Civil servants deleted a clause banning teachers from pushing their political views from an official document, The Telegraph can disclose.
The Department for Education (DfE) temporarily removed a ban on “political indoctrination” in schools from the Government’s model academy funding agreement in 2020.
The contracts between schools and the DfE are used to set out the framework in which academies and free schools can operate.
The removal of the clause meant some academies, according to their funding agreements, could be interpreted to be exempt from the political balance requirements of the Education Act 1966, according to legal experts.
The clause was reinstated in early 2021 after political advisers to Gavin Williamson, the then education secretary, were alerted to its removal.
Bryn Harris, the chief legal counsel at the Free Speech Union, said: “Academy funding agreements are where schools go to understand what their obligations are.
“There’s a real risk that absent a clear employment agreement, academy schools may actually not know their legal obligation regarding impartiality. It’s not just that it leaves the academy not knowing what their duties are, it may also complicate enforcing those duties with the relevant regulator.”
Analysis of 14 academy school funding agreements by the Free Speech Union in 2021 found that seven did not have “anti-indoctrination” clauses.
Legally required to be politically impartial
It comes as schools have been accused of breaching impartiality rules by teaching critical race theory and radical gender ideology.
A report by Don’t Divide Us, a campaign group challenging the idea that Britain is systemically racist, claimed earlier this year that pupils in England are being taught contested political beliefs related to controversial racial ideology as fact.
Of 49 third-party organisations providing teacher training or resources for schools, 48 were promoting contested political beliefs around race theory as fact, the research found.
Arabella Skinner, of the parents’ campaign group UsforThem said: “It is deeply worrying that this important clause about political impartiality was removed from the funding agreement.
“Whatever the reason, lack of attention to detail or deliberate exclusion, neither look good for the DfE. It is essential that all our children are taught an education free from political bias, that parents have access to that teaching and that headteachers have clarity and support on their responsibilities.”
A government spokesman said: “All schools, regardless of type or funding agreement, are legally required to be politically impartial in their teaching. As an additional layer of reassurance, political impartiality clauses are included in academy funding agreements.
“An administrative error for a brief period led to the model funding agreement missing this clause, but no schools operated without the impartiality clause in place, and the error was corrected as soon as it was discovered.”