This advice is for teachers, leaders and NASUWT Representatives and addresses the key elements of the Department for Education (DfE) guidance Political impartiality in schools.

It is important to note that Political impartiality in schools does not confer any new responsibilities on schools; rather it seeks to explain schools existing responsibilities in relation to political impartiality.

The DfE guidance makes it clear that schools should be teaching about political issues.

The Secretary of State for Education’s foreword says, ‘Teaching about political issues, the different views people have, and the ways pupils can engage in our democratic society is an essential part of a broad and balanced curriculum. It is an important way in which schools support pupils to become active citizens who can form their own views, whilst having an understanding and respect for legitimate differences of opinion.’

In other words, political issues are an essential part of a broad and balanced curriculum that is supporting pupils to become independent, active citizens.

Political impartiality and legal duties on schools

The legal duties mean that schools:

  • must prohibit the promotion of partisan political views;

  • should take steps to ensure the balanced presentation of opposing views on political issues when they are brought to the attention of pupils.

In the case of maintained schools, these legal duties are set out in Section 406 and Section 407 of the Education Act 1996. Most academies will have a specific clause in their funding agreement which requires adherence to the same provisions.

Part 2 Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils of the Schedule to the Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014 sets out the requirement that independent schools, including academies, do not promote partisan political views and offer a balanced presentation of opposing views.

The legal duties on impartiality do not supersede other statutory requirements on schools and schools must fulfil their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Prevent Duty.

The guidance stresses the need for schools to reinforce some shared concepts and principles such as fundamental rights, tolerance and challenging discrimination and prejudice.

The guidance also makes it clear that teachers and schools should always challenge discrimination and discriminatory views and that pupils should be made aware of the laws in place to protect people and groups from discrimination and prejudice and that discrimination and prejudice have no place in society.

Therefore, the guidance must not be interpreted as meaning that teachers and schools need to balance messages that racism and discrimination are wrong with counterviews that are discriminatory or prejudiced, for instance.

NASUWT advice

The NASUWT advice for teachers and leaders on Equality Law in Britain, The Public Sector Equality Duty, Preventing and Tackling Extremism and promoting Universal Values should help teachers and leaders to implement effective equalities practice, including in relation to decisions about teaching and learning and political impartiality.

Responsibilities and expectations of teachers, headteachers and schools

Responsibility for meeting the legal requirements of impartiality fall on the headteacher/principal of a maintained school or academy and on the governing body, school proprietor, school trust, including senior managers of the trust and trustees, or the local authority.

The DfE guidance says, ‘School leaders and employers will need to judge whether it is necessary or helpful to have a school wide policy on teachers expressing personal opinions on political issues in the classroom, or whether this is best left to teachers own judgement on a case-by-case basis.’

NASUWT advice

School leaders and employers should consult the NASUWT about the need for a school-wide policy on teachers expressing personal opinions in the classroom.

While the NASUWTs view is that it is generally best left to the teacher to judge what is appropriate, there may be circumstances where teachers and leaders feel that a policy is needed. In these instances, the policy should be developed in consultation with the NASUWT

The headteacher, local authority, governing body, school proprietor or school trust should actively promote awareness of the requirements on political impartiality. Where needed, they should provide staff with training so that they understand how to comply with the requirements.

NASUWT advice

It will be important for schools to identify teachers support needs, including any needs that relate to the local school and community context. Schools will need to ensure that all teachers have access to the support that they need, particularly early career teachers.

It will be important to ensure that teachers are aware of the schools links with external organisations that provide resources and/or input on political issues and any protocols relating to that engagement.

Teachers should be aware of the DfEs guidance on political impartiality and understand what it means for their teaching.

The guidance refers to ‘balanced presentation of opposing views’ and says that this ‘means that in presenting views on political issues, teachers and staff should take a “fair and dispassionate” approach.’

The guidance also makes it clear that teachers are expected to use their professional judgement and expertise to decide what is taught and how it is taught impartially.

Part 2 of the Teachers‘ Standards address personal and professional conduct and include the requirement that teachers maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, including ‘ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.’

The DfE guidance says, ‘As a general principle, [teachers] should avoid expressing their own personal political views to pupils unless they are confident this will not amount to promoting that view to pupils.’

