Yesterday was World Human Rights Day. It was a day to pause and think about human rights and their importance for wellbeing. The complexity and also the simplicity of the UN Declaration of Human Rights warrants further consideration.
On one level the articles within the convention are simple affirmations of how we can live harmoniously, safely and with due regard for the wellbeing of ourselves and our fellow citizens – locally, nationally and internationally. The complexities arise when governments around the globe pay lip service to these articles rather than adhering to them fully.
It becomes even more complex when certain governments, like the current UK government, feel a need to determine their own set of distinctive values, and by doing so give the impression that they disregard the international consensus in favour of their own priorities. That complexity, and the insistence of using the phrase “British Values” is raised to a level of alarm when the government in question also wants to remove themselves from a unified European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights is a set of protocols, agreed by members of the European community in 1952, to ensure that the UN Declaration on Human Rights is managed legally within the confines of the EU. It’s not a replacement for or an interpretation of the UN Declaration. In fact its opening sentence clearly states that signatories to this document are “considering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the General Assembly of the UN . . . . . that this Declaration aims at securing the universal and effective recognition and observance of the Rights therein declared”.
So the valid reasons for the UK government feeling a need to talk about British Values are beyond comprehension.
Furthermore, it is extremely worrying that they give the impression they can pick and choose which of the values we, as UK citizens, should prioritise.
Here are the core British values as proclaimed by the Prime Minister. Please note that we can’t recall any UK convention to agree these – so where did they come from? Certainly not our non-existent constitution. (In point of fact the phrase is first seen in the government document “The 2011 Prevent Strategy”, page 71, para 10.32).
- Fundamental rules of British democracy
- The rule of law
- Individual liberty
- Mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
Let’s review the 9 “hands” of values on the World Human Rights Day posters.
- Rule of Law
What, or who, gives the UK government the right to make this selection from a globally agreed set of values? Why is ‘tolerance’ and ‘the rule of law’ prioritised over equality, freedom or peace? (France prioritises Liberty, Equality, Fraternity?) What are the “fundamental rules of British Democracy”? Is equity not a British value?
In the government guidance document on “Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools” there’s no mention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights nor the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Neither are these agreed set of values mentioned in the accompanying Ofsted “School Inspection Handbook” or the “Common Inspection Framework” – both of which are littered with the term “British values”.
We should’t have any government, whether they be left, right or centre, dictate which values children are studying in schools. There should be a clear national consensus on this. Quite frankly, this smacks of indoctrination – especially when they use the word “fundamental” – and how far down the line does the distinction between indoctrination and radicalisation merge?
As we said in our previous post on the matter, “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.”
On reflection, maybe we need to go further than this. Maybe we need to campaign not only for an amendment to the language used in these government documents but also for our children’s right to know their rights as set out by the United Nations – agreed unanimously by a whole set of nations.
We also need to press this government to explain precisely where their set of “British” values came from, bearing in mind its intention to remove Britain from the European Convention on Human Rights. Global and European unity is now necessary more than ever.
Perhaps those who are undergoing an Ofsted inspection in the forthcoming months might like to ask inspectors where they think ‘British values’ came from and whether the study of the UN Conventions for Human Rights will more than suffice instead. It’s important not to underestimate the potential seriousness of not covering ‘British values’ in line with the latest Ofsted framework.