Legal threat over anti-capitalist guidance for schools in England

Campaigners have threatened the government with legal action over new guidance that tells schools not to use resources from organisations that have expressed a desire to end capitalism.

In a pre-action letter, the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators (Care) and Black Educators Alliance (BEA) said the guidance would prevent teachers from using material from groups including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, limiting anti-racism teaching.

In guidance issued last week for school leaders and teachers in England, the Department for Education (DfE) categorised anti-capitalism as an “extreme political stance” and equated it with opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and endorsement of illegal activity.

The guidance also states that schools should not “under any circumstances” work with or use material from groups that do not “condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause” or promote “victim narratives that are harmful to British society”.

Care and BEA said the guidance would prevent young people from engaging with teaching about racism, discouraging the use of material produced by Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, the charity Inquest “or another campaigning organisation that seeks to draw attention to the disproportionate impact of state violence (including against Black men).”

The letter says that as it is unclear what “victim narratives” means, schools could be discouraged from using resources produced by organisations that campaign for rights for minority groups.

The groups have began to fundraise to proceed with a judicial review if the department refuses to withdraw the guidance.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the Labour MP for Streatham, said: “I support this legal challenge. Freedom of speech and an educated population are two fundamental pillars of democracy. We cannot move forward as a society without respecting them both.

“These guidelines are a deeply worrying erosion of these two principles by an authoritarian Conservative government that has lost all credibility among the young.”

A spokesperson for Care said: “This guidance will have a chilling effect in the classrooms. Our schools are filled with inquisitive young people and we should be doing everything necessary to ensure they are given all the tools and information to have rich discussions on topics such as inequality.

“This guidance prevents that by restricting access to materials and no-platforming organisations that don’t curry favour with the government.”

Rachel Harger, a solicitor at Bindmans, said: “The guidance, which was published without consultation or warning, is a clear statement of the secretary of state’s own political preferences and the ban on the use of teaching materials related to leftwing or political groups is clearly unlawful, serious and far-reaching.

“The guidance constitutes an assault on the common law right to freedom of speech, freedom of religious belief, and has a disproportionate impact on protected groups such as the black and trans community.”

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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