Dear Nadhim Zahawi, have you even taken a look at the existing law on political impartiality? | Michael Rosen

I see that you have waded into the realm of fairness in teaching, and your reason seems to be that some students are not fans of your boss, Boris Johnson. As the BBC reported: “The Education Secretary says schools must not approach political issues in a ‘partisan’ way after pupils have been asked to write a letter criticizing the Prime Minister during a lesson. “

Less than a fortnight later, you published new guidelines on “political impartiality in schools”.

I thought, wow, that’s a quick job. This must be really urgent…there must be some kind of giant hole in the gov.uk guidelines where this issue has never been addressed before.

I imagined you walking into one of the DfE offices, grabbing a group of fresh-faced Oxbridge graduates, snapping your fingers and saying, ‘There are children in a school in Nottingham complaining about Boris and the evenings No. 10 – which were of course totally within the guidelines of the time. I want you, you and you to tackle this. This is all part of our reaction against the awakened agenda. (Maybe you didn’t say that last bit and just meant it.)

Then, in my imagination, one of them, his head full of seminars on logic and ideology, launches: “But won’t this document itself be partial because it comes in response to something partial?

“Of course not,” you sniffle. “Go for it.”

In all these years of observing the behavior and actions of Secretaries of Education, I must confess that I am still often baffled by the purpose of your work. Are you really employed by us to order guidelines like this? I only ask, because they seem to have been produced without reference to what schools have already been doing under the guidelines produced by your predecessors for many years.

I’m not saying this is easy territory to navigate, and it never has been. When I was around 15 – it was around 60 years ago – I remember my father, a high school teacher, always wanting to know what homework I was given and looking over my shoulder.

Once he noticed that I was trying to explain a rubric I had been given: “Why Chartism Failed”. He couldn’t stop. He burst out: “Fail? Has Chartism Failed? Don’t we have elections and unions? Didn’t the Chartists want it?

If I had been asked to answer the question “Has Chartism failed?” maybe there was room for the points raised by my father, but no. This was my first lesson in discovering that the things we call “subjects” or “subjects” can be controversial in the way they are framed. We could say metaphorically, if something isn’t on the table, you can’t eat it.

Even so, no matter how difficult this case is, you thought your time would be well spent wading through this. Out of interest, have you taken a look at the legislation and guidelines already in place? Or were you more concerned with making a splash in the anti-revival press than sitting in your office googling what was already in your own departmental files?

If so, you might have seen, for example, that the Education Act 1996 prohibits the promotion of “partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in schools” (Section 406) and requires that when political issues are discussed, students receive “a balanced presentation of opposing viewpoints” (section 407). Again, the Teachers’ Standards (DfE, 2011) state that teachers should ensure that ‘personal beliefs are not expressed in such a way as to exploit students’ vulnerability or lead them to break the law’.

Meanwhile, young people of all ages are watching TV, listening to the radio and talking with their parents – just like I did all those years ago. Terrible scenes of mass death, destruction and flight are currently unfolding in their living rooms.

And then there are issues that deeply concern young people and deserve to be discussed. Last summer, the England football manager, in consultation with his players, made the decision that players would “take the knee” to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The behavior of the Metropolitan Police towards women has come under scrutiny.

Depending on the age of the student, you recognize that there are times in the school week when schools can provide a safe environment for these kinds of topics to be discussed. You said that “no subject is forbidden in class”, as long as it is treated with “sensitivity” and without “promoting disputed theories as facts”.

I know this is all getting very philosophical, but aren’t all the facts being disputed by someone somewhere? I don’t think this issue can be resolved with a hastily denounced document following what you perceive to be the terrible case of children criticizing our great leader.

When you feel the need to demand that schools do something, why don’t you try to work with groups of teachers on this? Not just hand-picked people, but teachers who offer a range of viewpoints, some of which you might disagree with. Kind of like a classroom, debating a topic. Just an idea.

Sincerely, Michael Rosen

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