Teachers have a key role in giving children the knowledge to protect themselves from fake news and simplistic political messages, Amanda Spielman has said.
Ofsted’s chief inspector also used a speech at the Festival of Education at Wellington College to reiterate her concerns about campaigners intimidating teachers to restrict what is taught in their schools.
Speaking this afternoon, Ms Spielman warned about the role of social media algorithms in narrowing the views that children are exposed to by “directing advertising and content that is likely to chime with existing likes and opinion”.
Quick read: Pupils ‘lack literacy skills to spot fake news’
She said: “Knowledge is the answer. What is taught in schools takes on even more importance if the wider influences on young people are too often simplistic, or over curated or fake.
“It’s an important answer to those who say that school classrooms are not the right place for children to learn about same-sex relationships.
“Parents may want to shelter their children from the truths, half-truths and lies that exist in the wider world, but the same will not always be true of their peers.
“Isn’t it better to learn about the world from a reputable teacher, than from their friends in school playgrounds, or online?”
She added: “In a world where children (and adults for that matter) are being told that the answer to all the world’s problems is simple: build a wall; destroy capitalism; prevent immigration; cancel Brexit; carry out Brexit – it falls to schools to broaden their outlook, not narrow it.”
Ms Spielman highlighted protests against LGBT content in lesson, and said: “We know that some schools have campaigners intimidating them to prevent certain lessons from being taught or to bring about changes in schools - and leaning on parents sometimes to give the impression of a united front, in order to close down debate. That cannot be allowed to stand.”
The chief inspector also warned against “often sophisticated campaigns that seek to add topics to the curriculum and quickly garner support”.
She cited as recent examples calls for schools to cover sleep lessons, farming, first aid, online relationships, sign language and gardening.
Ms Spielman said: “For every new responsibility that gets loaded on to schools, something has to give.
“Curriculum planning is a challenging job and we are encouraging schools to strike the right balance between different subjects to ensure the curriculum is strong.
“Adding the latest hot topic can result in a trade-off – something with potentially wider merit for young people being squeezed out.
“Schools have a finite amount of time to educate and so what we demand of them must be manageable.”