Father and school governor Stuart Dimmock brought an application to declare unlawful a decision by the Education Department to distribute to every state secondary school a copy of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, as part of a pack containing other short films and a reference to an educational website containing a Guidance Note, ie the actual Guidance Note was not included in the pack.

Fundamental to the application were the statutory provisions relating to ‘political indoctrination’ and ‘duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues’ in schools contained within ss406 and ss407 of the Education Act 1996.

The judge concluded that the mere distribution to schools to facilitate their showing the film, and accompanied guidance was not per se, or irremediably, promotion of those partisan political views.

However he stated that it was insufficient simply to supply in the pack a reference to the website – the Guidance Note itself should be a constituent part of the pack. He highlighted the fact that the film contained errors and omissions, and on occasion departed from mainstream opinion, sometimes in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of Al Gore’s political views.

As a result of these proceedings a new Guidance Note has been produced, which the Secretary of State for Children and Families proposes to include in the pack, and which addresses the main errors by drawing specific attention to where Al Gore may be in error and/or deviates from the consensus view; and by where appropriate raising specific questions for discussion.

The judge was satisfied that, with the Guidance Note as amended, the Secretary of State for Children and Families is setting the film into a context in which it can be shown by teachers, and not so that they or the schools are promoting partisan views contained in the film.

However, as for the position prior to the changes to the Guidance Note, the judge stated that because an insufficient attempt was made to counter the more one-sided views of Al Gore, and, to some extent by silence in the Guidance Note, those views were adopted, or at any rate discussion of them was not facilitated, there would have been a breach of the Act.

The High Court (Queen’s Bench Division) Administrative Court judgment in this case is available via this link.

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