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Children must be taught to be discerning, headteacher to tell conference

Sue Hincks is to address headteachers at the Girls’ Schools Association conference Photo: Ben Birchall/PA

Young people must be taught to be discerning and to understand how their views can be manipulated online, a leading headteacher is expected to say.

Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) president Sue Hincks will address headteachers at a conference on Monday about the key issues facing young people in 2019.

Ms Hincks, who is also the headmistress of Bolton School Girls’ Division, is expected to say children must be taught to ask “purposeful questions” to ensure they have a greater perspective of the world they live in.

“We as teachers have to train young people to be discerning,” she is expected to say.

“We must enable young people to understand how they can be manipulated, not by the rhetoric of speeches or written passages, which they study already in their English language lessons – but by the medium of algorithms and automated scripts.

“We need to teach them that clickbots, social bots and vote bots are designed to influence public opinion, polarising views, silencing opposition, denigrating or extolling individuals, parties and brand according to intent.”

Ms Hincks will tell the GSA conference in Bristol that future generations will be “amazed by our naivete” over the issue and “inability” to stem the growth of large tech companies.

Headteachers will also be told about the need to help pupils understand the impact of the internet on their mental health and issues around consumerism.

“We can explore how the ambition to develop as a person, to fulfil one’s potential and to make a difference for good in the world, will lead to happiness,” Ms Hincks is expected to say.

“Ambition to have more and more funds at one’s disposal and to consume more and more of the world’s resources will not.”

Ms Hincks will also claim that the prospect of charging VAT on independent school fees will “cost, not save” the taxpayer.

She will claim the tax will result in the closure of some independent schools and put higher demand on state school places.

It comes as Labour announced plans at its party conference in September to  “integrate” fee-paying schools into the state sector if it were to come to power.

Under current rules, private schools are eligible for charitable status, which means they can get tax breaks on things such as business rates. There is also no VAT on school fees.

In comparison, state schools are liable for business rates, which are effectively paid for by the taxpayer.