Should schools teach 'British values'?

Sunday 18 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Pit Theatre, Barbican Battle for the Classroom

There seems to be a battle for the hearts and minds of young people taking place in Britain today. Stories about teenagers running off to join the Islamic State are only the most extreme example of generational and cultural estrangement. At the same time, there is a broader concern that all young people are becoming more self-centred and less civic-minded - a ‘me, me, me’ generation, self-absorbed and increasingly alienated from traditional institutions and mores. We worry about young people being drawn to nihilistic subcultures, from violent video games to suicide and self-harm websites. To address this alienation, and jihadi chic in particular, the government has said schools should actively promote British values.

This seems uncontroversial until we ask what exactly British values are, and who gets to decide. Some critics argue that by laying down what must be taught, new laws undermine the very democratic principles schools are being asked to promote. Despite seemingly being more hype than reality, the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal – with schools allegedly being taken over by Islamic extremists – has led to a series of ‘snap’ Ofsted investigations targeting not only schools in predominantly Muslim communities, but also Jewish and Christian schools, raising fears of a witch hunt against faith schools per se. Ofsted inspectors have also asked primary school children questions about their knowledge of homosexuality and female genital mutilation, leading some parents to worry the government is pushing a particular agenda that may be at odds with their own beliefs. Others ask if there’s a tension between the active promotion of ‘British values’ and the delivery of an open, knowledge-based education. 

Is there a shared set of British values that we can all sign up to? How do we reconcile any tensions between the values of parents and those espoused by educators or laid down by the government? Should parents accept that a key role of schooling is to broaden their children’s knowledge, exposing them to ideas and values beyond those held by the family? Or should the state accept that values are best learned in the home and only tangentially picked up at school? Is it even possible for schools to uphold values that are highly contested in society more broadly? If so, which ones, and how should they be taught?

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John David Blake
history practitioner, Harris Federation

Rania Hafez
programme leader, MA Education, Greenwich University; fellow, The Muslim Institute

Toby Marshall
A Level Film Studies Teacher; PhD researcher in sociology of education, UCL Institute of Education

Abdul Rehman-Malik
journalist; programmes manager, Radical Middle Way

Jane Sandeman
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre

Produced by
Sally Millard co-founder, IoI Parents Forum
Jane Sandeman convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre
Recommended readings
Promoting Fundamental British Values, Deparment for Education,, 1 November 2015

A secular society should not prevent people from acting on their religious beliefs

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Nadia Butt, Debating Matters, 28 August 2015

Spot the Little Terrorist in Your Classroom, F. Furedi,, Spiked,, 1 August 2015

Teach British Values in Schools S. Harris,, Daily Mail,, 16 June 2015

Should Teachers 'Promote' British Values?, M. Easton,, BBC News,, 10 June 2015

British values

To mark the 799th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Prime Minister has written an article for the Mail on Sunday on British values.

David Cameron, Mail on Sunday, 15 June 2014

Learning to Hate?, Schooling, Nationalism, and Children?, A. T. Carter, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute,, 9 November 2011

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In this compelling and timely short, volunteers pose points and questions on patriotism to media lecturer Dr Graham Barnfield.


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