Fundamental British Values: What are they and how should we teach them?

The Department for Education is in the process of setting up an expert advisory group to look at how best to develop and resource a curriculum intended to instil fundamental British values in our young people. These values are defined by the DfE as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

While we might want to quibble about whether these are the right values (and whether of not they’re especially British) this is what has been settled upon, and, however cynical you feel about government diktats about what schools need to teach over and above an academic curriculum, I imagine few people will want to argue that these values are inherently bad things.

Of course, there’s an agenda. The curriculum and resources that are produced will be published on the Education Against Hate site and are primarily intended on inoculating young people against ‘extremist ideologies’. Make of this what you will.

I have to confess to being sceptical of holding schools to account for a seemingly endless seeming initiatives and hobby horses, but, as the pressure on schools to root out attempts to radicalise students is unlikely to go away any time soon, trying to prevent schools from doing silly things in order to please Ofsted inspectors seems like a worthy aim. If schools have to promote these fundamental British values, they should be supported to do it well.

Some approaches seem more obvious than others. For instance, it strikes me that teaching about democracy needs to be rooted in an understanding of British history. Likewise, to understand the rule of law, students need to know something about where our laws came from and how our legal system operates. An understanding of the arguments about the tension between individual liberty and mutual respect is probably impossible without some knowledge of philosophy, but how much? Do children need to know some Plato? Or will a smattering of British philosophers such as Burke, Hobbes, Hume and Bentham suffice? And to tolerate different faiths and beliefs we have to know about them. Students already receive statutory religious education, but is it the right kind? Do they learn enough about what it is to practice different religions to understand how and why tolerance is so tricky?

To make al this work, the sorts of question that need addressing are these:

  • What examples of great practice in teaching British values are there already out there?
  • What gaps are there and how can this new curriculum help fill them?
  • Where should this sit in the curriculum? Should it replaces aspects of what’s currently taught in history, RE, citizenship or PSHE? Or should schools be encouraged to adopt a cross-curricular approach? If so, what are the best ways to do this?
  • How can the DfE ensure the resources it produces are genuinely useful and don’t just end up adding to teachers’ workload?

If you have answers to any of these questions, or suggestions for more questions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. I’m particularly keen to hear about any schools who are already doing an excellent job on this.

19 Responses to Fundamental British Values: What are they and how should we teach them?

  1. Tom Burkard says:

    I’m totally against this. The only value that’s really being promoted here is that everything should be decided in committees composed of the anointed. We have far too much of that all ready–just look at Greening’s new Gender Bill that is being pushed through Parliament with hardly anyone–probably not even most MPs–being aware of its provisions. The only mention I’ve seen of it was an article by Simon Marcus in Conservative Woman.

    • David Didau says:

      Are you against teaching children about democracy and the rule of law?

      • Tom Burkard says:

        You rather miss the point. By the time this gets filtered through every organisation that has skin in the game–such as ‘Education Against Hate’–teaching children ‘about democracy and rule of law’ will mean what they want it to mean. For example, our ‘democracy’ now involves giving NGOs the right to make rules in a given area and use the criminal justice system to fine or imprison anyone who doesn’t obey. We can be all but certain that our children won’t learn about this.

  2. Matt Bawden says:

    I know others may disagree. But, I’d point to the excellent work done by The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues.

    • Rob Bowden says:

      We must not confuse values with character and virtues. Related but not the same thing. Does not help of course that the FBVs as currently defined are not really values either. It frustrates me that all this new activity around values (including the jubilee centre) negates what has gone before. We helped pilot their worrying knightly virtues programme and that was enough to know to go no further….

      • David Didau says:

        Agreed, I think the idea of promoting virtues is misconceived. Also agree that calling ‘democracy’ or ‘rule of law’ a value is to run the risk of missing out that knowing about these institutions is more important than simply valuing them.

  3. In the shadow of Brexit, as a EU citizen whose status is dangling I object to l describing democracy and the rule of law as “British values” and I am surprised they have not been labelled “Great British values”, like the Great British bake off. It makes me want to throw a tea party and chant “no taxation without representation”.

