UK Government Tells Schools To Avoid Bias
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UK Government Tells Schools To Avoid Bias

Ellen Knight February 21, 2022

New guidance by the UK government has been issued to schools in England to assist in teaching complex, controversial topics such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of the British Empire while remaining impartial.

The new ‘Political Impartiality in Schools guidance’, recently published by the Department for Education, draws a line between topics that might be covered in lessons – like race and colonialism – and promotion of campaign groups, such as Black Lives Matter. Urging teachers not to offer their own political views in class, the guidance requests that schools ‘think carefully’ when planning lesson content. Under the 1996 Education Act, the promotion of partisan political views is unlawful. If teachers present ‘controversial’ political views as part of a lesson, they are required to make reference to opposing opinions as well.  

It also asks schools to resolve concerns raised by parents who believe their children are being ‘exposed’ to biased political opinions. This is the first time the government has become involved in guidance like this. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told the BBC that this creates ‘new layers of mystification and complexity’ risking schools shying away from engaging with political issues.

‘Encouraged to express their thoughts’

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi stated that ‘no subject should be off limits, but teaching must be impartial’. This comes not long after controversy raised at a Nottingham primary school, where a Year 6 class were encouraged to write to their local MP sharing their views on the ongoing ‘Partygate’ after watching a BBC Newsround episode on the subject. Many of the letters were critical of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.

Conservative MP Tom Randall suggested in Parliament that the children were ‘taught allegations as fact’. However, the school’s headteacher maintained that the students had been ‘encouraged to express their thoughts.’

Philip Owen, a Conservative councillor on Nottinghamshire County Council stated that he was ‘appalled’, stating that he was ‘sick and tired of left-wing teachers trying to indoctrinate young people in schools […] It’s time it [is] stopped.’

However, Labour councillor Jim Creamer pointed out: ‘They are not teaching left-wing or right-wing politics. They are asking what they thought of their politicians both local and national.

‘If you don’t like the opinions of the children, who have got every right to those opinions, then we need to change our behaviour.’

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Ellen is a freelance journalist studying MA Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University. Her work has appeared in publications such as Teen Vogue and Al Jazeera, and tends to focus on politics and current affairs. Her involvement in student radio station Burn FM lead to an interview she conducted winning Student Radio Moment of the Year in 2022. She has been writing for Freshered since February 2022. You can follow her on Twitter @ellenmjknight