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Political Neutrality in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:10 am on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 11:10 am, 10th March 2020

It is a pleasure to debate yet again under your careful and, if I may say so, unbiased stewardship, Mr Gray. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Fysh for raising this important issue and the excellent way in which he opened the debate. He is right to warn about the coarsening of political debate in the country, which concerns many of us in this House. He is also right that young people should be encouraged to be passionate but not coercive in political debate and how they engage in it.

One of the most important principles that we want to uphold in education is political neutrality, in relation to both the knowledge taught through the school curriculum and the professional conduct of teachers in how they support pupils in and out of the classroom. Political education is an important part of a broad and balanced education that prepares young people for adult life, and we want young people to be informed and engaged citizens. To ensure that they receive such an education in an unbiased way, all state-funded schools must meet duties regarding impartiality and balanced treatment of political issues in the classroom.

As my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis correctly said, that is provided for in legislation. Section 406 of the Education Act 1996 requires teachers to provide a balanced political view in relation to the direct teaching of pupils by forbidding

“the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject”.

Teachers may express their personal views, which can sometimes be useful in prompting debate and discussion within the classroom, but in doing so they must have regard to the teacher standards governing professional competence and conduct to ensure that they show tolerance of and respect for the rights and views of others.