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What is Indoctrination within Education and How Can it be Avoided?

October 16, 2023 at 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm BST


What is indoctrination within education and how might it be avoided?  

Debate featuring academic and campaigner Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert and an expert panel of educators. 

On Saturday 23rd September, Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert was due to speak on a panel at the Rethinking Education conference in London, debating how we should distinguish education from indoctrination. However, two days before the event, Dr Sehgal Cuthbert was notified by the organisers that a handful of delegates had expressed concerns that their ‘psychological safety’ would be undermined by being in her presence, due to the campaigning work of her organisation Don’t Divide Us (DDU). DDU researches and challenges the divisive effect of identity politics in education and other policy fields.  

Rather than explaining to the complainants that the purpose of the event was to debate challenging educational questions and that no ‘safety’ issues, psychological or otherwise, would be posed by Dr Cuthbert or any of the other speakers, the organisers decided to deplatform her. Commendably, her fellow panellists withdrew from the event in solidarity and the debate was cancelled. The story hit the newspapers over the weekend and the Free Speech Union wrote to the conference organisers, urging them to respect free speech and reconsider their decision. After the conference had taken place, the organisers issued an apology to Dr Sehgal Cuthbert, but it was too late for those who wished to hear an open debate on such a contested topic.  

We are therefore delighted to announce that Alka, and all three of her fellow panellists, have agreed to speak at an alternative event, organised by the Free Speech Union in partnership with Don’t Divide Us. 

You can read a statement by Dr Sehgal Cuthbert here.

The debate will go ahead on Monday 16th October at 7pm.  

What is indoctrination within education and how might it be avoided?  

Amidst growing controversy over race, sex and gender education, the Department for Education (DfE) last year issued new guidance on indoctrination. It reminded schools of the legal requirement to offer a “balanced presentation” of “political issues” and argued that parents expect pupils to form their opinions “without being influenced by the personal views of those teaching them.”  

Sadly, the DfE’s guidance has not calmed the storm. The government’s critics have accused it of hypocrisy, pointing out that it expects teachers to “actively promote” British Values. Simultaneously, the campaign group Don’t Divide Us has launched a popular petition, calling on schools to stop teaching children that they “either have ‘white privilege’ or ‘black oppression’”. Yet at same time many believe that schools should be positively influencing the young. The National Education Union, for example, argues that teachers simply must challenge students’ “oppressive racial norms and assumptions”.  

So, what is the difference between education and indoctrination? And how might teachers positively influence the young whilst avoiding indoctrination?  

About the Panel  

Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert has worked in education as a teacher, lecturer and education adviser for over 20 years. She is co-author of ‘What Should Schools Teach? Disciplines, subjects and the pursuit of truth’, and is director of the campaign group Don’t Divide Us.  

Toby Marshall is a teacher of film studies and member of the Academy of Ideas Education Forum. He has taught film studies and other subjects in Essex and East London for 20 years, working successfully with both GCSE resit, A-level and degree level students. He blogs at: https://tobymarshall.substack.com/  

Dr Ruth Wareham is Lecturer in Philosophy of Education at the University of Birmingham and Education Policy Researcher at Humanists UK.  

John Marrill teaches Modern History and Politics at Strode’s Sixth Form College, Egham, Surrey, where he is also the Gifted and Talented Coordinator.  

CHAIR: Dr Jan Macvarish, Education and Events Director, the Free Speech Union. Before joining the staff of the Free Speech Union, she worked as an academic sociologist, studying parenting, family life, intimacy and reproductive health.  

DATE: Monday 16th October 2023  

VENUE: The Theatre, The October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AL  

TIME: 7pm (doors open 6.30pm) FREE GLASS OF WINE ON ARRIVAL.  


IN-PERSON TICKETS HERE: FSU members £8. Non-FSU Members £10. 

ONLINE REGISTRATION: Free and open to all, please register here.


October 16, 2023
7:00 pm - 10:00 pm BST


The Free Speech Union
020 3920 7865
View Organiser Website


October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester St
London, WC1N 3AL United Kingdom
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View Venue Website