Neutrality: who decides what is neutral? Political: who decides what is political ?
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
The term neutral sounds nice. Not taking a side. You do expect neutrality in certain cases. You would expect a referee in a football match or in a Cricket match to be neutral. You would expect a judge ruling in a case to take a neutral approach. Now how far do we extend the term of neutrality?
The French government ( Link 1) believes neutrality involves banning students from wearing headscarves turbans thus giving an indication of their religious beliefs. The concept of neutrality is applied in many schools in England when it comes to uniform, hair cuts and dress code.
The Black Lives Movement and the recent attacks on Gaza has seen the term neutrality questioned. Protests in schools in London questioned the whole concept of neutrality. What is neutral to one is not neutral to other. A particular hairstyle maybe considered “outlandish” in one culture but the norm in another. Wearing a headscarf or a turban might be seen as a “conspicuous religious symbol” and challenges the neutrality of the state according to certain cultures but is simply seen as following a religious practice to others. Not wearing a headscarf or turban could equally be argued is challenging neutrality.
Ex education secretary Gavin Williamson wrote a letter to all headteachers on the 29th of May 2021(Link 2) reminding teachers of their need for schools to remain “politically impartial” when it came to the “Israel- Palestinian conflict”. He then included in his letter a demanded that organisations who did not recognise Israel’s right to exist should not be given a platform. This has now been challenged legally(Link 3) . Children in many cases were told that showing solidarity for the Palestinian cause was not permitted in school. Many students and parents and campaigners believed that a double standard was applied as many schools as political issues of other types are permitted in school. Schools went as far as banning Free Palestine badges on children’s bags. Children who wanted to raise money for Palestine were told in many cases that in school they could only raise money for those suffering in Gaza could only do so if they also raised money for Israel as well. This was despite the suffering on in Gaza being disproportionately higher than those in Israel. Many schools have an “Amnesty International”(Link 4) club where students are encouraged to be politically active? Campaigns on human rights are at the heart of the ethos of many schools such as promoting the right of girls to access education, fighting against FGM(Link 5) . These are all common causes you will see promoted in schools. Very few would want to see them banned but when do human rights become political?
Now there are many questions that we in( education must ask ourselves is. Should teachers be free to express their political views in school? Should teachers be asked to “limit” their social media profiles when expressing legitimate political views in order not to potentially offend students? Should schools remain politically unbiased when atrocities are carried out in the world? Should schools have remained politically impartial when it came to apartheid? Should students who see what they believe is oppression be silenced in school? Are British values a yardstick that we should use when trying to decide on which stances to take? Should schools campaign on the environment as that is political? Should schools be able to campaign on issues if it could offend some students?
Personally, I would not like to see schools banning children from expressing their political views. I would not like to see human rights atrocities be seen as a taboo for children and staff to discuss. I would not like to see teachers told which campaigns they can discuss on their social media platforms and which they can not. I would not like to see schools banned from raising money to people in one country as accusations of bias may occur. As someone who taught in London schools for 16 years, I did not try to influence children with my views on world politics. I did however actively encourage debate and discussion in form time . I look forward to seeing how the court case proceeds and also see how future political issues are treated.
( Please note all views are my own personal views and the links below are simply for reference purposes and do not indicate any personal support for any organisation or campaign mentioned)