New extremism advice drafted after Trump supporter Milo has school speech cancelled

A teaching union is drafting new guidance for teachers and leaders on extremism after a Kent school cancelled a speech by an alumnus with extreme right-wing views.

Simon Langton grammar school for boys in Canterbury announced on Monday that it was ditching a talk by former pupil Milo Yiannopoulos (depicted in above cartoon) following threats of protests and a call from the Department for Education’s counter-extremism unit.

Yiannopoulos, a Donald Trump supporter and senior editor of right-wing news website Breitbart, has called the gender pay gap a “conspiracy”, admits he “delights in offending people” and describes feminism as “cancer”.

The former pupil was due to address sixth formers on Tuesday, but despite interest from more than 220 pupils, the school cancelled the event following talks with officials.

Criticism of that decision has led to calls for clearer guidance for leaders, with one union, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), working on fresh advice for its members.

Under Prevent, schools must carry out a risk assessment before allowing any speaker to address pupils, but government guidance is vague on how schools should carry that out.

Anna Cole, a parliamentary specialist at ASCL, said there was a “growing need” for more detailed help.

Schools should evaluate “whether they are going to breach any legislation around inciting hatred or violence, and whether the school can keep children safe”, including whether protest activity might be a security concern.

It follows a Sunday Times revelation that referrals relating to far-right extremism made under Prevent increased 74 per cent from 323 in 2014-15 to 561 in 2015-16, with more than half of cases involving under-18s.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she would defend “to the death” the right of speakers such as Yiannopoulos to express their opinions, but said schools had a “particular” duty of care when it came to exposure of pupils to extreme views.

“I do think there is an issue with him,” she said. “This is somebody who says interest groups such as feminism and Black Lives Matter deal with feelings rather than facts.

“School is a place where pupils have a right to feel safe. They don’t have a choice about being there and schools have a duty over what they are exposed to.”

Simon Langton’s head, Matthew Baxter, said the decision to cancel was made following contact from the counter-extremism unit, the threat of demonstrations at the school and “our overall concerns for the security of the school site and the safety of our community”.

He told The Kent Gazette that the school remained committed to the “principle of free speech and open debate and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship”.

In a statement, Yiannopoulos questioned the reasons for the department’s counter-extremism unit, claiming he was being punished for having the “wrong opinions”.

The government insisted its call to Simon Langton was a “matter of routine” following public concern over the speech and was intended to check the school had “considered any potential issues”, a spokesperson said.

“The decision to cancel the event was a matter for the school.”

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  1. Tarjinder Gill

    There is no gender wage gap, there is an earnings gap which is not the same thing. Therefore putting this as a fact which he considers to be a conspiracy is spurious on your part.

    He is not an extreme right-wing commentator by any definition as he is not a white supremacist, fascist or nationalist. It does not bode well that you are unable to distinguish him from the British National Party for example. In addition, this ignores the fact that he has been giving talks in conjunction with Christina Hoff Sommers who is a feminist, which you have neither researched nor included.

    You can deliver the news or be activists – it’s clear that you have not learnt the lessons that all newspapers should have done over the past few months. Being the latter is not helpful.

    • Mark Watson

      Heaven knows I agree with you that SchoolsWeek should not be activists – they describe themselves as “being in-depth, investigative education journalism, determined to get past the bluster and explain the facts” and personal agendas, political or otherwise, should not cloud that mission.
      However I do think your comment is not exactly balanced. It is a fact that Yiannopoulos has said that gender inequality and the wage gap are conspiracy theories. The piece above simply reports that, it does not assert anything about the wage gap itself being a fact – it leaves that to the reader.
      You object to the author referring to Yiannopoulos as having ‘extreme right-wing views”, however many people do think this. Just to be clear, you don’t have to be a white supremacist, fascist or nationalist to be extreme right-wing, although I think a lot of people would point to the Leslie Jones twitter-storm as being relevant here. (BTW dragging the British National Party into your argument seems very off the wall).
      Also, the fact that he has been giving talks in conjunction with “a feminist” doesn’t actually have any bearing on who he is and what views he holds.
      Personally I find Milo Yiannopoulos to be an objectionable, attention-seeking narcissist who will say anything to make himself more famous, and the more controversial the better. However I believe that you don’t deal with odious views by trying to sweep them under the carpet – he should have been allowed to speak at the school but they should have also invited someone to speak who could have acted as a counterpoint to his ridiculous spoutings and would have exposed him, and his beliefs, to the ridicule they so richly deserve.

  2. I can’t stand the guy (or rather I cant stand how he chooses to present himself in the media) but this seems woefully short-sighted? Young people interested in what he as to say can, and will, engage with his views any time they like online.

    We had Johnny Rotten and Paul Weller, angry young guys today have Milo, because he doesn’t have music to engender an emotional response, he has to turn up the hate with rhetoric.

    Making him even more of a forbidden fruit will only lead to them seeking him out online, where engagement is on his terms alone.

    What we have to do is ensure young people are able to think critically when they are online, not shield them from debate in the real world.