NASUWT advice

The NASUWT believes that teachers should be able to use their professional judgement to determine what they teach and how they teach, including whether it is appropriate for them to express their personal political view on a matter. The DfEs guidance is consistent with this position.

School policies and practice relating to the curriculum, teaching and teachers professional development should support and enable teachers to exercise their professional judgement effectively.

Teaching about partisan political views

The DfE guidance stresses the need to consider the age, developmental stage and existing knowledge of the pupils when making a decision about whether and how to teach a political issue.

Schools can teach about partisan political views without breaching their legal duties on political impartiality. The DfE guidance says that schools need to ensure, ‘Where partisan political views…are covered as part of teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, [they] are presented with the appropriate context, which supports a balanced presentation of opposing views.’

NASUWT advice

The DfE guidance recognises that pupils may be studying political ideologies as part of the curriculum and providing balance can be achieved in different ways, including through critical analysis which might draw on other ideologies.

The teacher should use their professional judgement to determine how they teach about partisan political views.

Selecting resources and working with external agencies

The DfE guidance emphasises the importance of choosing resources carefully and reviewing a resource thoroughly before deciding to use the resource.

As indicated above, the guidance also stresses the need for schools to reinforce shared concepts and principles such as fundamental rights, tolerance, and challenging discrimination and prejudice.

The guidance makes it clear that schools are not expected to present opposing views when addressing shared concepts, such as challenging discrimination and prejudice.

The DfE guidance says, ‘Schools can work with external agencies that hold partisan political views or are engaged in political activity, provided they do not undermine fundamental British values or take extreme political positions.’

The guidance cites some examples of what constitutes extreme:

  • promoting the adoption of non-democratic political systems rather than those based on democracy, for any purpose

  • a publicly stated desire to abolish democracy, to end free and fair elections, or violently overthrow capitalism

  • opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly or freedom of religion and conscience

  • engaging in or encouraging active or persistent harassment or intimidation of individuals in support of their cause

  • the use or endorsement of racist language or communications, including antisemitic [sic]

  • promoting divisive narratives that seek to justify serious criminal activity, including violent action against people, criminal damage to property, hate crime or terrorism

  • selecting and presenting information, in a biased or unbalanced manner, to make unsubstantiated accusations against state institutions to justify serious criminal activity, including violent action against people, criminal damage to property, hate crime or terrorism

  • the encouragement or endorsement of serious criminal activity, including where organisations fail to condemn criminal actions that have been committed in their name or in support of their cause, including violent action against people, criminal damage to property, hate crime or terrorism

NASUWT advice

In response to an earlier version of this guidance, some organisations raised concern that the guidance could be interpreted to mean that schools should not work with organisations such as Black Lives Matter. The examples above help to clarify that schools can work with such groups.

The NASUWT has produced resources to help schools to teach about matters relating to equalities, values and human rights, which can be found on our Universal Values and Equalities Advice pages.

Complaints about political impartiality

The DfE guidance notes that schools are likely to have informal arrangements in place for engaging with parents and the wider school community and recommends that these informal arrangements are used if a concern is raised about political impartiality.

The guidance says that engaging in constructive dialogue and reaching an agreement on a way forward is likely to work in most instances. The formal complaints procedure should only be needed as a last resort.

NASUWT advice

Schools should have arrangements in place to communicate clearly with parents and the wider school community and have mechanisms in place to review the effectiveness of the communication channels.

It is especially important that schools communicate to parents the schools ethos and values and its approach to equality matters and human rights, including how this is addressed through the curriculum.

Schools should seek to identify parents concerns about particular issues and topics. It may be helpful to draw on the schools ethos and values and the schools responsibilities in relation to equalities and human rights legislation when explaining why issues are being addressed in the curriculum.

Further information

Department for Education (DfE), Political impartiality in schools (accessed 23 February 2022)
NASUWT and Equaliteach (2016) Universal Values - Responding Holistically to the Requirement to Promote Fundamental British Values
NASUWT and Equaliteach (2016) Universal values - Further Ideas and Activities
NASUWT (2017) The Prevent Strategy: Guidance for School Leaders
NASUWT (2017) The Prevent Strategy: Guidance for Teachers
NASUWT Act for Racial Justice campaign
NASUWT Community Cohesion