Advice for schools and colleges: how to discuss difficult topics, like ongoing conflicts, with your students

How to speak about the news, ongoing conflicts and hold discussions on difficult topics with students

This post was updated on 17/11/2023 to include an additional resources from the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) and Solutions Not Sides.


A post from the Educate Against Hate team. 


The terrorist attack by Hamas in Israel has caused grave concern around the world. Talking to young people about what’s going on in the news can be challenging, particularly when it involves conflict. 

We’ve pulled together some advice about how you can discuss and approach difficult issues, like ongoing conflicts, with your learners in a way that will allow them to consider the classroom as a place where they can voice their opinions and feelings on things that are happening around the world. 


Knowledge and understanding 


Feeling like you don’t have a full understanding of current affairs, and the subsequent fear of exposing a gap in knowledge in front of your students, may make you feel nervous or want to avoid talking about conflict that is happening in the world with students.  

As a teacher, you will inevitably be asked by your students about topical issues, however it’s important to remember that you are not required to have all of the answers to the questions that your learners might ask and also to be aware that there isn’t always necessarily going to be a ‘right’ answer. 

Schools have a duty to prohibit the promotion of partisan political views and should take steps to ensure the balanced presentation of opposing views on political issues when they are brought to the attention of pupils. However, this should not stop schools taking steps to tackle racist or discriminatory views, or challenging the extremist ideas that are part of a terrorist ideology. 

When starting discussions in the classroom around conflict in the news and other current affairs, make use of news stories from trusted sources as the basis of these conversations. This provides a focal point to refer back to keep discussions focused while also providing the opportunity to address wider issues through the context of individual news articles.  

There are reputable organisations that can support schools to teach about this sensitive topic in a balanced way, avoiding antisemitic, anti-Muslim and/or other discriminatory narratives. These include guidance and teaching resources from Community Security Trust (CST), Stand Up!, Solutions Not Sides and the Forum for Discussion of Israel & Palestine (FODIP).   


Misinformation and disinformation 


The growth of the online space and the influence it has on our daily lives means that we are now receiving our news in different ways, such as through social media posts, online news outlets, and digital apps and platforms. 

Misinformation (unintentionally false and inaccurate information) and disinformation (deliberately false and inaccurate information) often become more prevalent when significant events occur around the world and gain news coverage.  

It’s important that you direct your learners towards trusted news sources and support their development of strong media literacy skills, such as critical analysis and critical thinking. This will help to equip them with the ability to identify the difference between fact and opinion and understand when media content surrounding conflict is encouraging particular beliefs and biases. 

Educate Against Hate hosts a one hour lesson plan from the Economist Educational Foundation that explores why conspiracy theories are more common in times of crisis, why people spread them and how they should be debunked. 


Diverse Perspectives and Debates 


A classroom is full of individual learners with individual viewpoints on things happening around the world. It is important that everyone in the classroom feels their voice is heard and that they have the opportunity to express their opinions. Classroom discussions are a great opportunity to facilitate respectful debates between your learners by offering them a safe space where students feel comfortable expressing their perspective and simultaneously feel confident that they’re in a position to appropriately challenge other’s views when they consider necessary. 

When engaging with classroom debates, you should ensure that your learners are aware of how they can politely disagree with another opinion that might be voiced – for example, work to avoid the disagreement becoming personal by encouraging your students to express their disagreement with the view, rather than with the individual.  

Bullying can occur when children express views in ways that can cause hurt to another person, particularly where the behaviour is repeated or intentional. It is crucial that staff intervene to stop insensitive comments as soon as possible and take steps to stop them from being repeated, in line with their school or college policy.   

Stand Up! Discrimination Today and Yesterday is a classroom resource which aims to explore issues around discrimination and tolerance. The resource focuses on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. Teachers may use this resource to teach about discrimination, antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred historically and in Britain today. The resource contains different versions for different abilities. 

You can also make use of the Deliberative Classroom resource from the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) to discuss sensitive issues with your students, including fundamental British values, citizenship and equality. 


Additional Tips and Advice 


Many young people will have a strong personal interest in these issues, and in some schools this may lead to political activity by older pupils. You should ensure that political expression by pupils is done sensitively, avoiding bullying, disruption and feelings of intimidation or targeting for other pupils and staff.   

Teachers and other staff are trusted in exercising their professional judgment about whether abusive and discriminatory views represent a susceptibility to radicalisation and should make a referral if they feel it is appropriate, as they do for all other safeguarding risks.  You can learn more about managing the risk of radicalisation in your setting. 

This may also be an appropriate time to teach your students about what our fundamental British values are and the importance they place on tolerance for other faiths and beliefs. Educate Against Hate have a comprehensive teaching pack on fundamental British values that includes a short film, teacher guidance, lesson plan and a class task.   

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