Whole school approaches to responding to ongoing conflicts
We understand that ongoing conflicts and sensitive topical events in the news can have a rippling effect on schools and education settings. This can place you and your staff in difficult positions when faced with learners who may be asking questions in trying to understand these events for themselves, as well as voicing their individual opinions and viewpoints on what is happening.
It is important that children are taught about global events, such as ongoing conflicts, and that they are encouraged to think about how they impact on them and their communities in an appropriate and sensitive way in the safe and controlled environment of a school or education setting. Teachers and staff can continue to discuss political issues that may be relevant to pupils. This must be done in a balanced manner and not involve promoting partisan political views on the issue.
Encourage healthy debates and discussions
Your students will identify your setting and the classroom as a safe space in which they can voice their views and opinions on emotive and potentially distressing events happening around the world. It’s important that you maintain and encourage this opportunity for young people to speak out in your education setting to enable them an outlet in a controlled environment where they can hear other viewpoints from their peers, engage in healthy debates and discussions, be appropriately challenged if necessary, and be supported accordingly. Teachers and staff should be mindful of the risk that some pupils are influenced by the partisan political views expressed by their peers. They should ensure pupils are at least aware of opposing views on political issues that are brought to their attention.
In the midst of ongoing conflicts happening across the world and identifying that your learners are taking an interest and are seeking the opportunity to learn more about and discuss these types of incidents, it may be worthwhile providing some dedicated opportunities whereby this can take place, such as during assemblies or daily registration and form group time. This may be a good opportunity to talk to your students and encourage your teachers and staff to talk to learners about the event through different lenses, such as focusing on its origins and history, tailoring conversations on something happening directly at that moment in time that’s being discussed in the news, or teaching them about our shared fundamental British values (FBVs).
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. Therefore, when facilitating discussions around ongoing conflicts, you should encourage your staff to gain their understanding and materials from accurate and reputable sources such as trusted news outlets.
Additionally, when engaging in and facilitating discussions with students, you should be mindful that 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.
Maintain safeguarding responsibilities and report concerns
While it’s crucial to allow individuals the space and opportunity to voice their views, it is equally as important to maintain safeguarding duties and responsibilities towards all staff and students in your setting. Therefore, if you or a member of your staff feel that a young person’s views or behaviour indicates a wider vulnerability to radicalisation, you are encouraged to seek support through the Prevent programme. Concerning behaviours include glorifying or celebrating the actions of a proscribed terrorist organisation. There is guidance available on GOV.UK on how to assess risk of radicalisation and make a referral. It’s important to note that holding strong opinions or participating in activism alone are not indicators of extremism, provided they aren’t discriminatory, abusive, or intolerant.
Similarly, while it is your responsibility to ensure that you and your staff are presenting non-partisan and unbiased views on political issues such as large-scale ongoing conflicts, this should not stop you or your teachers from taking appropriate steps to tackle racist or discriminatory views, or challenging any views that you consider to be a part of extremist ideology.
Protests, strike action and political activity
By law, schools are required to maintain political impartiality and should ensure the balanced treatment of political issues. Teaching about political issues supports learners to understand the society in which they live in and enables them to be prepared for life in modern Britain. It can be helpful for teachers and staff to play an active role in supporting pupils to understand political issues, as well as highlighting ways in which learners can be more actively involved in political activity and making a difference. However, in doing so, teachers should ensure that they do not promote their own political views and that they maintain their duty to remaining politically impartial.
In some cases, pupils may have a strong personal interest in political issues and may seek to engage in political activity within school, such as protests or displaying political symbols. You should ensure that any pupil-led political activity is conducted sensitively and in a way that it does not target a specific group of pupils or staff, does not create an atmosphere of intimidation or fear for other members of the school community, and avoids pupils feeling like they would be stigmatised for holding or sharing alternative views. Any pupil-led political activity should be conducted in line with your school’s policies, such as behaviour and uniform policy, and should be done without disrupting other pupils and staff. It’s important to note that engaging in political activity as outlined above should not be considered as a cause for concern of radicalisation and in assessing the risk of radicalisation and determining whether it is appropriate to make a Prevent referral, you should take into consideration a range of potential factors that could indicate a young person’s wider vulnerability to being drawn into radical and extremist causes.
Fundamental British Values (FBVs)
Schools and colleges are required to actively promote the fundamental British values (FBVs) of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. This helps to prepare your learners for life in modern Britain, allows them to learn about the building of positive relationships and teaches them the importance of respecting others and different faiths and beliefs.
Ongoing conflicts and sensitive topical events gaining significant news coverage and becoming a talking point within your setting can be a good opportunity to teach young people about our shared British values. You might want to hold assemblies to discuss the importance of our FBVs or encourage your staff to discuss them during Citizenship and RSHE lessons. 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 that you might want to use with learners or encourage your staff to incorporate into a future lesson.