Introducing Fundamental British Values

I’ll start with a caveat.  I believe “fundamental British values” are no different from fundamental HUMAN values.  The only difference is perhaps an ability to form an orderly queue and grumble politely!

Inspiration for the weekly blog can sometimes be challenging, however this afternoon an email from the Independent Schools Inspectorate dropped into the inbox.  An update to schools and inspectors on the long awaited non-stutory guidance, outlines the latest changes in regulations which require independent schools:

To actively promote the fundamental British values of:

  • democracy

  • the rule of law

  • individual liberty

  • the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

There is certainly nothing new nor earth-shatteringly different in this for what the vast majority of schools would believe they already “actively promote”.  However, it is this phrase – “actively promote” – that creates both a barrier and an opportunity.

Following regulations as a tick-box exercise could be relatively successful.  The opportunity now presented to schools is one that will continue to ensure that we embed the “behaviours and ethos” (as ISI point out) that will have a more profound impact on the culture within our communities.

It is very hard to relinquish the traditional “command & control” model to which some of us still cling.  And although we wish it to be different (and I count myself among those who would aspire to a more enlightened model of school organisation), the best example of democracy in action is too often encouraging children to learn to comply with those in positions of authority.

While it could be argued that this ability to comply (think queuing, not complaining about poor service or council tax payments) may be a fundamental British value, deep in our hearts we know the world we are preparing our children for is vastly different from that which we were prepared for.  Yet despite the differences, our children (my own children) will still need to be tolerant, caring and empathetic; able to live, study and work with people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures.  They will need to posses the self-control and self-esteem that will enable them to harness the incredible technology at their disposal to continue to work for a more generous and just society.

When I was at primary school in the 70’s, the values that I absorbed did not hinder my ability to grow up in the 80’s in a world that introduced us to the marvels of new technology (Sony Walkman, BBC Micro & Space Invaders), the threat of nuclear war or global exposure to the plight of the world’s poor in Ethiopia through Band Aid.  We weren’t taught democracy, given a budget as a school council or suggestion boxes.

And yet, as educators we now have at our own disposal tools – pedagogic and technological – that equip us to establish the values that remain “fundamental” to being an effective human being in a world that requires of us greater empathy.

The taught curriculum will provide a foundation for values education.  For instance, themes around Anglo-Saxon laws and justice, the significance of key historical figures in movements for social justice or the distribution of natural resources, will all offer the opportunity to deepen knowledge around democracy, liberty and equality.  However, it is the opportunity beyond the taught curriculum, and a school’s commitment, through its ethos, that will develop lasting and profound understanding to the lives of our children.

If we want to “promote” values, British or otherwise, there has to be an experiential learning that mirrors it.  Without this experience, the “promotion” of values, actively undertaken or not, will have little or no lasting impact.  So here is a list, by no means exhaustive, that perhaps would get closer to the heart of how promoting values will have significance.

  1. Embed a mindful approach to communication.  Empathy emerges from taking time to listen and communicate effectively.  If adults show that we listen to children, they will listen to adults.  By the same token, adults need to listen to each other.
  2. Relentless support for positive relationships and encouraging perseverance.  Not all relationships run smoothly whether between staff, parents or children.  Admitting that and aspiring for better must be the norm.
  3. Give everyone a voice; listen and make the invisible visible.  Seeing an idea you have had take shape and flourish is empowering.  Allowing someone else’s idea to flourish is good leadership.
  4. Failure, resilience, call it what you will, not everything works and you won’t always get what you want.  Rigorous monitoring and fair appraisal will ensure that there is support for all and everyone has a turn.
  5. Recognition is not for everyone. Some crave the limelight; others gain greatest satisfaction from ensuring others are treated fairly.  Saying thank you is one thing; behaving in a thankful way is more complex.  Tell the story of everyone’s contribution.
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