In February this year the government decided to circulate Al Gore’s film about the dangers of global warning, An Inconvenient Truth, to all schools as part of a Climate Change Resource Pack.

Stewart Dimmock had other ideas.  A school governor and parent of two children, he was incensed by the film.  So incensed was he that he brought a judicial review action against the Secretary of State for Education, claiming that the film promoted “partisan political views”, which promotion is unlawful under the 1996 Education Act.  Mr Dimmock is a member of a political group called New Party which describes itself thus:

“In terms of political philosophy, we are closest to old-style liberalism.  We believe that maximising individual responsibility is the best way to ensure personal freedom and initiative. We also believe in small government which does not get involved either in commercial activity or in dictating how people should organise their personal lives. We believe that the family unit should be the starting point for deciding policy, not an afterthought.  Overall, we describe ourselves as a party of economic liberalism, political reform and internationalism.”

Mr Dimmock said about the film:

“The film promotes a specific political viewpoint and fails to give a detached analysis of scientific fact. As such it represents a blatant attempt by our government to foist its political agenda on to schoolchildren by sending out a film which is more about politics than science. This is plainly unacceptable.”

Jumping the gun, this American blog dedicated to “defending America against the Islamic-Left Alliance”, and written by a right-0f-centre guitar strumming techo-dude, reported the hearing, or rather a report of the hearing in last week’s Times with a lively graphic and very partisan annotation of Mr Gore. 

The judgment today is billed by the Guardian as saying “Climate change film to stay in classroom“, which is not quite what the Times thought the judgment would say.   The Times had reported last week that the judge agreed that the film did indeed promote partisan political views.  By this week, however, the judge had decided that partisan political views were not enough to mean that the Department for Children, Schools and Families was under a duty to ban the film.

Although the judge agreed that it was unlawful for a teacher to use the classroom as a platform for political views, this was something different:

“If on the other hand a teacher, in the course of a school day and as part of the syllabus, presents to his pupils, no doubt with the appropriate setting and with proper tuition and debate, a film or document which itself promotes in a partisan way some political view, that cannot possibly in my judgment be the mischief against which the statute was intended to protect pupils. It would not only lead to bland education, but to education which did not give the opportunity to pupils to learn about views with which they might, vehemently or otherwise, either agree or disagree.”

Specifically, the statutory requirement for “balance” did not require the opposite view to be presented, merely that a view be presented fairly and dispassionately.

The judge finally made no order.  A nil-nil draw.  Or rather a victory to the lawyers since the judge decided that Mr Dimmock should have his legal fees of more than £200,000 paid by the government.  

The film may still be shown, albeit now with revised instructions to teachers to ensure that the film is shown in the context of new guidance notes issued to teachers.   The new guidance notes were rushed out between the hearing and the judgment and will mean, for example, that children should now be told:

Note: Pupils might get the impression that sea-level rises of up to 7m (caused by the complete melting of Greenland or half of Greenland and half of the West Antarctic shelf) could happen in the next decades. The IPCC predicts that it would take millennia for rises of that magnitude to occur. However, pupils should be aware that even small rises in sea level are predicted to have very serious effects. The IPCC says that “many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s” (i.e. within pupils’ own lifetimes).

 A somewhat hollow victory to Mr Dimmock, one might think. 

Especially if you watch this amusing unscripted intervention of a CNN weatherman when details of last week’s hearing made it to the US news.  The judge agrees with the weatherman. 


Link to the judgment in the Administrative Court here.