Confusion reigns over promised Govt guidance on blasphemy in schools

On Sunday Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced that the UK Government will introduce guidance on blasphemy in English schools. But this afternoon, the Department for Education (DfE) has seemingly contradicted that, leading to confusion as to the Government’s intentions. Humanists UK has urged the Government to stick to the Home Secretary’s plans, saying that such guidance is clearly needed to enable schools to stand up for free speech.

Last week four pupils at Kettlethorpe High School were suspended after a Quran was dropped. That and other previous incidents prompted Humanists UK to call on the DfE and Home Office to introduce guidance for schools on free expression and resisting outside influences. That objective was seemingly met when on Saturday Braverman wrote in The Times:

‘The education sector and police have a duty to prioritise the physical safety of children over the hurt feelings of adults. Schools answer to pupils and parents. They do not have to answer to self-appointed community activists. I will work with the Department for Education to issue new guidance spelling this out.’

But now the Department for Education has told Schools Week that it ‘do[es] not plan to issue additional guidance on managing blasphemy related incidents’. Schools Week also reports that ‘the Home Office pointed us back to the DfE’s comment and did not provide further information.’

A Humanists UK spokesperson commented:

‘The number of “blasphemy” incidents in schools has been growing in recent years and it’s clear from this that existing guidance isn’t enough to prevent them. The Government must therefore issue guidance specifically making clear that “blasphemy” shouldn’t be censored when explored in a lesson in a sensitive way, or in normal interactions between pupils, and to help them stand up to religious groups that try to pressure them into teaching in a certain way. We commended the Home Secretary’s statement and we now urge the Department for Education and Home Office to work together on this without delay.’

The Government’s recent Prevent review identified blasphemy accusations as a real and growing issue, and recommended the Government ‘Improve understanding of “blasphemy” as part of the wider Islamist threat. The [Government] should conduct research into understanding and countering Islamist violence, incitement and intimidation linked to “blasphemy”. It should feed a strong pro-free speech narrative into counter-narrative and community project work.’

The Government responded: ‘We accept this recommendation and agree that with the worrying number of incidents such as the killing of Asad Shah, the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie, and the incident at a Batley school, there is more to be done to counter blasphemy-related violence. As the overall lead for religious hatred, DLUHC [the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities] will lead on tackling blasphemy-related incidents and Prevent will focus on where this contributes to radicalisation or terrorism… we will consider with DLUHC, the [Commission for Countering Extremism] and wider Prevent partners, how Prevent should adapt to address the challenge of blasphemy violence.’