

"At the time, this proved a point of amusement for the children rather than one of upset.

"The topic of the reflection was aimed at a secondary school audience and would not be the same for a primary or pre-primary one.

"I will approach the topic differently in the future, as well as apologising for any undue upset inadvertently caused – this was by no means my intent."

Barclay Academy said it was unaware of Revd Keene's intended revelation ahead of the concert, with staff "just as shocked" as parents. 

"We understand the problems and stress this may have caused," the school said, adding that it will contact the church to ensure it does not happen at next year's carol concert.