Discussing ongoing conflicts with your students
Talking to your learners about ongoing conflicts and events they might see in the news can be daunting. Here are some suggestions on how you might be able to engage with young people on ongoing conflicts and what they see in the news.
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 you from teaching about political issues in an age-appropriate and balanced way and should not stop schools taking steps to tackle racist or discriminatory views, or challenging the extremist ideas that are part of a terrorist ideology.
It’s important to encourage students to see the classroom as a safe space to voice their opinions and feelings about things going on around the world, such as ongoing conflicts, that might be considered sensitive, emotive, or distressing. We understand that it can be difficult for teachers to engage in and facilitate these conversations due to the nature of the subject and concerns around having the appropriate understanding of the issues at hand.
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 play an important role in supporting all pupils to understand the society in which they are growing up in as well as teaching them about respect for other people. For younger students, this might mean teaching them about our shared fundamental British values (FBVs) of democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs, and individual liberty.
Discussing ongoing conflicts with students
When starting discussions in the classroom around ongoing conflicts in the news and other current affairs, you can make use of news stories from trusted sources as the basis of these conversations. This provides a focal point to refer back to, keeping discussions focused while also providing the opportunity to address wider issues through the context of individual news articles.
Likewise, 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, so it is important that you direct your learners towards trusted news sources.
It is possible that your learners will raise views around unsubstantiated theories and conspiracies related to an ongoing conflict based on things that they might have come across online. You are not expected to teach about these theories and should be prepared to challenge any factually inaccurate claims or remarks if you deem it to be appropriate and necessary. Proactively teaching your learners about common examples of and tactics used in the spreading of misinformation in the context of political issues will support their development of strong media literacy skills, such as critical analysis and critical thinking. It 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.
In a classroom full of individual learners with their own unique and differing viewpoints, it’s important that everyone feels like 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.
You can read more about teaching about specific conflicts, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Israel-Hamas conflict in the following blog posts:
- Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformation. – The Education Hub (blog.gov.uk)
- How to speak about the news, ongoing conflicts and hold discussions on difficult topics with students – Educate Against Hate
Dealing with incidents of bullying
All types of bullying are unacceptable, it can have a devastating impact on individuals, harm their education and have serious and lasting consequences for their mental health.
You should also take into consideration everything you know about your learners. For example, if you’re aware that one of your students may be directly impacted by an instance of conflict, for example they may have familiar links to a country involved in a conflict, this could make them more susceptible to being a victim of or instigating bullying as part of their response to the conflict. This should be taken into account when determining an appropriate response to bullying incidents.
Appropriately assessing the risk of radicalisation
It’s important to note that holding strong opinions or participating in activism, such as wearing clothing or accessories to show support for a country involved in conflict, or wanting to attend peaceful protests, are not indicators of extremism, provided they aren’t discriminatory, abusive, or intolerant. 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.
Resources, guidance, and support
In addition to those linked in the above, Educate Against Hate hosts a range of resources that can support you in discussing and teaching your learners about difficult and sensitive topics and staying safe online, including Going Too Far, which was developed in partnership with LGfL (London Grid for Learning) and helps young people to understand how their online activity may be crossing over the threshold into the criminal space.
The Department for Education has also published advice on how to teach online safety in schools, including around teaching about disinformation and misinformation. This includes ensuring that learners know how to measure and check authenticity online, and the potential consequences of sharing information that may not be true.