In response to threatened legal proceedings by the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators (Care) and Black Educators Alliance (BEA), the Department of Education has this week agreed to undertake a review of its guidance on the curriculum for personal, social, health and economic (‘PHSE’) education.
The guidance was only published by the government on 24 September 2020, but it was immediately criticised by teachers, parents, MPs, students and human rights organisations for its implications on freedom of belief, speech and expression in the classroom.
The guidance stated that schools should not “under any circumstances” work with or use material from groups that do not “condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause” or promote “victim narratives that are harmful to British society”. It also categorised anti-capitalism as an “extreme political stance” and equated it with opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and endorsement of illegal activity.
CARE and BEA are Black led networks of educators, parents and students who share a primary aim of promoting anti-racist education in schools and challenging racism at every level. The groups argued that the guidance would prevent teachers from using material from groups including Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and the charity, INQUEST or other campaigning organisations that seek to draw attention to the disproportionate impact of state violence on Black communities.
The groups launched a crowd fund page to raise funds for a legal challenge to the government guidance. The fund raised almost £20,000 which included many donations from teachers who understood the impact the guidance would have on conversations about inequality in the classroom.
A letter sent, on 1 October 2020, to the Secretary of State for Education, by Bindmans on behalf of the groups claimed that the guidance was irrational; that it failed to properly account of issues of discrimination; and that it was so vague and poorly written that it would have a chilling effect on free speech in the classroom and the role of educators.
After some initial resistance the Secretary of State for Education notified the group’s lawyers by letter on Monday that there would be a review of the guidance “in light of the issues your clients have raised”.
Rachel Harger of Bindmans LLP representing CARE and BEA:
On 24th September 2020, without warning or consultation, the Secretary of State for Education published guidance which in effect banned teaching materials related to left wing or political groups. Our clients, Coalition Against Anti-Racism and Black Educators Alliance were quick to recognise the potential threat that this guidance posed to teachers and pupils across England. It is an absolute credit to their vigilance and determination that only 11 weeks after the publication of this guidance, the Secretary of State has agreed to review it, taking into account the specific issues that they have raised. Guidance of this sort must not be pushed out again without consultation. We hope that given the obvious failures and shortcomings of the current guidance the Secretary of State will accept that, as part of this review, a broad consultation with teachers, parents and trade unionists is not just desirable but entirely necessary. We will now stand by our clients as they anxiously await the outcome of this review.
Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators:
We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to review the guidance in wake of our legal challenge. Within the process of evidence collection, we have heard from many students, teaching staff and parents of the impact of the guidance, which would see conversations on injustice and inequality outlawed from the classroom.
This year has been marked by COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ongoing climate crisis. All of these require attentive and considered inquiry to help young people understand both their own experiences and the world around them, and to support them in participating in ordinary, democratic discussion and debate with their peers. This guidance would see that inquiry end with the exclusion of organisations and individuals that don’t carry favour with the government.
Black Educators Alliance:
We welcome the commitment to review the guidance and ask for it to be repealed in its entirety. Since the launch of this guidance, we have seen ministers decry Critical Race Theory in the House of Commons and launch attacks on those pushing against the status quo of inequality that has persisted in institutions across the UK. When young people are not exposed to competent teaching around race and racism, and those topics are outlawed from the classroom we will continue to see incidents like the one at Charlton School where a young Sikh boy was a victim of a racist attack.
Both BEA and CARE are immensely grateful to everyone who shared details of our campaign, contributed to the crowdfund so generously and to everyone who helped us to gather evidence.
National Education Union
We think it is the right thing for the Secretary of State to review the RSE implementation guidance. The political statements in the guidance on RSE will undermine the roll-out of high quality and effective RSE, and this matters for all students as this is an important part of the curriculum.
Since the launch of the guidance, NEU members have voiced concern about why political content has been introduced by the Secretary of State into guidance which is about educating young people about their bodies and healthy relationships. The NEU believes the Secretary of State has overstepped his legal powers in relation to what content can lawfully be included within guidance for this specific subject.
This change was made at a time of acute pressure on the profession as a result of Covid, The Government should withdraw the parts of the guidance which have caused the consternation, to ensure the guidance can help and support provision of relationships and sex education.