As a former teacher, I used to know the GCSE syllabus inside-out. Every couple of years, some bright-spark politician would change everything – teachers had to attempt to become experts in a new specification or a new syllabus. I can’t recommend teaching as a career choice at present: too much paperwork, too much bureaucracy, fear of inspections, not enough spontaneity, not enough focus on actually transforming young people’s lives.
I started teaching a few years after the 1996 Education Act came into force – which specifically forbids (Section 406) the promotion of partisan political views in schools. I genuinely, and naively, believed our education system to be overall reasonably impartial. I put the fact that younger people are more likely to be pro-EU, and older people more likely to be anti-EU, down to the old differences between idealism and experience. The quote “a man who is not a liberal at 16 has no heart, and a man who is not a conservative at 60 has no head” dates back centuries and the words are popped into the mouths of almost every famous statesman of the 18th and 19th centuries; who truly knows who used it first?
Then, when reading the GCSE specifications that I was teaching, I spotted something strange: every single one contained a reference to a ‘European dimension’ in the curriculum. In Maths, it didn’t mean so much. It’s quite a precise subject. There were a disproportionate number of examination questions featuring the euro, but nothing particularly egregious. That ‘European Dimension’ is a requirement in every single subject. Google “European Dimension” and any examination board, and it’s mentioned throughout. In subjects like Mathematics, solving a quadratic equation is still solving a quadratic equation. But in artistic subjects, in modern foreign languages, in literature and others, such pro-EU bias is far more wide-reaching. Some teachers manage this quite well: in order to avoid promoting any one partisan view, I’ve known schools invite a range of politicians to address Y10/Y11 assemblies or sixth-form politics groups. That way, children hear the full range of views and have the chance to challenge for themselves. Comprehensive treatment of all sides of the debate at every stage is the exception rather than the norm though.
The ‘European dimension’ in education dates back to a May 24th 1988 resolution of the European Council, which requires schools to make young people ‘aware of’ the ‘advantages’ of the European Union [Community]. It required countries, and this is a direct quote, “to include the European dimension explicitly in their school curricula in all appropriate disciplines, for example literature, languages, history, geography, social sciences, economics and the arts” – and “to make arrangements so that teaching material takes account of the common objective of promoting the European dimension”. Examples such as schools celebrating ‘Europe Day’, and a European dimension in teacher training, push the same agenda. But doesn’t that breach the 1996 Education Act, I hear you ask? Well, yes and no. It’s an established principle that EU law overrides UK law. British law might well require teaching to be impartial – but if EU law insists upon bias, then bias it must be.
Don’t get me wrong, this is all quite understated in schools on a day-to-day basis. If I claimed that schools were force-feeding our children pro-EU propaganda every single day of their lives until they come out totally brainwashed, I’d be ruining my case by exaggeration. It’s more of a gentle drip-drip-drip, with pro-EU cases being made whilst there’s very little if any space for anti-EU ones. If anything, any bias within schooling is substantially smaller than that which exists at our universities: the European Union pays 1,500 ‘Monnet Professor’ academics to promote the EU. If I say something critical of the EU on Twitter, a Monnet Professor will often pop up to disagree. I’d be astonished if, within a few days of this article’s publication, a taxpayer-funded reply doesn’t appear in the letters page.
Is it really experience alone that explains why older people tend to be more eurosceptic, or is it the education system gently nudging younger people towards a pro-EU stance which takes years to erode?