Palace of Westminster

Information literacy and political censorship in the school curriculum

A statement in response to the Department for Education’s recently-published guidance on planning the relationship, sex and health school curriculum.

As individuals with a strong interest in the promotion and advancement of information literacy (IL), we wish to express our disquiet at elements of the Department for Education’s recently-published guidance on planning the relationship, sex and health school curriculum.

IL is the ability to think critically and make well-calibrated judgements about any information that people of all ages find and use. IL applies throughout life and in a multiplicity of contexts. In the realm of school education, it can enhance and enrich a range of taught subjects in the curriculum, being embedded as part of critical thinking skills and knowledge development. It helps young people to be discerning about the information that they encounter and create; crucially, it addresses the English National Curriculum’s aim to aim to equip students “to ask perceptive questions, think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments, and develop perspective and judgement”. We therefore find it disconcerting that this latest DfE guidance should choose to view anti-capitalism as a stance that lies beyond what is permitted as legitimate critical analysis. We are not alone in this view, and we note that organisations as diverse as Quakers and Shout Out UK have expressed similar concerns.

The guidance makes sense in its view that schools should not engage with organisations that promote non-democratic political systems; and it is right too to require schools not to use resources produced by entities committed, for instance, to overthrowing democracy, opposing free speech or deploying racist discourse. But we are perturbed that organisations (and, by implication, individuals) which have views that are critical of or opposed to capitalism should be placed in the same category as extremist and potentially dangerous bodies. It is not our place to make a judgement about the merits or otherwise of capitalism. Rather, we are saying that, in the interest of fostering critical thinking abilities, it is proper for young people to be exposed impartially to a range of robust information and resources, including those produced by organisations and individuals whose views, whilst controversial, are nevertheless a legitimate part of democratic discourse. Indeed, making a point of removing exposure to anti-capitalist viewpoints politicizes the curriculum inappropriately.

The guidance is correct in wishing to ensure that what is taught in schools does not undermine the fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance. Serious and evidence-based material drawn from anti-capitalist sources fits within this democratic framework – as do sources that view capitalism positively. Information-literate, critically-thinking citizens, including young people, should develop the capacity to reach informed views about major contemporary issues, and being informed requires access to good-quality material from a range of sources, including those that challenge prevailing orthodoxy. We therefore hope that including anti-capitalist resources in a range of proscribed material was an oversight on the part of DfE and that it will be corrected.

If you support us, please feel free to add your name to the list of signatories by Friday, November 6th.

Jane Secker, Chair, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Pip Divall, Health Libraries Representative, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Jacqueline Geekie, Public Libraries Representative, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Stéphane Goldstein, Advocacy and Outreach Officer, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Jonas Herriot, Treasurer, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Alison Hicks, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Information Literacy

Padma Inala, Training Officer, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Catherine McManamon, Secretary, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Claire Packham, Chair of LILAC

Sarah Pavey, Schools Representative, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP: the UK Library and Information Association

Dan Pullinger, Website Manager, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Andrew Walsh, Training Officer, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Geoff Walton, Library and Information Sciences Representative, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Liz White, Further Education Representative, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Laura Woods, Deputy Chair, CILIP Information Literacy Group

Tricia Adams, CILIP Youth Libraries Group

Heather Anderson, Information Specialist

Lewis Andrews, Marketing and Events Assistant

Caroline Ball, Academic Librarian, University of Derby

Barbara Band, Independent library consultant and advisor

Katherine Barton

Susan Bastone, Chair, School Library Association

Wendy Bathgate

David Bedford, Academic Support Librarian

Elizabeth Bentley BA MCLIP

James Bisset, Librarian, Durham University

Binni Brynolf, Co-Chair LGBTQ+ Network Steering Group

Emma Burnett, Information Consultant, Royal Holloway, University of London

Karen Butcher

Gloria Clarke, Librarian

Jo Cornish, Head of Sector Development, CILIP

Joy Court, Trustee, United Kingdom Literacy Association

Angela Cutts, Education Faculty Librarian, University of Cambridge

Katharine Davidson-Brown, Library Customer Services Manager, Durham University

Kate Davies

Sunny Dhillon, Learning Advisor, University of Leeds

Amber Edwards, Librarian, St George’s British International School

Rozz Evans

Linda Evans, School Librarian

Annie Everall, Director

Gillian Farkas-Blake

Caroline Gale, Library Liaison Manager, University of Exeter

Melanie Gibson, Associate Professor, Northumbria University

Ash Green, CILIP LGBTQ+ Network

Agnes Guyon, Senior librarian – schools, children and young people.

Matt Hardy, Lecturer, University of Bradford

Rebecca Jones, Liaison librarian (medicine) and library manager, Imperial College London

Emma Keeler, School Librarian

Nicky Kierton

Karen King, LRC Manager, secondary school

Anja Komatar, Maths Support Advisor, University of Leeds

Susan Mair

Lesley Martin, School Librarian

Julian McDougall, Professor, Bournemouth University

Amy McEwan, Academic Liaison Librarian, University of Exeter

Craig McEwan, Academic Liaison Librarian, University of Exeter

Kate McGuinn, Subject Librarian, University of Huddersfield

Janet Morton, Learning Advisor, University of Leeds

Rizwan Nawaz

Jane Pothecary, Learning & Teaching Librarian, King’s College London

Bryony Ramsden, Subject Librarian

Simon Robinson, Learning Advisor, Leeds University Library

Joana Rosa

Helene Russell, The Knowledge Business

Sarah Seddon, School Librarian

Alison Sharman, Academic Librarian

Ian Simpson, Library Collection Development Manager, Canterbury Christ Church

Hannah Slater, Library assistant, The London Library

Lauren Smith, Librarian

Peter Smith, Research Support Librarian

Nigel Sturt, Librarian

Deborah Varenna, CILIP LGBTQ+ Network Steering Group

John Vincent, Networker, The Network – tackling social exclusion in libraries, museums, archives and galleries

Mike Wall, Deputy University Librarian, Durham University

Emily Wheeler, Learning Advisor, University of Leeds

Jane Whittaker, Historian

Gemma Wood

3 thoughts on “Information literacy and political censorship in the school curriculum”

  1. Sunny Dhillon, Learning Advisor, University of Leeds

    Even the darling of the masses, one of the UK’s most famous exports, and de facto public intellectual, David Attenborough, has recently come out in criticism of ‘excess’ capitalism. It’s actually hardly a radical stance. Sapere aude!!

  2. Elizabeth Bentley BA MCLIP

    This is an important statement about the need for young people to have access to the full range of lawful opinions, and the education to assess them.

  3. Dora Sales

    This is indeed a very important statement about the need to foster critical thinking for young people. Censorship is a weakness for any sound democratic society. Information literacy is more necessary than ever. My admiration and support to CILIP Information Literacy Group. Best regards from Spain

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