The Origins of British Values

November 12, 2014 in British Values

This is part of a series of posts exploring the idea of teaching British Values, leading up to our workshop for teachers on the subject in early December.

The idea that schools should promote values is not a new one. Previous governments have believed that schools (meaning teachers) provided the ideal forum to implement a particular agenda on identity, diversity and extremism to name but a few.

The riots in Northern English towns in the summer of 2001 prompted the then-Labour government to creating its community cohesion agenda, focusing on having disparate groups in society engage with one another, to dispel any myths about the ‘other’. Although not without fault, it had a positive vision of sharing and celebrating, with schools teaching about the benefits of diversity and enabling pupils to interact with other students from a different cultural background.

However the 7/7 attacks shifted the state’s priorities towards counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) with schools identified in the Prevent strand as being able to identify those most likely to be seduced by an extremist Islamic ideology. This agenda was directed at the British Muslim community and as a result led to an ‘us vs. them’ mindset, the exact opposite of Community Cohesion. Teachers were now supposed to identify and refer students who they thought could be radicalised, demands which were increased by the current government.

Finally, amidst a climate/rhetoric of anti-immigration and anti-Islam, came the story of a ‘Trojan Horse affair’, in which students in Birmingham were being brainwashed to support radical Islam. Although this turned out to have been exaggerated and that the schools had only promoted conservative Muslim beliefs, some in the government and media beloved they had found ‘the enemy within’.

Hence the focus on ‘British Values’ despite the fact that the values listed by the government and Ofsted could be claimed by many other states with a functioning democracy. This is not to say that schools should not teach about values, only that they should not be used as a lazy government attempt to assert a nationalistic agenda for political expediency.

These, alongside other questions, will be discussed in more detail in the coming weeks. If you are interested in booking a place on this workshop, please click here.