Keegan calls for ‘big dose of transparency’ when teaching contested issues

The Education Secretary has called for a “big dose of transparency” when teaching contested political issues in schools.

Gillian Keegan said, “common sense” is needed when it comes to sharing classroom materials and deciding what is “age appropriate”, as she insisted parents should have full sight of what their children are being taught.

She also suggested some institutions have “lost their way” on debating “difficult issues”, with further progress needed on ensuring the “balance” is right.

Appearing before the Commons Education Committee, Ms Keegan was warned schools must not “impose political views” on children.

Tory MP Miriam Cates claimed that many pupils are being taught, as fact, “theories that the wider population don’t adhere to”.

Miriam Cates
Tory MP Miriam Cates (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

Asked how the Department for Education (DfE) plans to deal with this, Ms Keegan said she believes the “vast majority” of teachers take their responsibility on political impartiality “extremely carefully”.

But she said some institutions have “lost their way a little bit” on debating “difficult issues”.

“This is a responsibility that people have, not only to debate difficult issues, but actually to encourage debate of difficult issues, and we know that some of our institutions have lost their way a little bit in this,” she said.

“That’s why we’ve got the Free Speech Act, right going through at the moment. We know that there are areas where we just need to make sure that we’ve got this balance right. I don’t think we are there yet.

“And I think there is still part of that journey that we need to go along.”

Tory MP Caroline Ansell warned some teachers have been actively calling in sick to avoid having to deliver “damaging” curriculum materials.

MPs cited teaching on gender issues as a particular concern, with Ms Cates suggesting “divisive” political theories are being taught with “no alternative viewpoint”.

Ms Keegan acknowledged the debate is a “complex area”, stressing that “transparency” is key.

“People should be able to see what we’re teaching children in schools. Parents should be able to see it, debate it, if there is a debate,” she said.

She conceded “we may need to do more” on this, with the Government set to update guidance on the “quite complex area” of “biological sex versus gender”.

On sharing teaching materials and ensuring they are “age appropriate”, she said “a big dose of common sense” is needed, with parents’ views taken into account.

Last month the Ofsted chief inspector warned there is currently “very limited guidance” available to schools on gender matters, with new advice from the DfE expected “some time around the end of the year”.

Ms Keegan said she is not aware of an “absolute date” for publication.

But she said a full public consultation is due next year, with DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood adding that she expects a first draft of the document for consultation to be published in early 2023.