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[] LDT 5.11.01: UK: Teachers told not to preach against the war,

Teachers told not to preach against the war 
By David Bamber, Home Affairs Correspondent
(Filed: 04/11/2001) 

TEACHERS are to be told by the Government to remain impartial and not to preach against the military action in Afghanistan after growing signs that school staff are condemning the war.

The Department for Education and Skills has issued guidance for schools and head teachers in the light of the terrorist attack warning them that they must only give "accurate information" and provide an "appropriate" way to discuss the issues.

Ministers have become alarmed that some teachers are openly speaking out against the war on terrorism and encouraging children in their care as young as five to dissent.

One head teacher has already told his school assembly that he is against the war and is prepared to defy his governing body.

Peter Stevenson, the headmaster of Exeter Road Community School, in Exmouth, Devon, said: "I understand that not everybody will share my view, but I think it is important to be honest and express my opinions."

He added: "I am a member of CND and I oppose the bombing in Afghanistan because 'an eye for an eye will make everyone blind' as Martin Luther King said.

"I am worried that the action will make the situation worse and create widespread suffering in Afghanistan because of the bombing of civilians."

He said: "After years hiding in the closet, I'm going to say what I think. I'm going to wear my CND badge every day and I'm not going to take it off for governors' meetings."

Mr Stevenson, 45, who is married with two young children who attend his school, said that there was a growing peace group at his school, including many parents, but admitted that others had objected to his stand against the war.

He added that he was encouraging his school's 327 pupils, aged five to 11, to discuss all aspects of recent events and was not seeking to indoctrinate them.

Councillor May Hardy, a member of the governors at Mr Stevenson's school, condemned his actions. She said: "I do not believe you should ever take politics into the classroom.

"I do not agree with what he is saying either. These people who caused the outrages in America are terrorists and I don't think he should be expressing an opinion about it at school."

John Hart, the Conservative executive member of Devon County Council in charge of education, last night said: "I do not think any teacher should air his personal views in front of children at their school."

Damian Green, the shadow education secretary, said all teachers must remain impartial. 

He said: "It is wrong-headed and dangerous for teachers, especially head teachers, to allow their personal opinions to intrude in the classroom or assembly hall.

"Children look up to their head teachers and to preach against the war on terrorism at this time seems particularly ill thought out."

Jeff Ennis, a Labour member of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, said: "As a former primary teacher myself, I would never have dreamt of letting my personal opinions intrude in the classroom.

"This is a complex moral issue and teachers have every right to hold their own opinions but they must be sensitive to the fact they are dealing with young children," said the MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough.

"In some senses the current war is a matter of conscience not party politics, but you have to be very careful."

He said it was up to the governing body of each school to keep a close watch on what was being taught.

The Department for Education and Skills has now issued guidance to schools and teachers that says: "Schools can help to provide accurate information, challenge crude stereotyping and provide a safe environment in which children and young people can explore their understanding and come to terms with their fears.

It adds: "Schools should maintain an atmosphere as normal as possible neither denying recent events nor letting them take over."

It says teachers should use their "professional judgment" to ensure schools "respond appropriately".

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