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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

British Values: Are We Already In a Mess?

Ofsted have been at the vanguard of a lot of nonsense over the years and their zealous push for British Values looks like another such thing.  Anything produced in haste, in response to a specific event and an imagined or real threat usually produces poor policy.


The following account is true with a little bit of artistic licence taken by me to make the point:

I very recently sat with a colleague headteacher as he recounted his assembly on the second morning of the school’s recent Ofsted Inspection.  The assembly had focussed on the school’s values which he interweaved through his talk to the students.  The assembly reached a crescendo when he disclosed that their school values were in fact identical to British values.  To the strains of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope & Glory he paraded out of the Hall his academic gown with the Union Jack, which had now been tied around his neck and draped over his shoulders, flapping behind him.  His Union Jack underpants proudly concealed beneath his grey suit trousers (this is also true).  The Hall was in uproar, St. George’s flag were enthusiastically waved and even the hard faced Ofsted Inspectors got caught up in the euphoria.  It was a beautiful moment, the assembly had been a triumph.  We were both weeping by this stage, our sides ached and I had nearly fallen off my chair … when he left I wept again, I put my head in my hands and wept.

In fairness to Ofsted they may well be being pushed along a certain path by their political masters who, after Trojan Horse and the rise of UKiP, may feel an appeal to Britishness will serve them well.  Sadly, the overzealous nature of some inspectors, desperate to jump on the latest bandwagon and make a name for him/herself, has yet again produced a toxic mix for schools to navigate.  Safeguarding young people including from extremist views is not something to occur every three or more years.  It is an on-going daily responsibility of school leaders.

Spiritual, Moral, Social & Cultural Education

Photo Credit: www.spiritual-quotes.org

Photo Credit: http://www.spiritual-quotes.org (I Shall Not Live in Vain)

Ofsted have outlined what schools should provide in their provision of SMSC:

  • enable students to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • enable students to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law of England;
  • encourage students to accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative, and to understand how they can contribute positively to the lives of those living and working in the locality of the school and to society more widely;
  • enable students to acquire a broad general knowledge of and respect for public institutions and services in England;
  • further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling students to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures;
  • encourage respect for other people; and
  • encourage respect for democracy and support for participation in the democratic processes, including respect for the basis on which the law is made and applied in England.

I find much to commend in this list and little if anything to disagree with.  SMSC helps underpin the development of the whole child.  As such it is an important part of a child’s education but as for making judgements on it, in one of four categories, whether by an inspection team or a school leader, there are some pretty substantial obstacles around validity and reliability to be addressed.  It would be great to see, in the next phase of improving schools, valid metrics or validated qualitative processes for helping us assess the quality of SMSC education as part of a process leading to further improvement.  Measuring what we value matters.

I do, however, have an issue around the rushed introduction of British values, their inclusion in a punitive inspection process and whether the whole idea is a bit of an oxymoron.

Belonging and Not Belonging

The difficulty starts with the concept of British Values.  The name itself is a problem, there is a possessiveness and consequential danger of exclusiveness and exclusion which fundamentally undermines what we value in Britain.

As the Ofsted guidance on fundamental British Values states:

An acceptance that other people having 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;

In determining values as British values rather than accepting the universality of many of the values listed we create a false belonging and not belonging.  This risks excluding or marginalising people within our society.

“Undeniably belonging involves exclusion.  The concept of an ‘us’ presupposes a ‘them’.  It unites but it also divides.  The more strongly we identify with a society of friends, the more powerfully we become conscious of the presence of strangers, which threatens to disturb the order we have so painstakingly constructed. 

(Sacks, 2000, p. 229-230)

Photo Credit: Laikingland

Photo Credit: Laikingland

Eric Pickles’ recent letter to mosques didn’t seem to contain anything inappropriate and the whole tenure of the letter was deeply respectful, however, it led to a bit of a storm in a teacup.

We have recently seen terrible atrocities committed in Paris. Finding the right response to these events is a challenge for everyone. The hijacking of a great faith to justify such heinous crimes sickens us all. As Muslims around the world have made clear, such actions are an affront to Islam.

You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity. We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today.

There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country.

British values are Muslim values. Like all faiths, Islam and its message of peace and unity makes our country a better and stronger place, and Britain would be diminished without its strong Muslim communities.

We welcome your thoughts, ideas and initiatives on how to ensure that Islam’s true message of peace triumphs over those who seek to divide our communities.

