The Daily Telegraph

The impact on pupils of politician­s’ rhetoric


SIR – We have seen clearly over the past weeks how careful those in positions of power need to be about what they say. Political rhetoric can all too easily be whipped up into unintended action, with serious and occasional­ly violent consequenc­es.

This is something all those working in schools wish was better understood. Schools do not exist outside society, immune from politics or the news. Children and young people are incredibly plugged in, and curious about the world around them. More often than not, it is schools and teachers who field questions and distress from pupils in response to what they have seen or heard from politician­s.

It isn’t practical for these questions and concerns simply to be dismissed. Part of the fundamenta­l purpose of education is to help prepare young people to navigate the world, to interpret and understand politics, the news and the impact it will have on them. While schools are strictly apolitical spaces, politics – in the broadest sense of the word – affects all lives and cannot be ignored.

This can put school staff and teachers in an incredibly difficult position when politician­s and leaders aren’t careful about what they say, and how they say it. From the rhetoric around Israel and Gaza, to refugees and asylum seekers, transgende­r issues, parliament­ary reshuffles and political marches – schools are regularly faced with an extraordin­ary range of sensitive and controvers­ial topics that can provoke an emotional response.

Government­s could do more to back schools with the practical guidance they need to navigate some of these issues, but educators are prepared to help pupils make sense of their concerns. In future, politician­s must be more mindful of the impact their words have, and take better care of the language they use. It is not just potential voters hearing these words, it is children and young people too.

Paul Whiteman

General secretary, National Associatio­n of Head Teachers

London SW1

 ?? ?? Plato and Aristotle pondering rhetoric (1509-11) in a Vatican fresco by Raphael
Plato and Aristotle pondering rhetoric (1509-11) in a Vatican fresco by Raphael

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