Katie Hopkins is not a suitable speaker for schools

The ASCL recommendation that Katie Hopkins be allowed to speak in schools, as long as alternative views are presented, is dangerous and potentially misleading, says Bill Bolloten

Last month the journalist Katie Hopkins announced a series of school talks for 14 to 16-year-olds, which she has branded the “Stand Strong School Tour”.

Hopkins has a well-documented history of making comments that are not only offensive, but fit the Oxford Dictionary definition of hate speech: “Abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation”. Examples include:

– Calling migrants and refugees “cockroaches” and ‘”feral humans”.

– Saying she would use “gunships” against migrant boats.

– Tweeting about Black people: “If your lives matter why do you stab and shoot each other so much.”

She is particularly notorious for the hate-filled, abusive and inflammatory language she directs at Muslims and was recently axed from LBC radio, after calling for a “final solution” to Islamist terrorism in the wake of the Manchester Arena attack. Before the month of Ramadan this year she tweeted: “Without food these sods get nasty.”

It is hard to see why any school would consider it would be appropriate to invite Hopkins. At a time of renewed far-right activity and a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-migrant hate crimes, it would indeed be potentially dangerous to do so.

Roanna Carleton-Taylor, co-founder of group Resisting Hate, reflected recently in the Huffington Post on the context of the tweet about Ramadan:

“This isn’t an isolated example of a journalist having a strong opinion and expressing it unwisely, this is a spiteful sequence of online hate tweets, abusive newspaper articles and bigoted radio appearances displaying mockery and cruelty to people from different community groups.”

Inviting Hopkins could harm the trust of parents from Muslim and other communities that their children will be supported to feel positive and secure about their identity, beliefs and values. It would damage work to create a safe, respectful environment for all children, whatever their background and beliefs. It would undermine the integrity of provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

It was therefore disappointing to read advice from the Association of School and College Leaders that could open the door to Hopkins speaking in schools.

An ASCL expert on the Prevent strategy suggested “a figure like Hopkins could be hosted if schools presented alternative points of view.”

Providing “balance” does not make speakers who promote far-right, antisemitic, racist and Islamophobic views suitable for a school audience. Nor is there any official guidance to that effect.

Would ASCL advise that a neo-Nazi Holocaust denier be invited?

There is a real danger that advice like this might facilitate extreme far-right speakers being given a platform in schools as holders of legitimate opinions. Would the ASCL advise schools that a neo-Nazi Holocaust denier be invited, provided a speaker with an “alternative point of view” is also present?

The ASCL should have informed Schools Week readers that discussions about whether to host a controversial external speaker must comply with the public sector equality duty. This requires schools to have due regard for the need to eliminate unlawful harassment of pupils and staff. The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as “unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

In this context, having due regard would involve a careful and rigorous analysis of the impact a visit from Hopkins would have on pupils’ wellbeing and safety, including very real risks that it might lead to bullying of pupils or the use of derogatory language.

It would be helpful for the ASCL to review the advice they provide on external speakers to ensure it covers statutory equality requirements, supports schools to stay aligned with their inclusive values, and outlines the positive ways that controversial issues can be covered in the classroom.

Bill Bolloten is an independent education consultant and an associate consultant for The EAL Academy. Robin Richardson and Rob Ferguson also contributed to this article.

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  1. Bill Bolloten
    “It is perfectly legitimate, for example, for young people to criticise government foreign policy; to oppose the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan; to express support for Palestinian rights or to express either support for or opposition to the Israeli government. One may agree or disagree with such views, however they form part of legitimate discussion and debate.”
    Taken from http://www.irr.org.uk/news/education-not-surveillance/ where Bill opposes the government’s Prevent strategy.

    One person’s balance is another person’s extremism. One person’s “protecting young people” is another person’s censorship.

  2. Bill Bolloten

    Did you actually read the article AssemblyTube and do you understand the statutory requirements for schools? My points on Prevent were in the context of arguing that schools must not create a climate where young people feel afraid to share their points of view, and there is evidence that the Prevent strategy is indeed having this impact. It would on the other hand be unlawful for children and young people to be subjected to any form of illegal harassment, and that is why any suggestion that Katie Hopkins be invited as a school speaker should be considered very carefully.In fact if you check the government’s own advice on hosting external speakers on school premises (see the Educate Against Hate website) then you will see that is states that schools should consider: “Whether you consider there to be potential for speakers to use language intended to stir up hatred or incite violence.” I wonder if you consider whether Katie Hopkins has not been stirring up hatred and inciting violence?

  3. Mark Watson

    A good article, and extra credit for reading and replying to comments!
    That being said I disagree with you. You worry about giving this woman and her like a platform within schools, but she already has a massive national platform that thanks to social media and how our news is presented means that her views and opinions are probably already well known to pupils. We are no longer in a time where preventing her from speaking at schools means that children won’t get to hear such thoughts, and won’t repeat comments about ‘cockroaches’ etc.
    Do I think that “far-right, antisemitic, racist and Islamophobic views” are suitable for a school audience? Obviously no, I wish that children never had to listen to such rubbish. But they hear such things anyway – as you quoted Roanna Carleton-Taylor saying, Katie Hopkins is not an isolated example, and there are many examples of extreme opinions that young people are exposed to online, in newspapers/radio/TV and in person.
    So if we accept our children are going to hear extremist views, how do we make sure they are challenged and shown to be wholly unsupportable?
    Yes, it is tricky. Do I think a neo-nazi Holocaust denier should be invited to speak? Part of me thinks yes, if they are going to attempt to make a cogent argument to support their position, if there is someone else there to dismantle their warped reasoning and if pupils have a choice of attending. That being said I wouldn’t support inviting someone who would just stand up, rant and shout and insult people/groups.
    Not allowing Katie Hopkins to speak means that she can get away with spouting such nonsense without being challenged and pupils being able to see how ridiculous her views are. I am a believer that the best way to combat extremism is to bring it out into the open, shine a light on it and explain why it is wrong. To do so in a safe environment, like a school, where it is not only about combating such views ‘on the night’ but where teachers can discuss and rebut the extremism over the days to come seems sensible.
    In short, do I like the idea of Katie Hopkins talking to children in schools? No.
    Do I think it important that in today’s world she does, and her views become subject to intelligent scrutiny and challenge? Unfortunately yes.