The Chief Inspector of schools has warned that the rise in militant activism on school grounds is a threat to education.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, has spoken out against forms of aggressive protests taking place in school grounds on a range of issues. She argued that the militant activism can take the form of parent and student protests outside of the school premises, forcing students to cross picket lines to get into schools.
She also raised concerns about a culture of intimidation that “demands an immediate adherence to a position”. This is harming the education of children across the country, she asserted.
Ms Spielman told the Festival of Education on Thursday: “What I’m concerned about is not the activism that broadens debate and brings about long-term change, but the militant kind of activism that demands an immediate adherence to a position. We are seeing these confrontational approaches both outside and inside schools. It is affecting staff, parents and children and can have a limiting effect on education.”
“This is a difficult problem for schools. So much effort goes into encouraging young people to understand and think about their democratic rights, which of course include the right to protest and to campaign for what they believe in. But education must come first. And no child should ever feel targeted or marginalised because intolerance has replaced reasoned debate.”
She continued: “It cannot be right for children to have to cross what amount to picket lines outside their school because one group’s religious beliefs – protected by law – sit uncomfortably with teaching about another group’s sexuality – also protected by law. It cannot be right that the curriculum can be filleted by pressure groups.
“And the militant defence of orthodoxies is not confined to adult protests, or to the protected characteristics. We are also seeing more pupil activism in schools, on many fronts. Some of this is about racism, or anti-racism; some is about climate change; some is about issues that are quite remote for most British children, such as the charged and complicated politics of the Middle East.
“But in some cases, children and teachers are suffering abuse or even violence simply for being who they are: for being the ‘wrong’ religion, or race or ethnicity. This is completely unacceptable.”
Over the past few years, there have been multiple instances of protests occurring outside schools. One of the most recent and more well-known of these occurred outside Batley Grammar School. The protests took place after a teacher showed a picture of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed during a lesson. This led to a parent-led protest outside of the school and left the teacher in hiding.