Headteachers have been told by the government to ensure “political impartiality” over the Israel-Palestinian conflict, following a “concerning” increase in antisemitic incidents.
The education secretary said the recent violence had increased focus on the conflict in many schools, which in some cases had led to the expression of antisemitic views and bullying of Jewish students and teachers. He said schools should treat these incidents with “due seriousness”.
The conflict has prompted a wave of pro-Palestine protests in British schools and controversy over the staff response, with pupils being accused of antisemitism and one headteacher describing the Palestinian flag as a “call to arms”.
Questions have been raised over why children expressing support for Palestine have been accused of antisemitism and in some cases subjected to disciplinary action.
Williamson said many young people had a “strong personal interest” in the issues around the conflict and in some cases that had led to “political activity” by older pupils. “Schools should ensure that political expression by senior pupils is conducted sensitively, avoiding disruption for other pupils and staff.
“It is unacceptable to allow some pupils to create an atmosphere of intimidation or fear for other students and teachers.”
In a message sent as many schools in England broke up for half-term, Williamson reminded heads of their “legal duties regarding political impartiality”.
“School leaders and staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately, particularly in the political views they express.”
Pupils should be offered a “balanced presentation of opposing views” when political issues were raised, he said. “Schools should not present materials in a politically biased or one-sided way and should always avoid working with organisations that promote antisemitic or discriminatory views.”
They should not work with, or use materials from, organisations that publicly reject Israel’s right to exist, he added.