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Teachers refusing to discuss ‘controversial’ Brexit with pupils

Academics say that too many topics are avoided by schools ‘on the grounds that they are political’

Teachers refusing to discuss ‘controversial’ Brexit with pupils

An academic has claimed that Scottish teachers are avoiding discussing Brexit because it is “too controversial” and one school has even dropped Europe as a topic this year.

The claims were made by Daniela Sime, a reader in social policy at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, who was quickly backed by education experts at other Scottish universities.

Dr Sime said that she had lost count of the number of pupils who had told her teachers were saying they did not want to discuss Brexit as it was “too controversial”.


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She made the claim on the social media platform Twitter, prompting the head of the University of Edinburgh’s school of education, Professor Rowena Arshad, to say: “If teachers are avoiding opening spaces to discuss and debate current and frankly life-changing issues for young people - we need to question what education is for!”

The University of Stirling’s Professor Mark Priestley added: “Too many topics are avoided on the grounds that they are political.” He called for young people to be allowed to “engage with complex and controversial issues”.

Richard Holme, a lecturer in education at the University of Dundee, agreed with Professor Priestley, saying an undergraduate student at his own university had explored the issue in a small scale study and had found that “teachers were reticent to engage in teaching about controversial issues”.

One teacher contributing to the discussion said that he did not hold back from discussing issues, but he did hold back his own opinions.

However, another teacher argued that discussion and debate were often stifled by local authority bosses. She said in 2014 teachers in her school had been banned from discussing the independence referendum and that when pupils had tried to protest about planned cuts to music lessons the posters had been taken down by school managers.

She said: “It all comes back to the same thing – Council stranglehold over management of education and everybody is too scared (rightly so?) to call it out.”

Another Twitter user – Scottish science teacher Andrew Bailey – commented that it could be hard for teachers to find a “suitable context” depending on their subject specialism.

He added: “I would imagine teachers out with subjects like modern studies are reluctant to engage in Politics and have in the past been told not to when the referendum took place for example.”

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