New data shows that UK education is almost as captured as America
As many as 59% of British schoolchildren are encountering Critical Race Theory (CRT)-derived terms ‘white privilege’, ‘unconscious bias’ or ‘systemic racism’ at school. Add in two critical gender concepts, ‘patriarchy’ and the idea that there are innumerable genders, and the share of schoolchildren exposed to Critical Social Justice (CSJ)-linked ideas rises to 73%.
‘There is scant evidence [CRT’s] associated concepts are widespread in British schools,’ claimed Daniel Trilling in the Guardian. ‘A handful of Right-wing commentators have been trying to import the moral panic into the UK, mainly via the pages of the Telegraph and Spectator.’ But my findings demolish this trope that CRT is only being taught in a few isolated radical outposts, like the American School in London. Indeed, it reinforces the findings of Don’t Divide Us, which found that among the minority of local councils which responded to their information requests, many instructed schools to adopt CRT-based teaching materials.
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Findings stem from a representative April 2022 YouGov survey of over 1,500 18-20 year-olds I commissioned for my new report, ‘The Political Culture of Young Britain’, just released by Policy Exchange. The data shows that exposure is rising over time, with 68% of 20-year-olds having encountered CSJ in school, rising to 74% of 19-year-olds and 78% of 18-year-olds (still in school at the time of the survey). Comparative data indicates that UK schoolchildren are being taught between two-thirds and three-quarters as much CSJ as their American counterparts. CRT is nearly as common in Britain as it is in America.
Worse, these CRT and radical gender theory-derived concepts are being taught largely as fact, rather than as one perspective among others: 68% of those taught these ideas said that they were either not taught competing perspectives, or that they were told that the alternative views on offer were not ‘respectable’.
Young people who were taught more CSJ concepts are significantly more likely to endorse political correctness than those who were not. But the bigger impact is on fear and inter-group relations: young people taught the largest number of CSJ concepts are twice as likely as those taught no CSJ to say they feared being expelled, punished or shamed for their views when at school. Those most exposed are also significantly more likely to say they were uncomfortable criticising a black classmate compared to those taught no CSJ.
These findings coincide with alarming data on the scale of progressive illiberalism among young Britons revealed in a linked YouGov survey of 1,800 adults (May 2022) and Policy Exchange report, ‘The Politics of the Culture Wars in Contemporary Britain’. When asked, after a brief description of the case, whether Sussex University’s Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell was right to defend the academic freedom of Kathleen Stock, more young people aged 18-25 said ‘no’ (39%) than ‘yes’ (35%). By contrast, those over 50 backed Stock by a 75-19 margin. When asked whether J.K. Rowling should be dropped by her publisher, young people split evenly while the over-50s plumped 82-3 for Rowling. The biggest age gap is within the Left, between illiberal young Leftists and their liberal older counterparts.
Young people are, as the Rowling and Stock cases show, distinctly illiberal. They are also far more anti-national. For instance, 18-25s are evenly divided over whether Churchill’s statue should be removed from Parliament Square whereas those over 50 oppose it 83-6. Just 9% of 18-20 year-old women report a positive opinion of the wartime leader. When asked whether Britain is a racist country, the 18-25 group responded in the affirmative by a 61-39 margin compared to 35-65 against among the over-50s. Indeed, nearly 6 in 10 of these young people thought Britain was as or more racist than most countries.
Yet the wider British public is not woke. Across 25 questions on my adult survey, people opposed this position by more than two to one. Issues around cancel culture split the far Left from the moderate Left; CRT questions fragment the Left while mobilising the Right. For example, 73% of Tory, Brexit Party or Unionist voters ‘strongly disagree’ with moving Churchill from Parliament Square while only 5% of Labour, Lib Dem or other left-of-centre voters ‘strongly agree’ he should be moved.
CSJ is widely unpopular, yet seems to be running largely unopposed through all manner of public sector organisations, from schools to the civil service to the NHS. Given the obvious electoral potential to divide the Left and unite the Right that might be gained from campaigning on these issues, why have the Conservatives shied away from them? According to Matt Goodwin, the Tories have failed to lean into these realignment issues the way Republican counterparts like Glenn Youngkin or Ron DeSantis have because they are largely composed of status-obsessed business liberals: ‘Instead of driving the salience of these debates…[as with Brexit], the Tories steer clear of them..[as a] distraction from their primary interest, which is managing the economy.’
In allowing Labour and its media allies to reframe these questions as divisive side issues, the Conservatives have largely capitulated on questions of liberty and patriotism that are foundational to Western civilisation and Britain’s national cohesion. The full political impact of this neglect will become apparent in a generation, when new generations reared in a culture of anti-Toryism become the median voter and render the Conservatives the natural party of opposition.
Eric Kaufmann is a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange.