‘British values’ for kids? Some of them sound rather sinister to me
For some years now, British schools have been formally required to promote “British values”. According to the guidelines, this seems to focus on fairly uncontroversial issues such as democracy, the embracing of all faiths and the rule of law. However, schools are given a fair amount of leeway in defining those values.
I was quite surprised though, when I went to a year 6 “meet the teacher” session for my 10-year-old daughter and saw on the classroom wall a poster that described, arranged as satellites around a central union jack, “Our British Values”, presumably in response to the government injunction. The poster – according to my daughter – appears in all the classrooms.
Some of it was meaninglessly uncontroversial – “We Hope Other Countries Stop Fighting” (is that a value? And shouldn’t that hope include our country?) and “We Hope For Peace Among All Nations”. Worthy goals, if unachievable, but a fairly long way from being uniquely British, or even values for that matter.
Others I found slightly sinister – for instance: “We Trust and Obey Our Government.” Frankly, I can’t think of a less British value for this profoundly snook-cocking nation. “We Suspect Our Government is Almost Certainly Up to No Good” might be a better summation of the British spirit.
“We Respect Our Government and Police” – another of the declared principles, as if the first injunction wasn’t enough – is likewise a bit eastern bloc c1970, particularly given some of the unsavoury things the police have been up to in the last few decades. All this sucking up to the powers-that-be seems a bit – well, un-British. And “We Respect Those with Issues” – well, I’m not even sure what that means. Don’t we all have “issues”?
My daughter’s school is a terrific, happy place, high-achieving and wellintentioned. I do not wish to demean it – it was only doing its best, probably under pressure of time, to fulfil a rather silly government directive. But it did set me wondering – if we’re going to promote British values in schools, what might be a more accurate list?
For instance, independence and bloody-mindedness are strong British values. It would take a brave school to promote them, given that schools, like most institutions, are based on hierarchy, order and respect for authority. But such values are at least somewhat nation-specific.
A sense of humour (specifically mockery) is also a strong British value, but, like independence of thought, somewhat subversive. And perhaps most awkwardly of all (my daughter’s is a church school), secularism is a central British value – a recent Win/ Gallup poll put us as the fourth least religious society in Europe.
What else? Scepticism, certainly. The British have a long history of empiricism and pragmatism – we tend to doubt everything we are told until we have worked it out for ourselves. And there is our passion for freedom, as in “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”. I would add into this category of freedom, free speech, which was practically invented as an idea in this country and is under threat in some higher educational institutions (my daughter’s school website mentions “individual liberty” as a ‘British value but this focuses far more on responsibility than freedom). Children should be allowed free expression of opinions and thoughts, and that right should be carried on throughout their life.
Perhaps my British values are out of date, and “We Toe the Official Line Under All Circumstances” should be central to the poster. Doubtless I will find out on my next visit to the school. Then again, as far as I am concerned, the most British value of all is to not give a stuff. But I don’t suppose that is going to find its way on to the poster.