Teachers should not be “campaigners” on contested issues, the Ofsted chief inspector will say today, urging staff to maintain their “own impartiality” while guiding pupils through “disputed territory”.
Speaking at the Festival of Education this morning, Amanda Spielman will warn that children are “growing up in an online world that both reflects and fuels the atomisation and polarisation of society”.
People “exist in self-sustaining echo chambers that encourage conflict, rather than discussion”, she will add.
Her comments come after the government published new political impartiality guidance. The non-statutory guidance gives tips on how to teach about issues such as climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement and the British empire.
Spielman will describe the guidance as “detailed and helpful”, which “helps schools understand what the boundaries are, what they shouldn’t do, as well as what they should”.
The guidance “reminds us that impartiality isn’t just about keeping one’s own politics out of the classroom; it’s about providing balance”, but makes clear that “doesn’t mean being neutral on every issue, just because contrary opinions exist on the fringes”.
For example, teachers should teach that “racism is both wrong and illegal; and that climate change is supported by evidence”.
“What balance does demand is being a teacher not a campaigner where matters are contested. And that is very often the case when discussion moves from the problem to the solution.
Social media presents ‘challenge’ for teachers
“Even when there is consensus on a desirable social or economic goal, there are nearly always competing solutions, often hotly advocated. A teacher’s impartiality truly helps young people.”
She will acknowledge that dealing with problems caused by social media was a “challenge for teachers”, but also a “great opportunity to tackle misinformation head-on and make children more savvy about the content they come across”.
“And the more knowledge children possess, the easier it is for them to spot what’s real and what’s fake, and to question sources of information.”
It comes amid pressure on the government to make schools share contentious teaching resources with parents.
Baroness Morris, a former education secretary, is also seeking to amend the government’s schools bill to give parents the right to “view all curriculum materials used in schools, including those provided by external third-party charitable and commercial providers”.
It follows a complaint from a parent of a pupil at Haberdashers’ Hatcham College in south-east London that their request to see teaching materials was refused.