Mark Lehain is Director of the Campaign for Common Sense, and the founder and former Principal of Bedford Free School.
On Tuesday, towards the end of an otherwise run-of-the-mill debate on Black History Month in the Commons, Kemi Badenoch said the following:
“I want to be absolutely clear that the Government stand unequivocally against critical race theory… We do not want teachers to teach their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt. Let me be clear that any school that teaches those elements of critical race theory as fact, or that promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”
And boom: there it is – the clearest statement yet that the Government is serious about taking on some of the hard-left ideas that have taken hold of large chunks of the public and private sectors in recent times. You can see the whole of Badenoch’s speech above.
Her words build on guidance released by the Department for Education last month, which contained a reminder for schools of their legal obligation to “offer a balanced presentation of opposing views” when covering political issues.
The requirement for schools to be impartial on such matters is longstanding – including private schools and academies – but you wouldn’t think this was the case judging by the reaction of some people. Even John McDonell popped up to claim it was more evidence that a “drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace”, bless him.
Reminding people of a law that growing numbers are ignoring is important, but not in itself enough.
My campaign group, The Campaign for Common Sense has been tracking the issue of biased schools for a while now, and we’ve four simple, low-effort, suggestions as to how schools can be helped to get back on track.
First of all, the Department for Education should work with the Headteacher unions to develop further guidance and exemplification on the kinds of issues that are tripping schools up. (Sadly, there’s no point talking to the big teacher unions as they’re completely in thrall to Critical Race Theory and other leftist ideology.)
Next, Gavin Williamson should write to the Headteacher and Chair of Governors (or Trustees) of every school in England. He would remind them of their obligations to impartiality, and share the results of the union collaboration to assist with compliance.
Third, schools are already obliged to publish curriculum details on their website, and we propose that they add to this a statement from the Headteacher confirming one thing: that they have checked the curriculum programme and resources and are satisfied that pupils will received a politically impartial education. (They should be doing this already, so this is literally two-minutes work for them.)
Finally, Ofsted should spot-check for impartiality as part of their inspection process; this could be whilst evaluating the “Quality of Education” or “Personal Development” areas. If non-compliance meant a school’s all-important “Overall Effectiveness” judgement couldn’t be “Good” or better, you can be sure political balance would be restored very quickly indeed.
These steps would go a long way to improving things for pupils, but it raises questions about the wider public sector.
The previous Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education was particularly keen on Critical Race theory and other “woke” ideas, but even though he has been moved on the department still runs “Project Race”, and has civil servants who act as “Race Champions”. Much time and money is also given over to other politically correct initiatives including gender identity, unconscious bias, and so on. And of course, this is happening across all departments, not just education.
Stopping civil servants from allocating precious resources to these kinds of things is vital if politically contested ideas are going to be removed and the Civil Service depoliticised.
It probably shouldn’t stop there, though – after all, lots of public services are provided by quangos, third sector organisations, and charities. Obviously, how these organisations spend their own or other people’s money is absolutely their own business. But future public sector grants and contracts should insert a clause that the money that comes from them cannot be spent on politically contested ideas and practices.
All of the above would make a big difference to the focus and quality of lots of our public services. However, these changes would pale into insignificance if the government got the right people into key roles.
Consider how Liz Truss has taken the heat out of the issue of transgender rights and self-ID. Or the way the Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities is moving the issue of racism away from emotions and onto evidence & practical improvements.
And look at the impact of a quiet letter to museums about historical displays – places previously under pressure to remove objects are now standing firm.
The bad ideas we’re challenging are like the Emperor’s New Clothes – point out how wrong they are, and they quickly fall apart.
Marvel at the impact Badenoch made with a few words in parliament. Now imagine a government filled with similarly clear-sighted souls. We could quickly get back to common sense issues and improving everyday lives. Here’s hoping that Badenoch’s speech in parliament marked the start of a concerted push, and not a chance blast in the dark.