Schools in England have been instructed not to use material for teaching from groups that have said they believe capitalism should end.
A new government document lists anti-capitalist views alongside racism and the desire to overthrow democracy as “an extreme political stance”.
The Department for Education guidance, under the heading “Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum”, says schools should not use resources produced by organisations that take such stances “under any circumstances”.
“This is the case even if the material itself is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation,” it says.
The document says “extreme political stances include, but are not limited to… a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections”.
It goes on to describe other examples, such as opposition to the right of freedom of speech, the endorsement of illegal activities, and violent actions against people or property.
The guidance has been defended by the schools minister – who insisted curriculums would still reflect a “diversity of views and backgrounds” – after it was criticised by figures including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
Mr McDonnell told The Guardian that it raised concerns over freedom of speech and reflected a “drift” towards authoritarianism.
“On this basis it will be illegal to refer to large tracts of British history and politics including the history of British socialism, the Labour Party and trade unionism, all of which have at different times advocated the abolition of capitalism,” the Labour MP told the newspaper.
“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”
Labour MP Beth Winter described the guidance as “sinister and alarming” in a post on Twitter.
“And as @johnmcdonnellMP points out, it is symptomatic of the growing authoritarianism at the heart of the Conservative Party,” she said.
Dr Richard McNeil-Willson, a counter-extremism expert and research associate at the European University Institute in Florence, described the guidance as “pretty grim stuff”.
“Terms are vague and misleading, potentially directly targeting or indirectly implicating a huge number of civil society organisations in ‘extremism’,” he said on Twitter.
“The idea that orgs are ‘extreme’ if they ‘promote divisive or victim narratives’ nods towards several orgs tackling Islamophobia, violence & racism.
“Anything challenging the status quo thus falls into this bracket, slyly targeting anyone raising issues of inequalities.”
The Department of Education is understood to be keen to stress that schools should be aware of their duties around impartiality and balanced treatment of political issues in the classroom.
A source in the department told Sky News the guidance was specific to the relationships, sex and health education curriculum.
In a statement, minister for school standards Nick Gibb said: “Our new relationships, sex and health education (RHSE) guidance and training resources equip all schools to provide comprehensive teaching in these areas in an age-appropriate way.
“These materials should give schools the confidence to construct a curriculum that reflects diversity of views and backgrounds, whilst fostering all pupils’ respect for others, understanding of healthy relationships, and ability to look after their own wellbeing.”
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