General Election 2024: what are teachers allowed to do?

With a General Election being held in July 2024, the topic of politics will hotly be debated by pupils and teachers in schools across the country.

At Edapt, we are the apolitical alternative to the traditional teaching unions supporting thousands of school staff in England and Wales. 

In this article, we look at official guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) on political impartiality in schools with practical examples of how teachers can discuss the General Election and wider political issues in the classroom.

As former teachers and school leaders we know how pupils can often put you on the spot when asking about current events and your opinions. This article looks at how you can practically navigate this with a range of frequently asked questions. 

Generally a ‘common sense’ approach prevails here but we go into further details and provide scenarios below.

The DfE has published the following guidance which we will be referring to:

You might also find the following support articles useful to look at which we have already published:

If a pupil asks who am I voting for, can I tell them?

The DfE explains that there is no blanket prohibition on teachers and staff expressing their own views on political issues that are being taught to pupils. 

However, there is a risk that doing so could sometimes amount to promoting a partisan political view or compromise the balanced presentation of opposing views. 

Teachers and staff are in a position of authority and will typically be respected and trusted by the pupils they teach, giving their personal opinions greater weight and credibility.

As a general principle, teachers should avoid expressing their own personal political views to pupils unless they are confident this will not amount to promoting that view to pupils.

Where staff do share their personal political views, they should ensure that this is not presented as fact and note that there are opposing views which pupils may wish to consider.

School leaders and employers will need to judge whether it is necessary or helpful to have a school wide policy on teachers expressing personal opinions on political issues in the classroom, or whether this is best left to teachers’ own judgement on a case-by-case basis.

What does partisan political views actually mean?

The Encyclopedia Britannica explains partisanship, in democratic politics, is a strong adherence, dedication, or loyalty to a political party, or to an ideology or agenda associated with a political party – usually accompanied by a negative view of an opposing party.

The Merriam Webster dictionary’s definition is a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause or person. Especially: one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance.

The DfE explains that in relevant case law – Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education and Skills [2007] – the court considered that the best synonym for the term ‘partisan’ is ‘one-sided’ and suggested that ‘political views’ are those expressed with a political purpose, such as to further the interests of a particular partisan group, change the law or change government policy. This could be on a wide range of matters such as economic and social issues at a local, national, or international level.

Schools should be aware that ‘partisan political views’ are not limited to just political parties. They may also be held by campaign groups, lobbyists and charitable organisations.

What does the law say on political impartiality?

The DfE explains, existing statutory requirements on political impartiality cover all schools, regardless of type or funding arrangement. This includes independent schools.

These legal duties mean schools:

  • must prohibit the promotion of partisan political views
  • should take steps to ensure the balanced presentation of opposing views on political issues when they are brought to the attention of pupils

For maintained schools, these legal duties are set out in Section 406 and Section 407 of the Education Act 1996. Most academies will also have a specific clause in their funding agreement which requires adherence to the same provisions.

For independent schools, the legal duties are set out in Part 2 of the Schedule to the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014. These requirements also apply to academies.

How to achieve the right balance when discussing politics?

The DfE’s guidance explains teachers and staff should interpret schools’ legal duties relating to balance, using their reasonable judgement. They should not take a mechanistic approach to ensuring a balanced presentation of opposing views.

It is preferable, where practical, to present pupils with a reasonable range of views on a political issue in the interest of balance and effective teaching. This means at least two significantly different perspectives, rather than several views that are only marginally different.

General Election 2024 scenario

Pupils might be taught about an upcoming General Election and key policies in political parties’ manifestos. This teaching might cover different partisan political views on specific plans and policies.

Teachers can explore how claims made by supporters and opponents of the policies are supported by evidence, including in economic theory, academic studies, and other sources.

Teachers should not draw pupils to a single conclusion but should correct factual inaccuracies in pupils’ understanding. This support can help pupils to form their own reasoned views on the issue, based on the available evidence.

Legal duties on political impartiality should not impede methods of teaching that involve pupils adopting and arguing in favour, or against, partisan political views, such as mock and parallel elections or debates, hustings events or visits from local candidates or political party representatives. Teachers should seek to manage these activities to ensure that all pupils receive a balanced account of the political issues being covered.

Can school staff engage in political activity outside school?

The DfE explains that school staff are free to engage in political activity, provided this is outside the school in their own time and at their own expense.

Schools should be conscious of the fact that in some instances staff behaviour outside school may become visible to pupils, particularly when social media is used. 

Most schools will already have policies and advice in place to protect staff and pupils from these risks, and it is important these are applied with sensitivity to political activity.

Are political posters or leaflets allowed to be displayed in schools?

The DfE explains schools should consider their requirements on political impartiality in public displays, such as banners and posters in public view and other communications.

Restrictions on political activity also apply to the use of school information and communication technology (ICT) facilities. You should not use school ICT facilities for the distribution of political material, including that produced by third parties, either within the area of the school site or beyond.

Can schools take part in General Election activities with pupils?

The DfE explains that  any restriction should not be seen as preventing schools and teachers from using the pre-election period to raise pupils’ awareness and understanding of the political process.

Activities could include hustings events and visits by local candidates or political party representatives. Schools are also able to run events such as mock elections involving pupils and overseen by school staff. We have linked to a range of resources below in further reading.

Schools should be mindful to avoid activity within the school that could be construed as promoting a particular partisan political view and should take reasonable steps to ensure pupils are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views as part of these activities.

What do schools need to consider when inviting in MPs or local political figures?

The DfE explains during periods of heightened political activity and sensitivity, including around elections, staff should be mindful to avoid activity within the school that could be construed as promoting a particular partisan view.

General Election 2024: example scenario

Schools might invite local political figures, including MPs, councillors, or former pupils involved in politics, to talk to pupils for the General Election 2024. This can be an effective way of engaging pupils’ and building their understanding of democracy. There is no reason this should undermine requirements on political impartiality, where organised appropriately.

In certain contexts, such as in the run-up to elections, schools should be mindful of the risk and need to take reasonable steps to ensure that pupils are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.

Failing to teach pupils about different views, either by inviting a range of external speakers or by simply teaching about other candidates and political parties, might be interpreted as promoting a particular partisan political view.

What should I do if I have a concern about political impartiality in school?

The DfE explains where there are concerns about political impartiality at a school, it recommends these are raised in this manner as most issues will be able to be resolved without using formal complaints procedures.

Often simple steps can be taken to address concerns. This might include clarification about the nature of teaching or assurances about any processes in place to ensure legal duties on political impartiality are being met.

Where parents and carers remain dissatisfied, they can raise a formal complaint, in line with the school’s complaints procedure.

Can my pupils take part in political activities?

The DfE explains for maintained schools, there is a direct prohibition on the pursuit of partisan political activity by ‘junior’ pupils (meaning those under the age of 12) within the school and in any activities outside school involving staff members or anyone acting on behalf of the school.

Although not explicitly prohibited in the Independent Schools Standards, it is unlikely it would ever be appropriate for pupils of this age to engage in political activity at any school. Given their developmental stage, this would typically be seen as a school promoting partisan political views, in breach of legal duties which apply to all schools.

For older pupils in later secondary year groups, who may have more developed opinions and a greater awareness of current affairs, there may be a desire to partake in pupil-led political activity.

Interest and engagement with political issues should be encouraged. Schools can help pupils to set up their own networks or clubs to focus on political issues, where they are deemed appropriate. Schools may wish to develop criteria or a policy to support these judgements and ensure they are consistent.

It may be helpful for teachers and staff to play an active role in supporting pupils to understand the political issues they are interested in, as well as ways they can make a difference and be more actively involved in political action. However, it is never appropriate for teachers and staff to promote their own partisan political views to pupils or encourage them to engage in specific political activity or join specific partisan groups.

Will Ofsted inspections continue during this period?

Yes, Ofsted will continue inspecting schools as normal. For general elections only, Ofsted will not publish research and thematic reports which comment on government policy.

Am I allowed to leave school to vote?

Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on the day of an election. So, in the vast majority of cases you should be able to vote outside of your working hours in school. You will need to register by 18 June 2024 to vote in the election. If you want to apply for a postal vote online, you must apply by 5pm on 19 June 2024.

General Election 2024: further questions

If you are an Edapt subscriber (or interested in an Edapt subscription) and have questions about this topic, get in touch with our expert casework team who will be able to answer your queries.

General Election 2024: Further reading and resources

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