Political views and discussions in the classroom.


At the current time there is lots on the political horizon in which teachers may wish to engage pupils’ interest. We have a General Election coming into view, analysis of the budget taking place, industrial action in education being raised and on top of that, Local Elections. There is lots of scope for well rounded, informative and educational debate. So, political views and discussions in the classroom: Is it as simple as just closing down the conversations and questions that pupils pose?

Isn’t that just the safest thing to do?  How do you avoid crossing a line?

What do Government say?

In February 2022 the Government issued some guidance designed for schools. “What you need to know about political impartiality in schools”.

Key areas it discusses are:

  • The importance of integrating political issues in a broad and balanced curriculum;
  • What the law says. This focuses on not promoting partisan political views and ensuring balance of presentation when issues are brought to pupils attention;
  • Teaching about Political issues: Plan for balance, think about ‘age appropriate’, review materials and their sources to avoid bias;
  • External Agencies: Ensure there is no promotion of particular views and be clear on these expectations. In particular, avoid guests airing extreme political positions.

The guidance concludes with “You can discuss political issues with pupils, and their interest and engagement in these should be encouraged. However, you should not promote partisan political views to them, or encourage them to participate in specific political activity, including protests”.

What happens if I get this wrong?

Pupils ask good questions, they pose interesting points. Equally, they will forcefully and (often) articulately express their point of view, which staff then need to be able to manage in a classroom. In the moment it is all too easy to unwittingly give the impression you have agreed or disagreed with animated points made by pupils. You may appear to be disagreeing with them and just closing them down when you are simply pulling them back to the rules of respectful debate. Managing this is trickier to handle than debating ‘whether you can divide by zero’ with year 9 on friday afternoon where you end up drawing an asymptotic graph on the board. We’ve all been there…

Clearly, if a suggestion is made that staff have overstepped the mark and this comes to the attention of the school, there may be a process the school wishes to follow. Our Knowledge Base Article on “Can I Face Disciplinary Action For Expressing My Political Views?” may guide you to the possible chain of events. Not every alleged contravention ends up in a disciplinary; balance and context should form part of any decision making process along with a review of any materials or resources used. Keep an account of what you said, why you said it and what the context around it was. If you were asked to run debate in form time, for example,on the key aspects of the budget, clearly the context here may be very different to a tangential debate sparked out of a teaching activity.

What if I sense extremist views?

Clearly the safeguarding of pupils is everyone’s job. Read Keeping Children Safe in Education

Understanding these obligations, alongside those of the Prevent duty, are designed to protect and plan appropriate interventions. If staff meet views that could be construed as extremist then the school will have put steps in place to support you follow the right procedures. Do not ignore the signs.

Managing the debate.

It is very likely staff in schools will, either via their subject content or via pastoral/tutor roles, be asked to manage potentially contentious debate.

The tricky thing is that it is more than probable you will have a view, one way or the other. You are a role model, pupils listen to what you say and are influenced by it, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Your role is to manage the pupils’ wider education in these moments, you are engendering the ability to form a view and support arguments in structured, respectful debate.

You can manage the room, allow fair access for voices, facilitate thought provoking moments and use your more developed knowledge to inform the debate. Avoid adding your opinion, view and standpoint.

When dealing with political views and discussions in the classroom you may choose to close these down or take a teaching opportunity. So, as the General Election comes and goes and talk of Industrial Action gathers more media attention enjoy the opportunity to mould inquisitive minds. Just don’t get drawn into being part of the debate. Run the debate, inform your pupils, correct misconceptions…all without expressing a view.

Political views and discussions in the classroom. Whether you choose a planned, resourced and prepared activity or simply have an off the cuff moment, take a considered and informed view on how to avoid becoming the story.



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