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School for Scheming

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When a school is used as the cover for an elaborate plot-centric scheme, usually by a Big Bad or Mad Scientist. This is popular in horror or science fiction, where the story will centre on aliens, witchcraft or other supernatural activity secretly taking place at the school. Often involves brainwashing or forced servitude of the students, or illicit scientific testing being conducted on the students. Spoilers follow, as the True Purpose of the schools is often not known until The Reveal.

The benevolent (mostly) version of this is an Extranormal Institute. Different from Boarding School of Horrors, because it's not a question of the facilities being bad or the teachers or other students being mean — usually everything is outwardly quite nice, because it makes a better contrast with the Terrible Lurking Secret. Do not confuse with a school that teaches you how to scheme, or a school that teaches you Scheme.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Variant: In Death Note, Wammy's Orphanage for genius children really exists in order to find a successor to L. Interestingly, it appears to have started off as a regular orphanage, until L came along and won Watari's which point, the focus switched to finding a successor to L.
  • Monster does the opposite: the Kinderheim 511 orphanage really exists in order to create a heartless monster to become the next Hitler. They're almost all killed when they find Johan, a kid who is exactly what they want, and he leaves pretty much everyone dead.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. Duel Academia is basically a giant roach motel for Cosmic Horrors, training kids to fight said horrors in the process.
  • Mugen Gakuen (Infinity College) in Sailor Moon S acts as a front for activities of the Death Busters, aliens from Tau Ceti who possess human bodies and seek to summon Master Pharaoh 90 to end the world.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion reveals us during the later parts of the series that every single person in Shinji's class is a pilot candidate. It does make sense to collect all of them into one school as said school is located in the same city which the Starfish Aliens are attacking and which houses the Humongous Mecha to fight said aliens. It even makes more sense when it's revealed that the Marduk Institute that selects pilots is a front for NERV itself who can quickly forge the necessary papers, thereby calling up new pilots on their discretion. Just watch episode 18: Unit 03 is completed and is about to be shipped to Japan. Cue NERV approaching Touji, using his sister being transferred to a better hospital as leverage.
  • Hatsukanezumi no Jikan, or Hour of the Mice, takes place in a boarding school where the students are being experimented on.
  • Afterschool Charisma features a school for clones of famous historical figures; there's lots of plotting going on around them, including the clones being implied to be killed if they don't display the talent of their originals. After all, they're disposable; the scientists can always make another one.
  • Hakoniwa Academy from Medaka Box, is eventually revealed to be the public staging ground for perfecting superhumans and applying their abilities to all humanity. The chairman reflects on this as the fulfillment of the purpose of all schools: to allow their students to better themselves and advance their abilities. Of course, most schools don't implement it in such Nietzchian terms. And the whole forcing the eventual results on their student population and high death toll, which makes the Academy this trope.
  • Fuuka Gakuen in My-HiME pretty much exists for the sole purpose of reassembling all the Himes in the same place to facilitate the advent of the Carnival.
  • The Purgatorium Remedy Academy in Psycome, is said to be an academy where murderers are rehabilitated to become a better part of society. In truth however, it is actually a training ground for professional killers where killing courses start in the student's second year.

    Comic Books 
  • Done in one of the Aspen comic books. It's an odd cross between Corporate Assassination and Geisha-like training. Seriously.
  • The overarching plot of Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. revolves around Courtney's high school being the cover for the base of the Dragon King, a 40s supervillain. This includes a supervillain art teacher, kidnapped students turned into brainwashed ninjas, and Courtney nearly getting her brain transferred into a giant mosquito due to her cheating on an IQ test.

    Fan Works 
  • In Red Witch's Galaxy Rangers fanfic, Miss Abercrombie's "Charm School" turns out to be an elite academy for spies and secret agents from Earth's wealthiest and well-placed families.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Kekko Kamen: "Satan's School for Girls". Seriously who would send their daughter to a school with Satan in its name?
  • The 1977 and 2018 versions of Suspiria are both about a dance school in Germany that is secretly a cover for a coven of witches.
  • The Faculty is about a high school in Everytown, America being infiltrated by parasitic aliens who proceed to infect first the faculty, then the student body one at a time. It's up to a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits to stop them.
  • Fright Night 2: New Blood: Gerri is a vampire who starts working as a history professor at an international school in Bucharest to get access to more victims.

