The British Department for Education (DfE) has released documents requiring schools in England to actively promote basic British values to students.
The new requirements are written in language that is significantly stronger than in the past. The mandate specifies how schools are to teach spiritual moral, social, and cultural (SMSC) development, and changes the word “respect” as it pertains to British values to “promote,” reports Richard Adams of The Guardian. Pupils are to be taught how British democracy and the law work, and are to contrast Britain’s government to governments in other countries. The regulations emphasize that extracurricular activities, especially student-run projects, are particularly effective. The document continues:
“Actively promoting the values means challenging opinions or behaviours in school that are contrary to fundamental British values. Attempts to promote systems that undermine fundamental British values would be completely at odds with schools’ duty to provide SMSC.”
Schools Minister John Nash added:
“We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. This ensures young people understand the importance of respect and leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain.”
Religiously-based schools, such as Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim schools, are largely uncomfortable with the requirement of giving secular law priority over religious teachings.
Another document, the revised guidance for independent schools, was published at the same time. It stated that a schools’ ethos and teaching should support English law.
“If schools teach about religious law, particular care should be taken to explore the relationship between state and religious law. Pupils should be made aware of the difference between the law of the land and religious law,” it warns.
The publication specifies that Catholic schools will be expected to teach about civil marriage along with the church’s understanding about marriage. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has faulted religious schools for not preparing students for modern British life and for not teaching inclusiveness and tolerance.
Ofsted regulators, according to Graeme Paton and Melanie Hall of the Telegraph, found 11 state schools were causing the risk of “marginalization” because the students were not being given a “broad and balanced” curriculum. A series of Ofsted reports claimed schools were not offering students the tools to understand various faiths and tolerance for other communities which are different from their own.
A recent scandal, the so- called Trojan Horse, which was centered on fears that Muslims were trying to impose Islamic practices at several state schools, was the catalyst for the inspections.
As a result of these inspections, 35 schools across England were penalized by being served “no notice” inspections, and 23 schools were downgraded. Two schools were dropped by two grades. There were “concerns about curriculum” in 17 schools and “not preparing students for life in Britain today” warnings were received by 11 schools.
General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Russell Hobby said that most schools were already meeting the requirements.
“Every school council, all of their personal social and health education, their behaviour policy, their broad approach to religious education – all exemplify British values. Our advice for most members is: don’t do anything new, make sure you capture and describe the good work you are already doing.”
The Association of School and College Leaders appreciated the guidance, but emphasized that this area of education is extremely complex, says Judith Burns, reporting for BBC News. The union’s director of policy, Leora Cruddas said that the task could not be approached through a “single lens.”
An opinion column in The Conversation written by Jacqueline Baxter, a lecturer at The Open University, quotes a former school leader whose concern is that these Ofsted inspections will create resentment and will do nothing for “British values.” A spokesman on behalf of the Church of England raised concerns that although Britain has a distinctive national culture, there are many values that are not uniquely British. Also, says Baxter, schools are being asked to follow values that have not yet been thoroughly defined.
Baxter says she is aware that preventing terrorism is vital, but she is afraid that the current system will erode hard-won community cohesion. She worries that schools will become organizations which are undermined by suspicion, doubt, and overwhelming scrutiny. As Naureen Khalid, a school governor and co-founder of UK Gov Chat, told Baxter:
“I personally think in terms of human values. As long as my school promotes these, I’m happy.”