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DfE issues guidance on ‘promoting fundamental British values’ in schools

DfE issues guidance on ‘promoting fundamental British values’ in schools

Categories: Latest News

Thursday December 04 2014

The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and BBC News all report on the Department of Education’s publication of non-statutory guidance notes for schools, maintained and independent, academies and free schools, in respect of new “requirements to actively promote fundamental British values in schools”.

Although the guidance makes no mention of shari’ah law, the Daily Mail runs with the headline, “Schools told to crack down on teaching of Sharia law”.

The newspapers assert that the guidance comes in the wake of Ofsted reports into schools in Tower Hamlets and the so-called ‘Trojan horse’ episode involving various schools in Birmingham, paying no regard to various other independent schools non-Muslim schools which are equally covered under the new remit of teaching ‘British values’.

In particular, the papers highlight Ofsted inspections at a school in east London where pupils were said to be unable to differentiate between English law and shari’ah law. The Guardian consequently concludes the incident informed the guidance’s new stipulation that “It is expected that pupils should understand that while different people may hold different views about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, all people living in England are subject to its law.”

The non-statutory advice issued to maintained schools states “The school’s ethos and teaching, which schools should make parents aware of, should support the rule of English civil and criminal law and schools should not teach anything that undermines it. 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.”

However, the guidance for independent schools clarifies that “this is not incompatible with encouraging pupils to respect religious law if the school’s ethos is faith-based; the school should not avoid discussion, of an age-appropriate nature, of potential conflicts between state law and religious law, and the implications for an individual living in England.”

The guidance places significant emphasis upon the promotion of fundamental British values namely democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. It further notes these values adhere to those specified in the Prevent Strategy report in 2011. However, unlike the Prevent Strategy, the guidance does not refer to the values of equality of opportunity and freedom of speech.

Nor does the guidance take any account of the fact that the teaching of religion in schools has been deteriorating fast with deep concerns raised over the education system’s failure to adequately teach religious literacy to pupils. 

The guidance also ignores the wider context of youth disaffection with the political system with the British Youth Council relating statistics from a Hansard Society report which found that only 25% of 18—24 were certain to vote in the next election, the lowest for all age groups.

It would seem the guidance is more about posturing about ‘British values’ of democracy and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs than it is about doing anything significant to advance them.

The government’s move to introduce new rules to promote British values in schools follows the fallout from the so-called Trojan horse scandal earlier this year. The Department of Education has already referred to plans requiring nurseries to teach ‘British values’ under new rules. 

Similarly the guidance for independent schools highlights that the changes mean that rather than merely encouraging ‘respect’ for the values, schools are now required to ‘actively promote’ them.

In the guidance for maintained schools, the Department of Education clarifies that “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 [spiritual, moral, social and cultural development].”

It recommends actions schools can take including exploring the advantages and disadvantages of democracy in the curriculum as well as the role of extra-curricular activity, including those that are pupil-led, in promoting British values.

It is noteworthy that a guidance on SMSC [spiritual, moral, social and cultural development] for independent schools previously existed in 2013. The new guidance therefore has merely been revised and extended to state schools.

Yet the need for the guidance is questionable. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, stated “The majority of schools will find they have been ‘actively promoting’ British values for years. School councils, behaviour policies, a broad approach to religious education; all can and do exemplify British values. Our advice for most members is: before you do anything new, make sure you capture and describe the good work you are already doing.”

It is worth taking note that Ofsted inspections have been heavily criticised by educationalists, led by Sir Tim Brighouse, a former education commissioner, for “being guided by an ideology at odds with the traditional British values which schools are meant to espouse, particularly fairness, justice and respect for others.”

The guidance also comes as the chair of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, claimed that the Bridge Schools Inspectorate, the inspection body for private Muslim schools is failing to identify the “warning signs of extremism and radicalisation”.

Since the admission of the Education Secretary,
Nicky Morgan, that no evidence of “extremism and radicalisation” was found in the so-called Trojan horse schools, the Ofsted chair’s observation ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Moreover, with the new Counter-terrorism and Security Bill introducing a statutory requirement on schools in regards to the Channel programme, how long will it be before schools, like universities, are neutered of their ability to engage the student population in open discussion, critical thinking and freedom of speech?


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