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  • Writer's pictureTom Hopkins-Burke

Rethinking Education conference bars speaker over "psychological safety"

Updated: Feb 13

The director of the Don't Divide Us organisation, Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, was barred from attending an education conference where she was due to speak in a debate on indoctrination within education.


Cuthbert, who has previously stood as a political candidate for the Brexit Party, was due to speak in a debate entitled "What is indoctrination in education and how can we avoid it?". She was the only person of colour on the panel.


The conference organiser, James Mannion, claimed that while Rethinking Education values freedom of speech and believes that "people should be prepared to subject their ideas to scrutiny and challenge", the appearance of Cuthbert would have made some delegates "not feel safe to speak at or attend a conference alongside a representative of Don't Divide Us".


Mannion added:


"As an organisation and conference organiser, Rethinking Education is not taking a stance for or against any particular viewpoint. We are prioritising the safety of our speakers and delegates."

Don't Divide Us has campaigned on what it describes as colourblind anti-racism: where "everyone [is] an individual worthy of respect regardless of race, religion or the colour of their skin". It accuses anti-racists of "dividing us into a world of victims and oppressors".


Cuthbert had previously spoken at the Battle of Ideas festival on the impact of colonialism on the teaching of history, the curriculum and the wider educational environment. She spoke alongside history teacher Nicolas Kinloch, senior lecturer Dr Sean Lang, and head of history Sean Walsh.


Cuthbert said:


"I disagree that psychological safety is a precondition for debate. It is being used as a smokescreen for trying to silence me because they don't agree with my views. Why should the feelings of seven people at a conference stop the remaining several hundred from hearing my opinions?"

The Rethinking Education conference was held at Parliament Hill School in North London on Saturday 23 September.


UPDATE 25 September


On the evening of 24 September, Mannion apologised to Cuthbert in advance of her appearance on GB News later that day, stating that she would be welcomed at any future Rethinking Education event.


 

In a separate incident at the Rethinking Education conference, another speaker was left "upset" and "insulted" by what was viewed to be an "unprofessional" question from an audience member.


Tom Rogers spoke in a debate on whether "warm-strict is the answer to pupil misbehaviour in schools", on a panel with Alex Standish and Mark Taylor.


Towards the end of the debate, author and director of the campaign group Square Peg, Ellie Costello, was said to have asked Rogers, "Do you actually like children"? Rogers had spoken in favour of a warm-strict approach in schools.


Rogers tweeted that while he was "genuinely coming for a reasoned debate.... about behaviour with people who I knew wouldn't agree with me", he found the question "unprofessional and insulting". He added that audience members were "sniggering away" at Costello's remark.


Costello responded publicly on Monday, apologising for her conduct towards Rogers, but stating that "it was concerning to hear disparaging language about our children as reason to advocate any approach."


James Mannion was approached for comment

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