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Teaching of politics in schools

The Education Act 1996 requires headteachers, governing bodies and local authorities to ensure pupils receive balanced views if being taught about democracy and politics.

Over the coming months it is very likely there will quite a bit of political lobbying and activity taking place across Wales. In March, Wales will be holding a referendum on whether the National Assembly for Wales should have more law making powers, and in May the National Assembly for Wales elections will be taking place.

It is possible that during this time schools may decide to take the opportunity to raise the profile of politics, citizenship and democracy with pupils. There is nothing wrong with this. If we are committed to developing our young people and to give them life skills to meet future challenges, it is right that part of that development is to teach our young people how our democratic system works including the right to vote and debate issues.

However in doing this, there are laws in place which schools, headteachers and school staff and local authorities must comply with which are explained in this article.

Section 406 of the Education Act 1996 requires local authorities, governing bodies and head teachers to forbid junior pupils (pupils who are under the age of 12) from pursuing partisan political activities at the school. It also forbids the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject to any pupil. Where activities take place away from the school premises junior pupils are not allowed to take part if they have been arranged by any member of staff in a school or anyone acting on behalf of the school.  

Section 407 of the same Act states that the local authority, governing bodies and head teachers must take steps to ensure that, in all cases pupils are given a balanced presentation of political issues.  This includes where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils whilst they are at school or taking part in extra curricula activities which are provided or organised at the school or on behalf of the school.

It is important that headteachers and governors are aware of their responsibilities in this, and should ensure that this information is cascaded to all school staff.    

We appreciate that there will be occasions where honest mistakes are made, and in such circumstances, we would expect school governing bodies to offer similar opportunities to opposing views.