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Volume 52 Number 3, February 20, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Concerns over Tendentious "Guidance":

Government Guidance on Political Impartiality in Schools

On February 17, the government published its "Guidance" on "Political Impartiality in Schools". According to the Department for Education, this "Guidance" is designed "to explain the existing legal requirements relating to political impartiality in school", but it begs questions as to why schools need to be reminded of these requirements, and whether the guidance itself is indeed impartial. It further raises the wider question of the aim of education in schools as a whole, the bringing out of the ability of pupils to apprehend reality, not to mention the nature of the education that the formulators of this government guidance themselves received that leads them to such concerns.

The comment from the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, that schools "should continue to reinforce important shared principles that underpin of society", gives some indication of the government's preoccupations. It is evident that the government is concerned that the entire political system and its values its coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism by young people as well as more widely. Increasingly, it is evident that the cartel parties are out of step with the thinking of the majority in society on such matters as opposition to racism and defending the rights of all, as well as matters relating to the natural and social environment more generally. Recent events such as the acquittal of those who were involved in removing the stature of the notorious human trafficker in Bristol, as well broader demands for an end to the public glorification of other such criminals, have shown that the government's stand as to what consitutes impartiality are themselves partial. This has no doubt also contributed to the current "Guidance". A moot point is why the government thinks such "guidance" is necessary, what aims it is serving, on top of what presently exists in schools.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that the government's intervention "does not so much clarify existing guidance as add new layers of mystification and complexity to it" for teachers and schools. She added, "This could induce such a level of uncertainty and caution in schools about 'political issues' that they are less likely to engage with them'." Her conclusion is: "The warning lights that the government is flashing around climate change, racism, world poverty and the legacy of empire as topics of exploration are more likely to decrease students' engagement with learning than to stimulate it."

The numerous "scenarios" provided in the government document certainly appear to be designed to create confusion and obscure issues. Scenario B for examples presents important issues in the following manner: "When teaching about an ongoing humanitarian crisis and whether the UK should intervene militarily, teachers may just outline broad arguments in favour and against this option. Teachers are not required to teach about every possible resolution to the crisis that has ever been proposed or considered. They should however avoid presenting only various versions of arguments in favour of (or various arguments against) military intervention, instead of exploring themore significant fundamental difference in opinion on the issue."

Such a presentation of the issue completely excludes discussion on whether such "humanitarian intervention" is indeed "humanitarian", and the concerns of many that under such high-flown phrases egregious breaches of the UN Charter are taking place. The talk of "various versions of arguments" pro or con, that there are "significant fundamental difference(s) of opinion" appears to be leading teachers to draw back from encouraging pupils to investigate, discover the reality of the situation. It appears to suggest that pupils can never go beyond the conception that, as is sometimes said, there are two sides to every argument. To raise this in connection with the issue of whether Britain "should intervene militarily" can only be said to be thoroughly self-serving on the part of the ruling elite who want to justify aggression and force, while, it must be said, claiming that other powers are the source of aggression and war.

Might it not be important for teachers to explain that the concept of "humanitarian intervention" was largely developed by a former British government, that of the Labour Party under Tony Blair, in order to justify the invasion of Iraq? Teachers might reasonably be expected to explain to students that such "humanitarian intervention" has mainly been undertaken by British governments alongside NATO allies and is a concept that has been utilised to justify military intervention in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. Teachers might add that in addition to the extremely dubious legality of this justification for military intervention, such intervention has been opposed by the majority of people in Britain, on occasions by millions of people demonstrating their opposition throughout the country. Teachers might also explain that successive governments have ignored such popular opposition and that it has generally been proven that the claims made by governments as the basis for such military intervention have proved to be false. Simply teaching that there are pros and cons of military intervention in a particular case can be clearly seen as an attempt to prevent understanding of the historical context in which this justification has arisen, as the role of former governments, and obscures the global opposition to such military intervention as well as the need to settle such issues without the use of force.

The government's "Guidance" reiterates the legal requirement of schools not to promote "partisan political views", although it could be argued that the government's intervention is precisely to promote such views and could not be more partisan. Moreover, very seriously, it appears to have been presented without any prior discussion with the professionals who are responsible for teaching in schools, nor more widely. It cannot be forgotten that the government and the other political parties promote their partisan political views through the mainstream media and numerous other ways. Teachers, students, parents and all democratic people should take a stand in opposition to such blatant attempts to promote such view in schools. It is a matter of conscience.


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