British values: What are England's schools doing?

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Photo: iStock

British values are nothing new – this is the message Headteacher Update is hearing from headteachers. Call it community cohesion, SMSC or religious education, most primary schools are already teaching British values. Now they must make sure inspectors see it too.

Established headteachers will often point out that new initiatives are generally not that new at all. By another name we have seen many innovations come and go in education.

The Trojan Horse affair brought a flurry of concern about the values being transmitted and the terms "British values" and "preparation for life in modern Britain" entered the Ofsted handbook.

However, most primary schools already ensure that pupils are introduced to a values system. Golden rules and codes of conduct form the basis of how many schools are run.
Values education can be implicit within school policy and practice or in some cases, delivered directly.

Ampney Crucis CE Primary School in Gloucestershire began to work on their values six years ago and came up with seven that have come to represent the foundations of the school.

Anne Marie Wilkie, the headteacher, is keen to emphasise that this has been part of their long-term plan and not a reaction to government policy: "This isn't anything new for us and I believe that most schools prepare children for living in modern Britain as it is."

The values might not be identical to the "British values" currently promoted, but they have been created out of the ethos and context of schools themselves.

James Connolly, headteacher of Loxley Primary School in Sheffield, emphasises the importance of context: "It's got to be meaningful to the children and integrated into the curriculum. It's no good introducing something that doesn't relate to children's experiences in or out of the classroom. That's not quality learning."

Highlighting practice

Schools are well aware that even if they have British values woven into their ethos, it is worth highlighting the fact if an inspection is due. Loxley Primary was inspected on January 7 and 8 and inspectors judged them to be outstanding. They reported: "British values are promoted well, including an emerging understanding of democracy through roles on the school council, the many enterprise activities pupils undertake and individual responsibilities."

Mr Connolly continued: "We have a grid against which we identify where British values and SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural education) are being taught across the school. I can see exactly what's covered in which subject and by which year group."

Records are also kept of what has been introduced in assemblies: "We have assembly folders that include the key content so that we can maintain continuity in the key stage 1 and 2 assemblies as well," added Mr Connolly.

In these folders there is a recording sheet where staff delivering assemblies can note coverage of SMSC and British values.

Displays also reflect the school community's awareness. Mr Connolly continued: "We've got a display board in the hall where British values are listed. Other displays in school have a common theme and incorporate British values where appropriate."

Community cohesion

As the majority of pupils at Loxley Primary are White British, Mr Connolly is keen to help his pupils mix with children from minority ethnic groups.

"I was delighted that St Patrick's, a school with a different catchment to ours, was happy to link up with us," he explained. "Their year 2 children visited us and we took them to our wood. We visited them and they took us to their farm. I think it's important that the children get chance to mix naturally and enjoy playing and working together."

Mr Connolly acknowledges that there are similarities here to community cohesion. He feels it just makes sense and is sound educational practice to enable his pupils to mix with others living in the same city but with different beliefs and cultures.

The democratic process is clearly demonstrated at Loxley through the highly valued Schools Council.

"We maintain its momentum through allowing year 5 representatives to continue into year 6," said Mr Connolly. "That way there are no gaps during transition. Schools Council achievements are celebrated at every opportunity. They were successful recently at inviting author Jeremy Strong into school after the opening of our new library."

Through enquiry

It is not just about content either but the method of teaching and delivery. Mr Connolly believes that using enquiry is an important method of ensuring British values are transmitted.

"We're developing our enquiry-based learning. We want children to be able to raise issues in a safe environment where they can explore and question what they hear outside school."

The initiatives at Loxley are not new and were not developed to satisfy inspectors. The outstanding practice will continue whatever name it might be given as political parties and policy change.
Schools recognise and implement on their own terms what their pupils need for the future. 

What are British values?

In its consultation document, Ofsted proposes that schools will be judged by whether they "actively promote equality and diversity and fundamental British values".

In Better Inspection for All: A report of the responses to the consultation, some respondents asked for more clarity about how fundamental British values are defined.

In reply, Ofsted refers to the definition given in the Prevent Strategy and the document Promoting Fundamental British Values as Part of SMSC in Schools (Department for Education, November 2014). In both these publications British values are given to be democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

The Prevent Strategy, it also includes:

  • Equality of opportunity.
  • Freedom of speech.
  • The right of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind.

Furthermore, according to Promoting Fundamental British Values as Part of SMSC in Schools, pupils should have understanding and knowledge that includes:

  • How citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process.
  • An appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety.
  • An understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as the courts maintain independence.
  • An understanding that the freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law.
  • An acceptance that other people have different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour.
  • An understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination.

It is expected that schools will teach these by including them in parts of the curriculum at age-appropriate times. Schools should also demonstrate how democracy works through their own practice such as school councils and by holding mock elections.

Teaching resources should be from a wide variety of sources and should help pupils to understand a range of faiths. Mention is also made of the role of extra-curricular activities and how important they can be in helping to promote fundamental British values.

It is not only about teaching these values but "challenging opinions or behaviours in school that are contrary" and ensuring that no attempts are made to promote systems that undermine them.

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