British Values in Schools
Calvin Robinson argues that our schools have a responsibility to promote British values, in order to unify our society once more.
Are we doing all we can to promote British values as a society? A key demographic for this as outlined during the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government of 2010-2015 was to be schools. The government, as part of their Prevent strategy, outlined that educationists have a duty to promote British values. The idea being that if we promote these values in schools, that may spread throughout the wider society and we’ll end up with a more inclusive, more tolerant nation. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. That isn’t how things have played out though.
Before we even look at the values themselves, there’s a huge barrier to entry in getting this idea off the ground, and that’s the term ‘British values’. It should be self explanatory and quite benign. The suggestion is that these are key values that we identify with as a nation, as a society, values that are important to our community. However, this has proven to be a stumbling block for many who misunderstand how inclusion works.
Nowhere does it claim any of these values are exclusive to Britain, nor does it claim that we have a moral superiority to any other nation / community and their values, but from conversations I’ve experienced in senior leadership meetings and governors’ meetings over the years, the problem is getting people’s heads around the term before we can even begin to think about promoting any values.
This modern leftist attitude of self-denigration and anti-patriotism is an issue affecting many, they are offended by the term ‘British’ being in our values. “Why must they be called BRITISH values?” I’ve heard exclaimed in many a meeting. Well, because they’re the values we’ve identified as a nation that are of significant importance to our way of life. These people are equally against “Western values”, but surely “values” on its own is far too vague. When arguing “but these aren’t exclusively British values, lots of people around the world share these values” my go-to response has usually been sure, these values are not exclusive to Britain, but I’m positive that we can all think of a few nations that absolutely do not share these values. To which the retort is usually “well the regimes may not, but the people may well do”, which is completely missing the point. Again, this is not us saying our values are morally superior to anyone else's (although there’s certainly an argument to be made for for encouraging the uptake or sharing of these values), but we’re saying these are values we identify as important and that we expect all members of our shared community to follow at all times.
So what are these values? The other problem we come against is that too few people can actually identify what British values are. This suggests we haven’t been doing a very good job of promoting them thus far. Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Very sound values, values I’d hope all Brits could identify with. These are values we have fought for in two world wars, values worth dying for. Again, many countries around the world share these values, but there’s also a great many that find them abhorrent and would want to destroy us for them. You only have to look at the persecution of Christians in Pakistan and Iran, or the constant attacks on Jews in Israel by Islamist extremists to see we still have a long way to go in regards to the latter value of “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. But that’s beside the point, this isn’t a finger-pointing game, the idea isn’t to highlight all the places falling short of our values, the idea is surely to shine as a light and set a positive example. We can only encourage Venezuela of the importance of democracy and Saudi Arabia of the importance of individual liberty if we lead and live by example.
The other problem is that fundamental misunderstanding of the word inclusion. One of the common arguments against British values I hear from school leaders is “We’re a multi-cultural society, so why should they be labelled British values? That’s excluding people” when it’s quite the opposite. Being British is something that unites all of us, regardless of our race, ethnicity, or religion. It doesn’t matter if you’re 1st generation, 2nd generation or if your family have been in the UK for centuries, these values are things that bring us together as one, regardless of our superficial differences. That is the true meaning of inclusion.
While these values were defined as part of the Prevent scheme, that’s very much were left to reside. There’s little motivation for schools to actively promote British values outside of the occasional Ofsted tickbox. Teachers’ Standards, the statutory requirements all teachers have to abide by, states teachers must “not undermine British values”, which is a million miles away from what we should be asking of teachers, to promote British values at all times.
There are a few schools doing this well, but they do seem to be in the minority. Katharine Birbalsingh, Headmistress of Michaela for instance - a school that I’m a governor at – recently wrote “Everybody has to buy into British values and those values ought to be personal responsibility, duty, obligation and a belief in country.”
values like the sense of personal responsibility, sense of duty towards others, a sense of obligation." and she’s completely right. There should be an element of service over self, an obligation to the wider community, that’s something that could help bring together this divided nation. Ms Birbalsingh can often be seen addressing a canteen full of secondary pupils, telling them how they are all not just part of the Michaela community, but they also have a part to play in wider society and being British is a key characteristic that brings us all together. Katherine was born in New Zealand.
Amandeep Singh Bhogal is another prominent proponent of British values. Himself a 1st generation immigrant and proud Brit, recently proclaimed “Don’t be like Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
Be like the shopkeeper from Ilford. Respect our national flags, respect your nation. Be proud, be patriotic.” Quite right! Why does it seem that so many 1st and 2nd generation Brits are proud to show a little patriotism in the name of unity, when a vocal minority just want to bring us down. I’ve no doubt there’s an element of ‘white guilt’ in there somewhere, but it’s time to get over ourselves and re-unite in the promotion of British values.
This is an issue I’ve been writing about for a number of years now, and it’s not going away any time soon unless something changes.
Calvin Robinson spent 7 years in the technology industry before finding his vocation in teaching. He's been a classroom teacher, middle leader, assistant principal and subject specialist consultant at some fantastic schools across London.
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