A new government commissioned report on integration and ‘British’ values is out, making criticisms of public institutions as well as some ethnic groups in the UK.
But could you say whether your values as a teacher are British values?
You might find Ofsted asking that question one day.
It’s a contentious issue. Lots of people, even if they are able to articulate their own personal values struggle to articulate what ‘British values’ are. Some will challenge outright the notion of ‘British values’ at all, (though personally, I think it’s a distinctly British value that the British are uncomfortable even talking about British values. I don’t think you’d see Americans or even the French expressing such reticence).
Be that as it may, I was doing a training session with some trainee teachers on ‘fundamental British values’ a few weeks ago in the north of England. I was asking the trainees to reflect on how their own personal values cohere or contrast with the ‘fundamental British values’ as defined by the Department for Education as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”.
One trainee, a young hijab-wearing Muslim woman training at a predominantly Muslim school in Bradford, said to me: “I was doing Romeo and Juliet with my Year 9s last week. I was really hammering on about the concept of individual liberty as understood in Shakespeare’s time and in modern times and how concepts around the individual liberty have changed. I wanted to get across to my students how it is their right and their individual liberty to choose their own marriage partner. We discussed dating sites, Tinder, arranged marriage, forced marriage, divorce, bigamy and related the relevant issues to the drama being played out by Romeo and Juliet and their warring families. I realise now that I was teaching my own values. I really wanted to get across to the students, the girls especially, what their individual liberties are. Now I think I was teaching British values as well.”
The following week I was in Bath with a similar group of trainees asking similar questions about how easy or hard it is to integrate personal, professional (and even political) values.
One student said that he wanted to be an art teacher because he truly believed that the pursuit of art could only be achieved when one understood that art was a fundamental expression of oneself to others. He said that true art could not be achieved without understanding the primacy of one’s individual right and liberty to express oneself in whatever way one chose, even if that caused offence and shock.
At first he didn’t think this had anything at all to do with so called ‘fundamental British values’. Indeed he thought at first, that his understanding of artistic expression ran counter to any idea of so-called ‘British values’.
But then he stopped and reflected, thought for a moment and concluded by saying that he realised that he wouldn’t have had the right to express his art or teach his students they had a right to artistic expression had he been a teacher in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, let alone the so-called Islamic State.
What are your values? Are they British values too?
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on professionalism in teaching including ‘British’ values and the ‘Prevent’ strategy. He runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.