  • The title character of The Demon Headmaster hypnotizes his students as part of his scheme to take over the world.
  • In the Spy High books, the characters attend a "school" that's really a training centre for young spies.
  • Battle School and Command School in Ender's Game. Although they're a bit more transparent and honest about their motives than usual.
  • Though technically Director Wolfe of Camp Solanas doesn't seem to have any nefarious purpose for the boy Nephilim in The Solomon Code series, she definitely is a malevolent force with little interest for the boys education.
  • Humorous example: In Regarding the Fountain, Dry Creek Middle School turns out to have been built on top of the local natural spring that is the source of the town's famous creek as part of a plot by a pair of Corrupt Corporate Executives to control the local water supply. The nefarious scheme is brought to light when the school drinking fountain needs replacing.
  • Hailsham, the British boarding school where the protagonists grow up Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go is really an experiment designed to prove that cloned children would grow up to be as intelligent and sensitive as regular people if raised in the right conditions. That wouldn't seem so bad, except the children get cannibalized for organ donations anyway.
  • Hampden College, the setting of The Secret History, isn't specifically for scheming—but there's enough of it going around all the same. Richard calls his classics lessons "Julian's private university," which certainly fits this trope.
  • The Gemma Doyle trilogy.
  • In Animorphs, the Yeerks, mind-controlling aliens that inhabit their hosts, use a Boys & Girls Club type organization named The Sharing to recruit. The Vice-Principal of the protagonists' school is infested, and the janitor's closet is an entryway to the aliens' feeding grounds.
  • In the Alex Rider series, Alex attends a corrective school for delinquent rich kids. All is normal until the "changed" students turn out to be genocidal clones of the Big Bad about to use their parent's resources for a new apartheid.
  • H.I.V.E: the Higher Institute for Villainous Education, is a more obvious one: the kids are told from the start that the aim is to produce Villains.
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, where a gang of pupils are secretly coached by Miss Brodie for her own purposes.
  • The Gallagher School for Girls in I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy is a training ground for young female spies and the girls are constantly being thrown into life-threatening situations as "tests".
  • Robert C. O'Brien's The Silver Crown has a secret school in it, which brain-washes/trains children as assassins, via the Heironymous Machine.
  • In Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, the exclusive school Blackwood (it's really really exclusive, it only has four students counting the main character) is really for the purpose of collecting kids with ESP so dead writers, artists, composers, scientists, and mathematicians can use them as vehicles to produce all the things they didn't get to when they were alive. This would be all fine and dandy—in fact, Ruth, the most intelligent of the girls, doesn't mind being used to write down mathematical theories—except that not only can people like Emily Bronte and Vermeer get through, but so can anyone else. Sandy ends up transcribing a terribly vulgar poem in French, and let's not even get into what Lynda paints. Also, Blackwood is not the first school Madame Duret opened; there was one in France and one in England. Of all the students at those schools, four killed themselves and the rest are mental hospitals. And Madame Duret keeps trying anyway.
  • In The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian F. Thompson, five kids are sent to an exclusive boarding school...whose administrators use the school as a cover to have select groups of students taken into the woods with a hitman hired by the kids' parents to kill them all.
  • The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened in The Mysterious Benedict Society, which due to some Fun with Acronyms and Sdrawkcab Alias becomes E.V.I.L. The main base of Mr. Curtain (in the first book, anyway) and therefore of all his schemes.
  • In Hex Hall, the All-Ghouls School is a cover for the Casnoffs' attempts to raise demons.
  • In Animas Conquest, Salva Academy seems to be a front for some sort of eugenics campaign - students who graduate at the top are invited to procreate with one another, and an on-campus research facility is manufacturing bizarre drugs that appear to alter the users' DNA (spontaneous hair/eye color change).
  • The "Mr Browser" series of children's novels begins with "Mr Browser and the Brain Sharpeners" in which aliens artificially enhance the intelligence of students at a school as part of a plot to Take Over the World.
  • Slytherin House at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry basically becomes a grooming platform for future Death Eaters once Voldemort comes to power. When the entire school is taken over by the corrupt Ministry of Magic in Deathly Hallows, it is bent to Voldemort's will. Students are taught the Dark Arts, Muggle Studies is made compulsory and taught with a bias against Muggles, and corporal punishment is put into use. However, all of this stops after the Voldemort is killed and the Second Wizarding War ends.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The new series of Doctor Who has a few episodes with this. In the episode "School Reunion", the school is secretly run by Krillitanes, who use the children to crack the "Skasis Paradigm", which gives total control of time and space. In "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky", Luke Rattigan runs a school for gifted teens, planning to repopulate a new world with geniuses after a Sontaran takeover of Earth.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: "Revenge of the Slitheen" has a plethora of schools worldwide being used, via new technology blocks, by the Slitheen in a revenge plot against humankind. They are attempting to use the technology in secret rooms hidden in each of these new buildings to switch off the sun.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? had an episode where two kids discover that their boarding school is run by monsters, who brainwash the students into taking care of alien eggs.
  • An episode of The Outer Limits (1995) involved a school where children of wealthy parents are brainwashed and controlled to create political weapons.
  • The Academy that River was sent to in Firefly, supposedly a school for the exceptionally gifted, but in reality a twisted government/corporate facility where she and others like her were subjected to horrific experiments and brainwashing in order to turn them into weapons. Luckily, Simon rescued her from it.
  • The Hardy Boys series on Hulu features Rosegrave Preparatory Academy, a prep school founded by George Estabrook, one of the three leaders of the Circle of the Eye, who also happens to be the Hardy Boys' great-grandfather. Frank and Callie are accepted by their competitive admissions program, but soon learn that the whole school is really just a front for a secret organization that runs Bridgeport from behind the scenes. They further discover in the second season that, back when George was still alive, Rosegrave experimented on some of the students there, one test of which left one victim in a vegetative state.
  • In Kamen Rider Fourze, Amanogawa High was ostensibly set up to encourage creativity in bright students and lead them towards an interest in space exploration. It's really a front for unleashing the power of the Horoscopes, using the kids for experiments with Switches, and eventually gathering all twelve fully-evolved Switches to open up a black hole that'd destroy Japan and allow the Big Bad to meet aliens and transcend humanity in the process.
  • In M.I. High, secret agency M.I.9 maintains a secret base under St. Hope's and employs three students as its top agents.
  • Goosebumps has The Perfect School episode. A school where trouble kids are sent, and they always return as perfect kids. It's hinted that brainwashing is taking place, but in fact, the kids are being cloned. The "perfect" clones are sent back home, while the original kids are locked up in the "Nursery".
  • In American Horror Story: Coven, Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies is this - originally an exclusive boarding school for girls that was used as a military base during the US Civil War, it was then taken over by the current generation's Supreme (the most powerful witch alive) and the school was used as a cover for the training of young witches.
  • An episode of Midsomer Murders revolved around a boarding school which had an exclusive student organization called the Pudding Club which was in fact the recruitment drive for a decades-old antiques smuggling group. The first murder was because a student discovered what was really going on and chose to leave and was killed in case he went public.
  • Mokryeon High in The School Nurse Files was built with the intention of harnessing the energy of the spirits in the pond under the school, hence the weird school rules.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Maladomini, one of the layers of The Nine Hells of Baator in 3.5e Dungeons & Dragons, there's a school for devils and other lawful evil beings seeking to become corrupters, complete with a training course doing mock-ups of Material Plane events.