    After the terrorist attack in London Bridge the very brave Romanian citizen who fought one of the attackers was hailed as an epitome of “British values”, whereas he, very sweetly, insisted that anybody would have done the same. Does anybody remember “the Lion of London Bridge”, the Millwall fan that was caught displaying less that pristine British values later on? (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/millwall-fan-hailed-lion-london-10745482)

    Have you seen the Jigsaw campaign about British style? It makes me think of “British values”, because mostly they are aspirations held by many humans all over the world. I object to the slippery slope that goes from “great idea, let’s make it our aspiration and call it British” to “mine and nobody else’s, cos we lead the world in fair play and rule of law”.
    http://in.fashionnetwork.com/news/Jigsaw-launches-high-profile-pro-immigration-campaign,879803.html#.WfMXLY9SzIU

    My opinion is very biased, and informed by many years of not being accepted as British whilst doing my “British bit”. (Hey, if you don’t like what I say I will invoke British “individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” if I have to!). I find the whole concept of “teaching British values” patronising and it reminds me of the CEO of a school I worked for. Many of its students, although British, had family and cultural links with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In this context, this magnificently paid and educated British man delivered an assembly on Malala Yousafzai, the importance of education and how brave she had been just by going to school in a remote part of Northern India. Cos, I suppose, in his mind we are all the same.

    • David Didau says:

      If we were to agree that nothing about these ‘values’ is inherently British, would you feel any better?

      • Definitively I would feel better and there would be less of an inherent contradiction. Few people would come out against respect, tolerance and the rule of law, but you still have to work out how to teach them (or even if teaching them is possible at all!)

        • David Didau says:

          Teaching knowledge of these values is straightforward. Teaching people to share them is more problematic

          • Chester Draws says:

            Not problematic David, impossible.

            There are plenty of examples of states attempting to inculcate values using schools. I’m not aware of many that have been very successful.

            The Soviets tried to drive out religion by teaching about how evil it was. The result is that Eastern Europe remains religious. Franco tried to get schools to teach how a good Spaniard was naturally Catholic. The result is that Spaniards no longer care about Catholic religion. And in both those cases the teachers largely bought into the official line too, so it wasn’t as if they were just going through the motions.

            The only way that success is achievable regarding this sort of thing is to make sure the curriculum is untruthful. So Japanese students are literally told lies to make sure they have the “right” attitudes to some of their recent history. I’m not convinced doing that would be a British value though.

  4. julietgreen says:

    I’m thinking (and hoping) that this is another edict that will die a death through lack of interest. It deserves none. Though you hint at it and then proceed to state that we have to pay it some service, there are no British Values and the defining of a set of liberal ideals as such is an arrogant affront. It’s all too easy to ridicule the notion and point out cynically evidence of the very opposite in British history, alongside a set of completely different values which we could recognise as popularly British. OK so this is not awfully constructive so far, but I think it’s important to question what this is all about and then consider the approach we take. Is it a backlash against certain illiberal practices in some cultures? If it is, then we should be clear about what we consider unacceptable in terms of British Laws. Knowing what they mean we should NOT be doing in schools is a lot easier to get to grips with and may not require any change of practice. We should not be trying to fathom where, how and what we should be teaching with regard something we don’t actually agree exists. Yes – even if they tell us to!

    • David Didau says:

      I’m sympathetic to this view Juliet, but seeing as the DfE is embarking on this project it makes sense to try to help them to avoid doing something egregiously foolish.

  5. Elaine Foster - Allen says:

    I believe that reviewing and casting values is important, but how do we get to the place where what is presented truly reflects a consensus? Given that values are both stable and dynamic, should this list not reflect the values held by society currently, and then with some future casting, answer the question – what would you like to see?

    It would be interesting to know how the list was arrived at!

    I note that two items, individual liberty and the rule of law, in the list of values presented appear to come from a particular political perspective, capitalist. I am wondering whether the list should not be widened to include other perspectives.

  6. Stephen says:

    I know I’m running the risk of sounding too positive and no way cynical enough compared with the comments above, but I support this initiative. It’s impossible to run any organisation, least of all a school, without a set of values underpinning it. It’s right and good that there should be an agreed set of values. As you point out, it’s hard to argue that any of these are inherently bad. By calling them British it is nonsense to claim that this is an exclusive claim on them, or even that by so doing we are vindicating (and rewriting) all of British history. They are aspirational. They are shared values that we want society to share – and as educators we have a vital role in shaping society. You’re naïve if you think educators can be neutral. It’s right then that we should consider the society we are shaping and these 5 values do a pretty good job. They have my backing and I am happy and keen to see them promoted in British schools.

    (BTW I tried to enter website url below and it said it was not valid. .uk is a valid url!!!)

  7. Simple Teacher says:

    I would agree that British History would have to be taught alongside teaching British Values for students to have a better understanding of them. Surely the difficulty we would face as teachers is to marry the atrocities of the British Empire and its assault on the “rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” in countries such as India and Kenya with the claim that these values are British. To be open and honest about colonial history to students would show that Britain built its wealth by not following British Values.
    I think that would have to be sensitively and skillfully handled – I’m not sure how this could be rolled out successfully throughout the country.

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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