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Government warns teachers against expressing 'political views'

Labour accuses government of trying to 'silence' teachers over school funding cuts

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 06 September 2018 12:58 BST
Theresa May on school funding: schools have 'greater than it has ever been before'

Teachers must not express political views or use school resources for “party political purposes”, the government has urged in new guidance.

In an update to its advice to schools, the Department for Education (DfE) included a new section which says that staff should “act appropriately” when expressing their views, or using resources, for political campaigns.

“All staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times, and should not use school resources for party political purposes," it says.

The move has prompted accusations from Labour that the government is attempting to “silence teachers” from speaking out over school funding cuts.

Under the law, school staff are not allowed to promote political views when teaching a subject.

But both education unions and headteachers reached out to parents across the country in the run-up to last year’s general election to highlight the significant pressures on school budgets.

The Department for Education (DfE) said they have updated the guidance to provide teachers with clarity.

But Labour's shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, accused the government of “trying to ban teachers from whistleblowing when schools cuts bite into our children’s education”.

She said: “They may hope to silence teachers but they can’t get away from the fact that they will have cut £3 billion from school budgets by 2020. If the government wants to know why teachers are publicly criticising them, they need only look at their own record of broken promises.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), which helped push a School Cuts campaign ahead of the election, told The Independent: “Headteachers and teachers are already prohibited from sharing their political views with pupils. This is entirely different from alerting parents and the wider community about the desperate underfunding of schools - if a school has to cut subjects or cut staff they simply must inform parents that they have done so and why.”

He added: “Heads and parents share a common concern – the education of children and young people. This is something that should also be of concern to every politician regardless of their political persuasion. The campaign by the School Cuts coalition will continue to highlight the gross underfunding of our schools and the serious consequences it is having on the education of our pupils.”

Jules White, a headteacher behind the Worth Less? campaign group of school leaders which has distributed correspondence with parents about funding, said concerns about teacher shortages and cuts have all too often been “batted away” by the DfE who he accused of using “vast media resources to put out partial and unhelpful information to parents and the wider public.”

Mr White told The Independent: “Thousands of responsible headteachers will continue to use the collective campaign group Worth Less? to raise legitimate concerns on behalf of the schools and families that we serve. We are dedicated professionals who have no ulterior motives who are committed only to getting the very best for every child in our care.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We can see no reason why school leaders and teachers shouldn’t express concerns about matters which directly affect the education of the children in their care, such as severe funding pressures. It isn’t party political for them to do so, it is simply a statement of their direct experience.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said it regularly updated "guidance to make sure it is accurate and schools can deal with staffing issues correctly."

They added: Headteachers have long had a legal responsibility to provide a balanced presentation of opposing views when teaching political or controversial subjects. This update simply brings this guidance in line with the law, which makes clear that headteachers and local authorities must not promote partisan political views in school.”

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