Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic is to warn schools in England they may be breaking the law by taking part in a cooking competition being held to celebrate the Queen's jubilee. Schools could also face legal challenges by holding any “uncritical celebrations” of the Queen's diamond jubilee without exploring republican viewpoints.
The group's chief executive Graham Smith has written to education secretary Michael Gove asking how he will ensure schools do not breach of Sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996, which forbid "the promotion of partisan political views" and confer on schools a duty to "secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils [...] they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.”
Margaret Thatcher's government first introduced the law in the 1980s to prevent the “indoctrination” of pupils by politically active teachers. Last year, Mr Gove himself used the law to bar a London school from attending a Palestinian literary festival. It could mean that schools are unwittingly breaching the Act by hosting jubilee events - such as yesterday's visit to Nova Hreod College by the Duchess of Cornwall - without discussing republicanism.
Republic has pledged its full support to any parent bringing legal action against a school to ensure balanced presentation of the jubilee, stressing that it is quite possible to provide fun and engaging lessons about the jubilee and the monarchy while also ensuring balance.
In his letter, Mr Smith says:
“Through freedom of information research, and from correspondence with concerned parents and teachers, we know that many schools are planning to hold their own jubilee celebrations. It is quite clear that most of these events and activities will treat the monarchy as self-evidently benign and universally supported, without any indication of the controversy which surrounds it."
"The effect – whether or not it is intended - will be to influence young people to support one contested political viewpoint (monarchism) against another (democratic republicanism). That is exactly what sections 406 and 407 were intended to protect children against.”
“The jubilee is, of course, a significant political event. It is right that pupils discuss it in the classroom. But this should be done from an engaged and academically critical perspective not one of unquestioning celebration. It is the difference between presentation and promotion.”
Republic is seeking further legal advice on the matter and will be putting any concerned parents who wish to challenge their school's jubilee plans in touch with solicitors.
Sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996 can be viewed online at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/56/part/V/chapter/IV/crossheading/politics.
Republic will be producing its own teachers' pack, exploring the jubilee from a republican perspective, at the start of the summer term.
The letter to Mr Gove can be found at www.republic.org.uk/goveletter.pdf
For further information contact Graham Smith on 07747 608 770 / email@example.com
Republic will hold a major protest against the monarchy at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. For full details see www.jubileeprotest.org.uk.