    Video Games 
  • In Deus Ex: Invisible War, the Tarsus Academies where the player character begins are an arguably more benevolent example, but with a twist: training corporate spies and assassins is their cover story, but they are later revealed to be a front for a corporation called ApostleCorp to develop biomodification technology that will allow them to revive their leaders from stasis and bring about their utopian vision of a "Perfect Democracy". You can choose to side with them in one of the Multiple Endings.
  • In F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin, Wade Elementary is actually a cover to test drugs on the children in order to increase their psychic potential.
  • Genshin Impact has the Sumeru Akademiya, the most prestigious and renowned institution of higher-learning in all of Teyvat's seven nations. It's hinted at that something is amiss through Lisa Minci's backstory and reports of the stressful curriculum from frazzled Akademiya scholars the Traveler meets in Liyue and Inazuma, but only once arriving in Sumeru and trying to meet the Dendro Archon does the true horror reveal itself. The nifty high-tech Akasha Terminals given to all who enter Sumeru or reside there are actually capable of Mass Hypnosis by putting unwitting citizens and visitors alike in a Lotus-Eater Machine Hive Mind, and harvesting the dreams of the wearers so the Sages of the Akademiya can use the harvested memories for some nefarious purpose. All of the experiment's participants experience additional fatigue and headaches, while those with serious illnesses continue to degrade and decompensate while stuck in the Akademiya's Sabzeruz Festival Samsara, even to the point of death. One researcher remarks that they risk losing additional "subjects" but another urges the highly unethical and immoral experiment to press onwards because results are too valuable to lose.
  • Leafmore High School in ObsCure was founded as a way for Principal Herbert Friedman to get test subjects for his medical experiments. After an attempt to discover the secret of immortality went horribly wrong and turned his brother Leonard into a plant monster, Herbert founded Leafmore High as a cover for his experiments and to have a steady stream of test subjects, hoping to find a way to save Leonard.
  • Akademi High in Yandere Simulator. In addition to the lovesick serial killer running around, there are some questionable things going on: many of the students have some dark rumors floating around about them, any crimes on school grounds can't be investigated for more than six hours, and the Headmaster seems to have some shady connections to the Saikou Corporation.

