Teenagers to learn British values

Teenagers will study more British history to give them a better understanding of what it means to be British, under new proposals to promote community cohesion.

Education secretary Alan Johnson has accepted the recommendations of a new report into breaking down barriers between ethnic groups in the UK.

“By helping children continue to understand difference, schools can make a difference. Young people need to be engaged in this important debate because the values our children learn at school will shape the kind of country Britain becomes,” he said.

The report, written by former head teacher Keith Ajegbo, says “children can be taught core British values such as tolerance, freedom of speech and justice”.

It says pupils should study more contemporary history, to better understand modern Britain, and look at the impact of immigration, the Commonwealth, the EU and the empire on the UK.

Mr Johnson told Today: “I think first of all it involves the values that we hold very dear in Britain; which is free speech, which is tolerance and respect for the rule of law.

“They are not uniquely British but they are very British values.”

The lessons will be part of the citizenship curriculum for 11 to 16-year-olds. History is already a mandatory subject up until the age of 14.

Teaching unions welcomed the proposals and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said Sir Keith’s report was “very sensible and very measured”.

General secretary Mary Bousted told Today the classes should cover “how Britain became a multicultural society, how you can play your part in a diverse society through the political process, through voluntary groups”.

The Professional Association of Teachers said: “It should be possible to foster pride in, and a sense of belonging to, this country without being jingoistic or encouraging the aggressive nationalism that is sometimes fostered by the tabloid press.”

But principal education officer Alison Johnston warned that the curriculum was already too crowded and teachers could struggle to incorporate yet another government initiative.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman Greg Mulholland agree, saying: “Alan Johnson is right to say more time should be found to teach pupils about their British heritage – but it is this government’s over-prescriptive curriculum that has squeezed it out of the classroom.”

He added: “British pupils aren’t taught enough about their local history. They are more likely to study life in Nazi Germany than learn about a civil war battle that happened two fields over from their school, or a debate about women’s suffrage that happened in their city hall.”

Promoting Britishness is a pet project of chancellor Gordon Brown, driven in part by concerns about community integration after race riots in northern towns in 2001 and the London bombings in 2005.

Last year he told the Fabian Society: “British patriotism is, in my view, founded not on ethnicity nor race, not just on institutions we share and respect, but on enduring ideals which shape our view of ourselves and our communities.”

He said: “You must have a clear view of what being British means, what you value about being British and what gives us purpose as a nation.”