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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

English schools given “impartiality guidance” on racism and British Empire following Partygate kids row

Following a row over primary-age children writing letters calling Boris Johnson to resign, new guidance has been brought in that instructs teachers to talk about political issues “impartially.”

New guidance to support teachers in tackling sensitive issues in the classroom in a politically impartial way has been published by the Government today.

The advice comes after a row over primary-age children being asked to write letters about the Partygate scandal emerged.

Last week, the education minister, Nadhim Zahawi, slammed a primary school in Nottingham accused of encouraging its Year 6 pupils into writing overly critical letters on Boris Johnson calling for him to resign. He said schools should not be encouraging pupils to “pin their colours to a political mast.”

where teachers present controversial political views in a lesson, they must offer a balanced overview of opposing views.

The new 34-page guidance aims to help teachers cover complex topics, such as the history of the British Empire or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without “pushing one political view over another”.

Talking about political or social issues within schools have not been taken off the table, but where teachers present controversial political views in a lesson, they must offer a balanced overview of opposing views.

However, the promotion of partisan political views in schools is already unlawful under the 1996 Education Act.

The guidance contains no new statutory requirements and is based on existing legal duties. It avoids defining “political issues,” stating that ethical debates are not political issues if they are “shared principles that underpin our society,” such as freedom of speech or challenging racism.

School leaders and teachers, instead, are told to use “reasonable judgment to determine what is and is not a ‘political issue’”.

The Government says: “The new political impartiality in schools’ guidance will help teachers and schools navigate issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the legacy of the British Empire or societal responses to racism in accordance with the law, which states that teachers must not promote partisan political views and should offer a balanced overview of opposing views when political issues are taught”.

The guidance applies to all schools including academies.

In cases where parents or carers have concerns about teaching of politically contentious issues, the guidance will provide a reference point for discussions with headteachers, helping resolve issues more quickly and easily.

The guidance applies to all schools, including academies and independent schools, but not early years settings, 16 to 19 academies, further education colleges or universities.

One example the Government gives is on climate change. It says: “Teaching about climate change and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, would not constitute teaching about a political issue.

“Schools do not need to present misinformation, such as unsubstantiated claims that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring, to provide balance here.

“However, where teaching covers the potential solutions for tackling climate change, this may constitute a political issue. Different groups, including political parties and campaign groups, may have partisan political views on the best way to address climate change.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I know one of the reasons many teachers feel so enthusiastic about the profession is the remarkable role they play in young people’s lives, helping them understand more about themselves and their views of the world.

The new guidance was brought in by the education minister, Nadhim Zahawi. Image: Trevor Phillips on Sunday.

“I don’t want there to be any barriers – real or perceived – to teachers’ vital work in this space, which is why I am reinforcing that no subject is off-limits in the classroom, as long as it is treated in an age-appropriate way, with sensitivity and respect, and without promoting contested theories as fact.

“Clearer guidance on political impartiality is just one part of my wider work to give children the best possible education as the government continues to prioritise skills, schools and families, to enable young people to reach the full height of their potential.”

Chief Executive of Star Academies, which oversees seven schools in Bradford, Sir Hamid Patel CBE said: “Schools play a crucial role in equipping pupils with the skills and knowledge to debate topical issues in an informed way.

“This guidance provides helpful clarification on securing impartiality, with examples that will support teachers in their decision making about the curriculum and its delivery.”

Do you welcome the new guidance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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