When David Cameron stood in solidarity with Francois Hollande outside the Bataclan theatre in Paris was he thinking about the similarities or the differences between their personal and their countries’ sets of values?
Are there any differences between French values and British values?
Here’s a post we wrote a year ago on the subject of “values”.
Presumably, Cameron, as head of a democratic government, believes in liberty, equality and fraternity – the fundamental virtues of French civilisation? And yet, he – and others within his government – persist with this notion of British values, as though they were somehow different to and, by implication, superior to the values held by other nations.
This is hardly a resounding demonstration of fraternity.
A week has passed since the terrorist attacks on Paris and many have reflected on the short, medium and long-term effects of this atrocity.
For us, we return to our regular work on education and whether these attacks and the continued threat of terrorism impact on what happens in schools.
When the new Ofsted framework was drawn up, there was no secret that it was influenced by
- The government’s insistence on teaching “British values” (despite the lack of statutory and specific time in the curriculum for PSHE education)
- The impact of the Trojan Horse “scandal” in Birmingham
The outcome is two documents that are littered with references to “British values” and “British society”.
In the section on Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education – on which schools are judged – it says,
“The social development of pupils is shown by their: . . . . . . . acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; they develop skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain”.
On effectiveness of leadership and management,
“In making this judgement, inspectors will consider . . . . . . how well the school prepares pupils positively for life in modern Britain and promotes the fundamental British values of democracy….etc., etc. (see above)”.
In the Common Inspection framework it says,
“Inspectors will make a judgement on the effectiveness of leadership and management by evaluating the extent to which leaders, managers and governors: . . . . . . actively promote British values”.
The “outstanding” grade descriptor for Leadership and Management says,
“Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and, within this, the promotion of fundamental British values, are at the heart of the school’s work”.
On teaching and learning,
“English, mathematics and the skills necessary to function as an economically active member of British society are promoted through teaching and learning”.
In the section relating to “Personal development, behaviour and welfare” in the Common Inspection Framework, it says,
“Inspectors will make a judgement on the personal development, behaviour and welfare of children and learners by evaluating the extent to which the provision is successfully promoting and supporting children’s and other learners’: . . . . . understanding how to keep themselves safe from relevant risks as abuse, sexual exploitation and extremism, including when using the internet and social media. . . . . . . .Inspectors will make a judgement on personal development, so that they [pupils] are well prepared to respect others and contribute to wider society and life in Britain”.
In addition, there’s some clear instructions, as part of the “Prevent” strategy to have “due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.
In the government’s document, “Keeping Children Safe in Education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges”, it says,
“Schools are expected to assess the risk of children being drawn to terrorism, including support for extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology. . . . . Schools and colleges should have clear procedures in place for protecting children at risk of radicalisation.”
And if they don’t have these measures in place, schools are in danger of failing the safeguarding element of the Ofsted inspection.
How schools can ascertain a child’s susceptibility to radicalism without coherent and frequent opportunities to speak and listen about issues relating to personal development is beyond us.
Schools do need to have a serious look at this.
We have some anxieties.
Whilst we laud the seeming promotion of “personal development” we have concerns about why we have this persistent referral to British values rather than generic human virtues – values that unite us, values that if adopted, determine our ability to be spiritually intelligent.
We’re also concerned with the regular use of the word “fundamental”.
As we’re in a time when “fundamentalism” is rightly frowned upon and discouraged, should we really be using this word to talk about these so-called “British” values?
Our other problem with the “British” values phrases in these documents is the expectation for work in schools and how this relates to the government’s proposals to drop the European Human Rights legislation in favour of adopting a “British Bill of Rights” – something that a certain Mr Gove is in charge of.
Is the government suggesting that one way of “preventing” radicalisation is to teach and learn about “British values”?
Is it possible that some may consider the mere fact of calling these unifying virtues and values “British” is tantamount to encouraging radicalisation?
Virtuous values and ethically based living have no border constraints. A person living virtuously in Britain is probably living almost identically to a person living virtuously in France, or India, or Syria, given their differences in culture and climate.
Without having a proper and frank discussion about precisely what British values are, other than the very bland statement so far made about “a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law”, then we doubt that schools can be judged on whether they are promoting British or any other values. And we doubt whether anyone in government, or in schools, has had a meaningful discussion about whether all “values” are virtuous.
Collectively, as educators, we should be challenging the government and Ofsted to distinctly amend the language – from British values to Human values – and get rid of that word “fundamental”. If this happened, we’d get away from any underlying political agenda in teaching and learning in this area of work.
This is a difficult and challenging time – for society but also for schools. If they don’t teach “British values” they’re susceptible to the failure label. If they do, what they teach, how they show evidence of learning and how they do this whilst simultaneously respecting cultural and religious differences all have to be considered.
Insisting on human values rather than British values would be a good start.
This is a complex issue and there’s a real sense of unease about this whole concept of Britishness and British values, in and out of school. Everyone has to be careful (and prepared), and there’s still much to be done before any school, however “outstanding” they are, can truly say they are dealing with the prevention of or response to radicalism, and violent and abusive extremism. There’s still more learning, by staff and pupils, that needs to take place before any school can say they can evidence how they are developing shared human values amongst their pupils and that this is contributing significantly to the personal development of each and every child. . . . . . . . . . let alone be inspected on this.