Extracts from Eric Pickles MP Letter to Mosques

What upset some Muslim groups was that it was sent only to them and not to all faith groups.  It is our collective problem to solve.  For a community which is feeling the hurt of recent events across the World (#NotInMyName), a sense of greater scrutiny and mistrust than ever before and who question the justice of some of Britain’s actions on an international scale it is easy to see the letter as another attack rather than an invitation to engage.  This hasn’t been helped by the more limited interactions between authorities and local Muslim community groups which has seen Social Capital – the level of trust within a society, which is built through repeated interactions between people – being eroded.

British Values, Britain Values and Human Values

British values are Muslim Values, wrote Eric Pickles.  There are some values which are universal and rightly belong to people the World over.  They are universal values, human values.  To try to claim them or own them through possessive language, even if that is not the intent, is unhelpful.  What we value in Britain may be valued in many other countries and it helps bind us together in common purpose, in the promotion of humanity.  It is important to recognise this.

“We seek individuality and relationship – individuality through relationship.  We learn to pronounce the ‘We’ the better to be able to say the ‘I’.  Thus is born the intricate dynamic of society … through which we learn to trust others and to act so that others can trust us.  This requires us to internalise a complex of rules, virtues, dispositions and habits mediating between the self and others, allowing us to sustain relationships without the use or threat of force.” 

(Sacks, 2000, p. 263)

 It is right that we are clear about what we value in Britain, what everyone must accept if they are to live here and be a part of our society.  It is also important that we seek to see these values as part of a golden thread that can be woven into the tapestry of an international community, a relatedness, a way of being and a way of living together in peace and justice.

“Community is not everything but it is not nothing … It is an attempt to bring together in a stable, structured, even gracious form our sense of relatedness to others in a manner in which we are neither manipulated or manipulative.  It is an attempt to give expression to the idea that our worth as individuals is related to what we do to recognise the worth of other individuals, and as we would wish our own worth to be recognised, not for what we own, or for the power we wield, or our physical attractiveness, but for what we are, and what we cherish, and what we strive to be.” 

(Sacks, 2000, p. 231)


Sacks, J (2000). The Politics of Hope. London: Vintage.

Promoting Fundamental British Values as Part of SMSC in Schools



8 thoughts on “British Values: Are We Already In a Mess?

  1. Reblogged this on splozza11.

    Posted by splozza11 | January 31, 2015, 5:04 pm
  2. I agree with your concerns and I too worry that the idea of British Values, may actually divide further. It is sort of demanding a response from those that feel marginalised, “are you in and with us, or out, and against us”, rather than an open arms welcome of togetherness that admits mistakes and imperfection. As a nation we have not yet satisfactorily answered the question what it means to be British or found a uniting core vision. In these circumstances, demanding British values, reinforced by the decimating effect of Ofsted, I worry can only damage our society. Working against radicalisation (of all kinds of extremism), promoting the beliefs of others (not just tolerating them) and promoting values that we hold dear in this world and this country, all yes, but the call to believe in an all good, empiric nation and align with its values, I’m not so sure.

    Posted by Ian White | February 1, 2015, 8:48 am
  3. Great post! The narrow criteria by which Ofsted seems to be judging Fundamental British Values are actually profoundly divisive to society and very worrying. Schools have been found wanting because their pupils have had “insufficient” contact with, or explicit teaching about, the culture & beliefs of specific sub-cultures within Britain. This is leading some schools to actually objectify “others”, to see them not as people – part of a broader humanity to which we all belong – but rather as depersonalised ‘resources’: opportunities to tick a FBV box by having shallow, insignificant contact with them. These “others” are categorised to evaluate whether we have the right quantities of each category in our “education recipe”: “Muslims? Check. West Indians? Check. Roma? Check. Catholics? Uh-oh, better arrange a football match with a Catholic school!”

    Deep respect can be developed even for “others” whom we have never met and know nothing about, if the principles of respect for all people are taught well even in an isolated community; conversely, even intimate contact throughout childhood with “others” with whom we nonetheless develop no real affinity and whom we learn through home and elsewhere to disparage and hate, will not prevent radicalism and extremist violence, as the 7/7 bombers proved, and as shown in the history of the Jews in Germany and Poland, the Serbs and Croats in Croatia, the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, and countless other examples.

    I worry therefore that the entire Prevent strategy and FBV agenda actually has no robust evidence base at all to support it as a strategy to address the rise of radicalism, but is nonetheless throwing education into turmoil, and is possibly creating the very objectification of others that it aims to counter.

    Posted by kisveinoamYitzchak | February 1, 2015, 3:27 pm


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