Schools must help promote ‘British values’, says Ofsted chief

In a speech delivered last night, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman discussed the role of schools in promoting what she calls ‘British values’

Chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, delivered a speech at the Policy Exchange in London last night. Entitled ‘The Ties that Bind’, her speech discussed the promotion of so-called British values, the encouragement of cohesion and integration and why schools must be the forums for understanding and spreading these ideals.

“The current meaning of the term ‘British values’ was first defined in the 2011 Prevent Strategy,” Spielman said. “The role of schools in promoting them was formalised in Department for Education guidance in 2014, to help both independent and state schools understand their responsibilities. This guidance set out the duty of all schools in England, state and independent, to actively promote the four British values of: democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”

She also touched on Oftsed’s role in this responsibility.

“For Ofsted, making sure that the next generation understands, respects and is willing to adopt these values is essential. They are values that give a simple message to our young people: in Britain, no matter what your background, you can fit in, you can succeed and you can belong.”

“The government believes that promoting British values in schools helps young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. If that is our aim then it must be right that Ofsted inspects against this policy. We know that this belief is shared by many people in education, yet we do not go unchallenged in our work.

“The most frequent criticism expressed to me is that the values are universal, and not exclusively British. People who make this criticism often prefer a model grounded in individual human rights. While these values are not unique to Britain or British society, they are integral to our ethos.”

Spielman stated that, in actual fact, only a small handful of countries subscribe to the way she defines ‘British values’; this is also a problem in Britain. Only a quarter of millennials in the UK believe that democracy is essential, which becomes an issue in school settings.

“This poses a number of problems for schools. The first is that schools with the job of promoting British values and equalities are sometimes teaching young people who get conflicting or even downright contradictory messages outside school. For example, freedom of belief is inimical to the prevailing view in some communities. Similarly, the acceptance of the equal rights of women or of gay rights may not fit with the views a child hears at home. No wonder, therefore, that some young people feel torn between different identities.

“Yet, in many ways, this is not a new challenge but a constant one.

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“A second problem for schools is that history, culture and experience can lead to a strong identification by a child with their family’s cultural group to the exclusion of all else. The increasing fragmentation of the media probably makes this problem worse.

“The third practical difficulty for schools is that education, rightly, is seen neither by policymakers nor by teachers as indoctrination. Education should not and does not aim to force children to adhere to British values and to disclaim all others. Nor does it try to turn children against their parents or their cultural heritage.

“Yet, we know that some teachers feel unclear about, or even uncomfortable with, what is expected of schools. So, let me explain what I think is being asked of them. In my view, teachers are expected to give children a proper understanding of British values, and of what these values have contributed – and continue to contribute to – the strength and success of British society.

“When it comes to British values, we often see an oddly piecemeal approach, which too seldom builds the teaching into a strong context. My… point is to emphasise the importance of making these subjects discussable. For many people, the things I have been talking about today are too sensitive and too difficult for them to want to risk giving offence. They are easy things to skirt, yet the risk of doing so is great.

“If we leave these topics to the likes of the EDL and BNP on the one hand and Islamists on the other, then the mission of integration will fail. To quote Robert Putnam, ‘people divorced from community, occupation, and association are first and foremost among the supporters of extremism’. Schools have an extraordinarily important role in making sure that children can fit in, succeed and belong. Ofsted’s role is to apply the lever of inspection to help make sure they do it well.”

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