‘British values’ to be taught in schools

All secondary school pupils could be taught about “core British values” such as freedom, fairness and respect under new plans unveiled today.

A six-month government review will look at whether learning about how values such as freedom of speech are embedded in British history could help social inclusiveness.

The aim is to give children what officials called a ‘strong sense of British identity and an understanding of British culture and traditions’, beyond the citizenship classes which already form part of their curriculum.

It comes as part of a wider drive by government to improve social cohesion, in particular through involvement with Britain’s Muslim community, in the wake of the July 7th London bombings.

“Britain is a multi-cultural society and education has an important role in ensuring that all our young people are well equipped to take full advantage of all that culture offers,” said higher education minister Bill Rammell.

“In a world of ever increasing globalisation, strong, cohesive communities depend on mutual respect, understanding and shared values. We need to embed greater understanding of our values and what our society expects from all its citizens.”

The review, led by head teacher Keith Ajegbo, will also look at how Islam is taught in schools, to ensure students are not learning from a curriculum that it is “not too constrained”.

“It’s not for government to say what can and can’t be counted as valid religious teaching, either of Islam or of other creeds,” Mr Rammell said.

“But there is a concern that the teachings which the great majority of Muslims would want to stress about living in peace, protecting the vulnerable, avoiding harm to others, are sometimes sidelined.

“There is reason to think that in some cases students are being exposed more than any of us would like to wrong-headed influences, under the name of religion.

“In particular, [they might be] exposed to teachings that either explicitly condone terrorism, or foster a climate of opinion which is at least sympathetic to terrorists’ motivation.”

Dr Siddiqui welcomed the review, saying it was a “much needed” piece of work that reflected the concerns of many Muslim groups and other faith communities.

The initiatives have also been broadly welcomed by teaching unions, but they have expressed concern at what exactly the government means by “core British values”.

“It would not be appropriate to promote an imperial British myth by teaching that values such as democracy, justice and fair play are exclusively British or that Britain is superior to other countries,” said Philip Parkin, general secretary of the PAT.

National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Steve Sinnot said the London bombings had “triggered rightly a “reflection on how society can tackle ideologies which lead to terrorism”.

But he too warned the so-called core values should not be taught as the only ones that count, saying: “There is another core value which the government needs to promote, and that is respect for different points of view.”