The intolerance for right-wing values at British schools and on university campuses is well-documented and growing. Sadly, classroom bias is no new occurrence, but has become gradually more profound over the last 40 years, partly as a result of the mainstream political right's apathy towards challenging it. Needless to say, the Conservatives have got to get serious about the culture wars. A few witty one-liners and a Thatcher quote won't cut it this time.
I have written previously about the curiously effective carrot and stick approach corrupt teachers appear to be using to proselytise their classes. I observed the carrot method first-hand at a local school hustings, where teachers openly praised pupils for heckling the Conservative parliamentary candidate, Seena Shah. Conversely Bob Stewart MP revealed his 13-year-old son has been on the receiving end of the figurative stick, when one of his teachers instructed classmates not to talk to him "because he is the son of a Conservative MP".
The situation isn't much better at British universities. Here the toil of the corrupt teacher pays-off and manifests, as students work in tandem with staff to jettison Conservative points of view. The University of Sussex infamously advertised an event that aimed to teach staff about "dealing with right-wing attitudes and politics in the classroom". As if right-leaning students are a problem that needs solving. At my own alma mater, King's College London, there was recently an online petition circulating that called for the de-ratification of the university's Conservative Association.
A long-awaited report published by Policy Exchange this month suggests classroom bias is the outcome of unethical hiring practices. The study found one in three academics would not hire a known Brexit supporter, while between 33 and 50 per cent of grant application reviewers would give a lower score to an academic that chooses to adopt a conservative lens to exploring a research question. Researchers also found that the more ideologically committed a respondent was, the more likely they were to discriminate against a candidate who did not share their views.
Education should be all about fresh thinking and challenging conventional wisdom. For this to happen, students must be exposed to a plethora of ideas, even ones with which they or their teachers may disagree. Social settings characterised by too little diversity of viewpoints are liable to become afflicted by group think. If this happens, key assumptions will go unquestioned, dissenting opinions will be neutralised and favoured beliefs will be held as sacrosanct. We as a society must cultivate vibrant, curious, and intellectually diverse academic communities. That means debating Conservative and right-wing standpoints in the classroom and on campus.
Policies like 'no platforming' and 'safe spaces' may have been intended to keep out attitudes that have no right to be expressed in civilised discussions, but they are now being weaponised to silence anyone with different views to those of the woke masses. The treatment of former Conservative Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, by students at the University of Oxford is just one example of such injustice. Rudd had been invited to speak about her experience as a female MP and Minister for Women and Equalities by a student group, but her appearance was cancelled last minute to placate protestors.
Curtailments of free speech on university campuses are in many ways the product of ideological homogeneity within academia. Evidentially the 1996 Education Act, which prohibits "the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject", has not been enough to deter radicals who feel it appropriate for educators to pick the values and ideals of their pupils. It is currently far too easy for get away with this behaviour under the pretence of 'educating' and for senior staff to turn a blind eye to such activity.
The Department for Education must find creative ways to incentivise institutions to actively champion freedom. For example, by incorporating academic freedom as a criterion against which schools and universities are measured. Violations of academic freedom would therefore impact an institution's overall ranking, giving senior staff and university bosses greater motivation to intervene when bias is encountered.
For too long the issue of left-wing partiality in education has been neglected. At the last general election, the Conservative party was among the first to make a manifesto pledge to protect academic freedom. It is now time to fulfil that promise by commissioning an independent review into the extent of bias in the education sector. Without a government inquiry, it will be impossible to accurately quantify the magnitude of this issue and cases will continue being treated as anecdotal, rather than external symptoms of a clandestine infection.
A study undertaken by King's College London researchers show Conservative students already feel "unable" to express their views at university. With all the talk of safe spaces, it is a tad ironic Conservatives don't have one. Inertia has undoubtedly come at the expense of our young people and we must not allow another 40 years to pass before we act.
The last thing this country needs is another lost generation.