Some teachers ‘self-censor’ to avoid causing religious offence, poll finds

Some teachers are ‘self-censoring' to avoid offending religious pupils, a poll has found.

A YouGov survey of more than 1,000 teachers carried out for the Policy Exchange think tank found that 16% of them admitted to self-censoring to avoid causing religious offence.

The centre-right think tank claims this has created a “de facto code of profanity in schools across the country”.

He says the incident at Batley Grammar School, where a teacher was forced into hiding and received death threats after showing a class a picture of the Prophet Muhammad, “has clearly horrified the teaching profession”.

Around 55% of teachers surveyed said they would never use an image of the Islamic prophet in the classroom and a further 9% cited the Batley incident as the reason they would not.

Our teachers – and their students – deserve better than this.

Nadhim Zahawi

Half of teachers said there would be a risk to their safety if protests like the one that started outside the school gates in Batley took place, with one in five saying there would be a “very high risk”.

The area with the highest proportion of teachers suggesting there would be a ‘very high risk' was Yorkshire and Humber, where the Batley incident took place, with 33%.

Three quarters of teachers said that if protests broke out, they would be “damaging” for the teacher involved, with around four in 10 (39%) suggesting they would be “very damaging”.

The think tank claims that despite this, parliamentary questions reveal the government has “abandoned” plans for new guidance to support schools on the issue.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman had promised “clearer and firmer” guidance for schools after a 14-year-old autistic pupil from Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield was sent death threats after minor damage was caused to a copy of the Koran.

The think tank said he had brought a copy of the book to school as a discount because he missed a video game with friends.

Only 36% of teachers said their schools have guidelines to avoid offending teaching materials or course content, while four in 10 teachers (40%) said their schools have no such guidance.

The Department for Education (DfE) said existing guidance was sufficient and suggested in a written statement to the Home Office that no such guidance be developed, the think tank said.

Policy Exchange said any new guidance should protect teachers' freedom of expression within the law, prevent schools from excluding teachers who use material that some religious people may find offensive as long as they have a “legitimate teaching aim”, stop students accused of religious offenses from being suspended and protect a teacher's identity in the event of a protest.

Organizations that publicly name accused teachers should be “accounted for” through the Charity Commission or the courts, the think tank added.

Former education secretary Nadim Zahawi said: “Polling for Policy Exchange shows that one in 10 teachers are less likely to show a picture of the Prophet Muhammad in lessons as a result of the protests at Batley Grammar School… Our teachers – and their pupils – they deserve better than this.

“We owe it to them to support them in providing a safe environment where open, honest and free discussion is not only allowed, but actively encouraged.”

A total of 1,132 teachers from across the UK took part in the survey.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are clear that it is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers.

“All schools must promote our shared fundamental British values, including individual freedom, mutual respect and tolerance.

“Teachers can cover a full range of topics, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including those that are provocative or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance.”