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.