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Schools in England banned from using extreme political resources

30th Oct 2020
Schools in England banned from using extreme political resources

(Photo credit:Pxfuel CC)

Hamed Chapman

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government has banned schools in England from using resources produced by organisations deemed to take “extreme political stances on matters” even “if the material itself is not extreme.”

New guidance issued by the Department for Education lists examples of so-called extreme political stances as including thought not limited to “a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections” and those in “opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly or freedom of religion and conscience.”

Other examples specifically listed are “the use or endorsement of racist, including antisemitic, language or communications, the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity (and) a failure to condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people or property.”

When deciding if a resource is suitable, teachers have also been told to consider if it “aligns to the teaching requirements set out in the statutory guidance” and is “evidence-based and contains robust facts and statistics” as well as several other aspects like it being age-appropriate and fits within curriculum plans.

The guidelines, issued initially for the implementation of the new controversial statutory curriculum regarding RHSE (Relationships, Sex and Health Education), reflects the Government’s much-discredited approach underlying the entire political counter-extremism project.

Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb, said that materials should give schools the “confidence to construct a curriculum that reflects the diversity of views and backgrounds, whilst fostering all pupils’ respect for others, understanding of healthy relationships, and ability to look after their well-being.”

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has also subsequently stressed the need for teachers to be politically neutral in the classroom, following the publication of controversial new guidance warning schools again not to use resources produced by organisations with “extreme political stances.”

“Political impartiality in our education system is an incredibly important principle to uphold,” Williamson said during his party’s annual conference. “It’s not just a matter of opinion; it’s also a matter of law. It’s important we give pupils the context in order for them to be able to learn and form their own opinions. They should not be influenced in an improper way.”

But coming in the wake of an alarming increase in the number of Covid-19 cases connected with the reopening of campuses in the UK, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College, said that it was increasingly clear that schools have effectively found themselves on the frontline and were now “being forced to serve as agents of the state, deployed to censor the very political ideologies that would point to a collective way out.”

More directly, former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has criticised the new measures on the basis it will be “illegal to refer to large tracts of British history and politics including the history of British socialism, the Labour Party and trade unionism, all of which have at different times advocated the abolition of capitalism.”

“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace,” McDonnell warned.

Mary Bousted, the Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said the RHSE guidance is “dog-whistle politics and in issuing it Gavin Williamson has thrown a bone to the right of his party.” But she argued her union was “not going to be distracted from holding this Government to account for their lack of competence.”

Former President of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, also focused upon the counter-extremism policy as targeting anti-capitalism in the new guidance, saying that the Government was “aiming to protect its own power” by attempting to “stifle educational debate on alternatives to the country’s unjust economic system.”

“The British Government’s recent move towards outlawing anti-capitalist ideas in schools, under the rubric of anti-extremism, is the latest in a long list of attacks on civil liberties and political rights,” she said.Bouattia, the first Black British female and Muslim leader of the NUS, warned that the state is “defining the limits of acceptable political discourse from above, in hopes of limiting the political responses to the social ills that plague our society.”

“Many of us — including many NEU (National Education Union) activists — argued that a failure to challenge the state’s counter-extremism agenda when it targeted primarily Muslims would lead to a greater assault on civil liberties across the board. It is a bitter experience to be proven right.”

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