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Political Neutrality in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:59 am on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil 10:59 am, 10th March 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered political neutrality in schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I should declare some interests in this topic. I have two children of primary school age and my wife teaches. Clearly, I am also a Member of Parliament, and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on education. The APPG plans to do some work on the mental health and wellbeing of our children in the classroom, which I will come to later.

We are fortunate in Somerset to have brilliant schools and teachers, and measures to level up funding for rural schools are welcome. As elsewhere, we need to ensure that support for special educational needs makes a difference for the children involved—that is something else I would like the APPG to focus on—but in general we have dedicated and highly professional teachers and support staff in our part of the country.

I did not seek the debate to suggest that classrooms are a hotbed of radicalisation. However, I have been approached by concerned parents—I am sure I am not the only Member in that position—about incidents, in the run-up to December’s general election and at other times, that I am told included the airing of strong and aggressive political views.

The issue received attention in the national press just before Christmas, when the musician Stormzy was criticised for telling a primary school class of seven-year-olds that the Prime Minister is “a bad, bad man” and, like the big bad wolf, would blow their houses down. That was not the first time Stormzy had attracted controversy. Given his previous homophobic rants on social media and the language and themes of his music, it is not unreasonable to question whether he was an appropriate guest at a primary school in the first place.

Stormzy—or Michael, to use his real name—has well-known political views. Most of us will have seen him getting the well-heeled crowd at Glastonbury hot under the collar with his support for Jeremy Corbyn, but those views do not belong in a primary school. I would say the same if he had a strong anti-Labour message; this issue is not about political parties, but about the abuse of a position of influence.

In the last few years we have seen a coarsening of our political debate. In too many cases, reasoned debate has given way to name calling and abuse. Politicians are thick skinned, and we are increasingly used to people firing abuse at us from the comfort of their own homes. Our young children, however, will not understand that, and they should not be asked to.