    Visual Novels 
  • In ClockUp's Euphoria, this is used during the Lotus-Eater Machine.
  • Danganronpa, As over the top as the series may be, Hope's Peak Academy is outed as a rather realistic example, being horrifically corrupt and damaging to everyone involved. In the first game, Hope's Peak Academy was portrayed as a good and noble institution, where students lived together in harmony and got a quality education, before being perverted into something horrible by the machinations of Junko Enoshima. By the second game, Hope's Peak Academy is shown to have been actively defrauding hundreds of average-joe students of their parents' money through the Reserve Course just to keep financially afloat, was riddled with bullying and dysfunction that they swept under the rug to keep up their reputation, and used mad science and high tuition to create the infinitely talented but soulless transhuman nihilist Ultimate Hope, Izuru Kamukura. Junko only had to give it the least push to get it all to come crumbling down. Ultra Despair Girls more-or-less reveals that huge sections of the school, including the "Elementary" branch, were horribly abusive towards their students, with one kid's parents who were also teachers at the school treating him more like a lab rat than a son with the institution's apparent approval. Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School shows that the main course students don't even have to attend class, and are there to be studied rather than get an education.
  • In Double Homework, Dr. Mosely/Zeta is using the class as subjects in her sex experiment: Lauren, Morgan, Amy, and Rachel are four very different socially isolated girls, the protagonist is the alpha male who’s supposed to have sex with all of them, Dennis is the threatening beta male who’s supposed to drive all the girls into the protagonist’s arms, Johanna is there so the other girls will trust the protagonist more, and Ms. Walsh is the ineffectual authority figure who allows the protagonist to take a leadership role instead. Dennis derails the experiment with his prying, but Dr. Mosely/Zeta vows to run the experiment again somewhere else.

  • The psychic academy in the webcomic Zap!
  • While the title Gunnerkrigg Court is still simply a morally ambiguous Extranormal Institute, as more is revealed about Jeanne and the founders it seems to be going in this direction.

    Web Original 
  • Naturally, the Whateley Universe has one: the deVille Academy, a world-class education establishment where the meanest, nastiest, and sneakiest street urchins and gutter rats whom the proprietors can find get turned into master thieves, spies, torturers, and assassins. They have a rivalry with both Yama Dojo and the titular Superhero School Whateley Academy, but are much less pleasant about it than the Devil Dojo are; they tend to see the ninjas as insular and outdated, while they view the Whateley students as overblown buffoons who would be lost without their powers (with a fair amount of justification in both cases). However, their love of their own sneakiness was what allowed one of the training mission teams, who up to then had been leading everyone else around in circles, get outwitted themselves by Insufferable Genius Jobe Wilkins.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Clone High: The military wants to utilize the clones' inherent greatness to lead the Army, while Principal Scudworth wants them to be the main attraction for his theme park (Cloney Island, natch). Neither of these intentions seems to trickle down to the student populace.
  • Variation: In Recess: School's Out, the school is only used for a secret plot during summer vacation when no one is around. A mad scientist uses it to hide a tractor beam with which he plans to move the Moon in order to send North America into a state of perpetual winter. To improve the students' test scores. And thus be elected President. Or something. He was trying to abolish summer break.
  • In the American Dragon: Jake Long episode "A Befuddled Mind", Eli Pandarus fronted an academy for gifted children in the hopes that one of them could solve a magical puzzle box containing powerful magic.
  • The episode of Teen Titans that introduced Brother Blood to the series had Cyborg going undercover at the HIVE Academy (no relation to the one in the Literature section) as a villain-in-training named Stone. It's really not all that different from a regular high school (there's a Sadie Hawkins dance, regular lunchroom, etc). The only thing different is the subject matter. The HIVE and Brother Blood exist in comics, but the Church of Blood and the HIVE are totally separate organizations, and neither spent a great deal of time grooming new supervillains in a full on "Xavier School, but evil!" setting. By the way, HIVE stands for Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination.
  • Cool McCool attempts to track down his six major nemeses (The Owl, the Rattler, Jack In The Box, Professor Madcap and Greta "Green Lips" Ghoul, and Hurricane Harry) who have gathered to form a "College Of Crooks." Their initial assignment is to get rid of McCool.

Alternative Title(s): Evil School