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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

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That legislation is still in force. Being from the same era as him, I too recall the debates that took place at that time.

The Government have actively supported teachers in developing their school curriculums beyond the national curriculum. Most relevant to this debate is the Government’s educate against hate website, which hosts resources for schools to support the promotion of democracy, including those on media literacy. Between September and November 2019, the website was visited over 80,000 times.

Schools do many other things across the curriculum to ensure that pupils are equipped to question and challenge what they read, watch and listen to. An online piece written by the headteacher of Passmores Academy in Harlow on the topic of fake news comments on how vital it is to teach young people to check their own facts. The head of English at that school organised activities including students learning the truth behind the scaling of maps in geography, how propaganda has been used throughout history, diet myths, the manipulation of statistics, and the role of computer-generated imagery in the creation of fake news. Additionally, media bias was debated, leading to extended pieces of writing being produced on the subject.

Online safety is an important component of the new relationships, sex and health education. From September 2020 it will be mandatory for schools to teach those subjects. They are about empowering pupils with the knowledge that will support their current and future relationships and health, enabling them to become active and positive members of society. Pupils will be taught about online relationships, the implications of sharing private or personal data online, harmful content and contact, cyber-bullying and where to get help and support.

In Ofsted’s new inspection framework, the personal development judgment focuses on the development of pupils’ character, their confidence, resilience, independence and knowledge. It includes matters such as pupils’ ability to recognise and respond to online and offline risks to their wellbeing.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil for securing this debate. He has raised important concerns, shared by other hon. Members, as we have heard. I hope that he is reassured that there is legislation and support for schools in place, to mitigate the threat of political bias in our school system and to help young people be resilient to the concept of fake news.