Schools in England and Wales have been required by the to teach British Values since 2015.
Initially the introduction of these to the National Curriculum may seem to offer support for the Functionalist view of education, which holds that one of the functions of education is to promote Value Consensus.
HOWEVER, this may be a simplistic understanding according to some recent research outlined below. It is possible that schools and teachers present British Values as being very traditional (all about The Queen and Fish and Chips), which may alienate some pupils who have not been brought up with such traditions. In other words, the way British Values are taught in some schools may not be an appropriate way of realising value consensus in our complex, multi cultural society.
Recent research on how teachers teach British Values
Professor Carol Vincent – of the UCl Institute Of Education has carried out some recent research on how schools and teachers interpret ‘our’ so called ‘fundamental British values’. Her research is based on 56 interviews almost 49 observations and 9 case study schools, a mix of both primary and secondary.
Why do schools have to teach them?
The requirement to teach ‘Fundamental British Values’ seems to have come about because of concerns over social cohesion and ideas of ‘Britishness’ in general, and as a response to the Trojan Horse scandal of 2014 in particular, when there was an alleged co-ordinated attempt to impose a conservative islamist agenda onto several schools in Birmingham.
The requirement to teach British Values is closely related to the government’s counter terrorism strategy and broader Prevent agenda.
Despite it being a requirement, there is very little government guidance on how, exactly, teachers should go about teaching ‘British Values, so how do teachers understand this responsibility and how do they go about promoting British values in practice.
Where the teachers supportive?
Teachers were generally supportive of the values, but they didn’t like the word ‘tolerance’ as this suggested a begrudging way of putting up with each other, rather than a celebration of diversity and mutual respect. Some teachers were much more cynical about the requirement to promote them.
How did they fit it in?
The majority of schools embedded in what they were already teaching, but some schools (not the majority) used PSHE and Religious Education lessons and assemblies to address them more explicitly.
How did schools teach British Values?
Some schools used stereotypes to represent Britain using symbols and stereotypes , such as the Royal Family, one school re-enacted the marriage of Prince Harry, even though support for monarchy is not one of the Fundamental British Values.
Vincent cites the example of one commercial resource, a poster aimed at young children which has examples of British foods, music, and festivals, with the food being ‘traditional’ British food – Roast Dinner, Fish and chips, strawberries, Trooping of the colour.
Vincent found that in one school they used the Queens Birthday as an opportunity to promote the values – the organised a whole school lunch and got students to make mugs and sing different songs to celebrate the event.
Some teachers found teaching British Values problematic
Representing Britishness through symbols as those above can lead to a monocultural representations, a kind of ‘nation freezing’ – leading to the idea that Britishness is fixed.
It can also have an exclusionary effect – what if you’re from a family who doesn’t eat Cottage Pie
One teacher maybe hit the nail on the head and said that such an approach is ‘Reductionist and Crass’.
NB they way these values are taught is inspected by OFSTED. The Chief inspector has actually said ‘it’s not about The Queen’.
Repackaging Fundamental British Values
The majority approach to teaching was repackage the values into things the schools had already been doing – democracy = school council, rule of law because they have school rules etc.
However, this doesn’t open up discussion of British Values, so no deeper understanding of what these values mean.
A lot of teachers expressed anxiety about not knowing how to deal with controversial issues if they came up in discussion around the values
The top two areas of concern were migration and Brexit – teachers found having to deal with these issues demanding and anxiety inducing. They were also worried about their own impartiality, and what to do about xenophobia – so rather than discuss the issues , they tended to talk to the students about them, not giving them space to respond.
How to teach them more effectively?
Vincent suggests that we need to give Mmore status for citizenship education, more space and time to allow students to discuss the meaning of citizenship and British Values and more training for teachers on how to discuss difficult issues.
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