Decolonise your desks, demands teaching union in ‘sinister’ new escalation of culture wars

School classroom layouts are “shaped by colonisation”, Britain’s biggest teaching union has claimed in new guidance.

The National Education Union (NEU) suggests that curriculums, the design of school classrooms and the structure of their daily routines have colonial roots.

The 450,000-member union says there is an “urgent” need to “decolonise” every subject and every stage of the school curriculum, especially since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the Covid-19 pandemic.

A new NEU report, seen by The Telegraph, discusses how specialists could “train teachers and schools on whiteness, anti-racism, creating tools for critical self-reflection and understanding the system”, and “make white privilege and colonialism visible” in schools.

“From curriculum to routines to classroom layout, our education system has been shaped by colonisation and neo-liberalism,” it adds.

The document, produced to summarise lessons learned since the union’s decolonisation conference, also recommends “activist training for teachers” and moving “beyond diversification of literature to look at critiquing the ideas and knowledge we perpetuate”.

It says there is a “silence around British imperialism and racism” in the education system, and British culture is “saturated with a longing for return to Empire without any understanding into what Empire is/was”.

Britain ignores the contributions of black people and colonies in its “island story” national curriculum and is “still struggling with the idea that people of non-European descent can be European”, according to Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the union.

She said that teachers had suggested that classrooms needed more diversity in their wall displays and other learning materials to reflect people from ethnic minorities.

‘Warped views’ foisted upon children

Last night, a former education minister called for the report to be withdrawn or for the Government to “root out” the “woke” figures who were “perpetuating this nonsense”, such as through marking down schools which implement it in Ofsted inspections.

Sir John Hayes, chair of the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs, told The Telegraph: “This is sinister. To think that people with such a warped view of the past, present and future should be instructing our children is chilling.

“The truth is Britain has made disproportionately noble contributions to the history of the world.”

The NEU’s anti-racism charter advises teachers that the view “white pupils in general are doing worse overall is not accurate”, as more black pupils are in poverty, listing this under a section of “barriers and myths” about racism.

This is despite a major report by the Commons Education Committee last month recommending that schools cease to use the term white privilege because it may be “alienating” and help fuel a “systemic neglect” of poorer white pupils.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, said: “Privilege is the very opposite to what disadvantaged white children enjoy or benefit from in an education system which is now leaving far too many behind.”

Mark Lehain, of the Campaign for Common Sense and a former headteacher, said: “Schools are there to educate pupils, not evangelise for extreme ideologies or turn children into activists. It’s sad that a union would encourage its members to push things that are so divisive.”

England’s national curriculum already covers the British Empire and recommends modules on the transatlantic slave trade.

But the decolonisation drive is increasingly sweeping schools. The NASUWT, another major teaching union, passed a motion in April for maths and science lessons to be decolonised.

A Department for Education spokespman said schools played a crucial role in teaching respect for others but had a “duty to remain politically impartial and should not teach contested theory or opinions as fact”, and must offer a “balanced presentation of opposing views”. 

Dr Bousted said: “What and how we teach, and whether we think about over-looked voices and untold histories, contributes to whether we’re giving young people equal opportunities to succeed at school.

“Decolonising can lead us to a more empathetic and fairer society, which is good for us all, but it’s also about high-quality teaching and more time for critical thinking skills in school.”

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