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Conspiracy theories have most likely been in existence for as long as human communities. However, recent years have witnessed a rise in concerns by policymakers, academics and others about the prevalence of conspiracy theories, especially following the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying infodemic. In contemporary societies there are, in fact, a wide range of different conspiracy theories in circulation, for example, in relation to the moon landings, the 9/11 terrorist attack, climate change, and even the ‘assassination’ of Princess Diana. But where such theories were once limited to the margins of public discourse, they have become increasingly prevalent due to technological change and the development of social media, leading to the ubiquity of easily accessible online information (Andrade, 2020). To date, there has been little work focused explicitly on young people and their susceptibility to conspiracy theories and what the best educational response to young people raising such theories in schools might be.

‘There has been little work focused explicitly on young people and their susceptibility to conspiracy theories and what the best educational response to young people raising such theories in schools might be.’

How widespread are conspiracy theories in schools?

To get some sense of how widespread conspiracy theories have become, we commissioned a representative survey of 7,691 teachers in primary and secondary schools in England. Our results suggest that about 40 per cent of teachers have encountered one or more students who support a conspiracy theory, indicating that this has become yet another social issue that impacts on teachers (Jerome et al., 2024).

What are teachers doing about conspiracy theories?

This survey showed that teachers varied greatly in their level of confidence, and used a wide variety of (contradictory) strategies, including opening up discussion, closing it down, challenging students in class, and reporting individuals as safeguarding concerns. The wider evidence suggests that it may be problematic that such a variety of different approaches are being adopted, which is reinforced by these teachers telling us they do not feel confident they are having a positive impact on their students. When asked about their general intentions and what they actually do in class, teachers told us they are more likely to argue with conspiracies when confronted with them, than they expect to do when thinking about conspiracy theories in general terms. This suggests that teachers may be taken off guard in the classroom or tempted into engagement against their better judgment.

Engaging in such ad hoc discussions is unlikely to improve the situation because students who have adopted this position may well have undertaken lots of research to win a casual argument. The closed mindset that often accompanies conspiracy theories, and the tautological nature of such beliefs, means that a lack of supporting evidence and evidence refuting it are both treated as demonstrating that the theory is true. This is associated with ‘backfire’ and ‘bolstering’ effects for those who already believe a conspiracy theory – whereby an individual’s perspective can actually be strengthened rather than weakened when presented with information that contradicts it. Such open discussions also risk further disseminating the ideas to others by giving them some form of legitimacy in the classroom (Berman & Stoddard, 2021).

The need for further work

While many teachers feel the right thing to do is open up the discussion, Hayward and colleagues (2022) suggest they should also seriously consider closing down classroom conversations when they involve conspiracy theories to avoid lessons being blown off course, to minimise the risk to others, and to avoid reinforcing erroneous beliefs. Given the widespread nature of the problem, there is a powerful case for teachers to be involved in combatting conspiracy theories, but they are currently poorly placed to make an effective contribution;  there is, therefore, a significant need for further research and professional development in this area. Because these ideas are also circulating in families and local communities, such solutions are likely to require whole-school policies so that teachers do not feel they are being asked to take on the risk themselves.

This blog post is based on the article ‘Combatting conspiracies in the classroom: Teacher strategies and perceived outcomes’ by Lee Jerome, Ben Kisby and Steve McKay, published in the British Educational Research Journal.


Andrade, G. (2020) Medical conspiracy theories: Cognitive science and implications for ethics. Medicine, Health Care & Philosophy, 23(3), 505–518. 

Berman, D. S., & Stoddard, J. D. (2021) ‘It’s a growing and serious problem:’ Teaching 9/11 to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories. The Social Studies, 112(6), 298–309.

Hayward, J., Jerome, L., Pace, J., & Parker-Shandal, C. (2022, November 30 – December 2). Closing down classroom conversations: Why conspiracy theories necessitate the interruption of classroom discussion [Paper presentation]. College & University Faculty Assembly of the National Council for the Social Studies 2022 Annual Conference, Philadelphia, USA.

Jerome, L., Kisby, B., & McKay, S. (2024) Combatting conspiracies in the classroom: Teacher strategies and perceived outcomes. British Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication.