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.
General secretary, National Association of Head Teachers