‘White privilege’ should not be taught in schools as fact, says Nadhim Zahawi

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Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary - Ben Stansall/AFP
Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary - Ben Stansall/AFP

Schools should not teach “white privilege” as a fact, the Education Secretary has said.

“Contested theories” and opinions should also not be presented to children without an appropriate balance, according to a new paper presented to parliament by Nadhim Zahawi.

The paper was written in response to the education select committee’s report about how white working-class pupils have been “let down” by the state.

Earlier this year, the committee concluded that white working-class pupils have been “neglected” by the education system for decades.

In their report, MPs urged schools to cease using the term “white privilege”, which “pits one group against another”.

MPs said that promoting this kind of terminology in schools could potentially contravene their duties under the Equality Act 2010.

Partisan political views must not be promoted

Mr Zahawi said that officials at the Department for Education (DfE) were drawing up new guidance to help schools “understand their duties” when it comes to teaching controversial materials.

“Schools must not promote partisan political views and should take steps to ensure the balanced treatment of political issues,” he said in his response to the committee’s report.

“Schools should not teach contested theories and opinions as fact, and this includes contested views about ‘white privilege’.”

Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, pictured below, has previously said that the concept of “white privilege” is “stoking divisions” and “marginalising the most disadvantaged” in society.

Kemi Badenoch - Jeff Gilbert
Kemi Badenoch - Jeff Gilbert

But this is the first time that Mr Zahawi has made his views on the issue public.

He said that political issues relating to racial and social justice could be taught about as long as it is done in a “balanced and factual manner”.

He went on to say: “These are important principles to uphold, and we have already begun working with the sector to develop guidance which will help schools understand and meet their duties in this area.

“This guidance will support schools to teach about complex political issues, in line with their legal duties on political impartiality, covering factors including age-appropriateness and the use of external agencies.”

White working-class students ‘persistently underperform’

The education select committee’s report, published in June, highlighted how white working-class students persistently underperform compared with other ethnic groups throughout the education system, from nursery to university.

MPs warned that ministers have so far refused to address the issue, choosing to focus instead on broader issues such as poverty.

During their inquiry, MPs found that in 2018/19, just 53 per cent of white British pupils on free school meals met the expected standard of development at the end of the early years foundation stage, which is one of the lowest percentages for any disadvantaged ethnic group.

In 2019, only 17.7 per cent of the poorest white British pupils achieved Grade 5 or above in English and maths, compared to 22.5 per cent of their peers who are in the same income bracket.

The proportion of white British pupils on free school meals who went on to study at university after finishing school was just 16 per cent, the lowest of any ethnic group other than travellers of Irish heritage and gipsy/Roma.

Natalie Arnett, the policy officer for the National Association of Headteachers, said: “We need to trust schools to have the conversations with pupils that are right for their contexts and communities. Simplistic diktats like this from central government are unhelpful.”

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