On November 27th 2104, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan published guidance on promoting something called ‘British values’ in schools. The Government wishes “to ensure young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain”. Previous guidance from Michael Gove in 2011 had simply required schools to “respect these values”. The new guidelines are intended “to help both independent and state-maintained schools understand their responsibilities in this area”. They are much more dictatorial than the earlier version.
Most noticeably, they place a “duty” on schools “to ‘actively promote’ the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” In addition, the DfE makes clear that schools “must now have a clear strategy for embedding these values and show how their work with pupils has been effective in doing so.” Ofsted are the enforcers of this new initiative.
Few people would argue against a requirement for children to learn about “democracy”, “the rule of law” or “individual liberty”, even if these are not uniquely British values. However, the current Coalition Government appears, a best, confused about how these should be presented in schools.
If there is a foundation stone for ‘British values’ it must, surely, be Magna Carta and this year we are celebrating its 800th anniversary. Incredibly, it has taken a left-wing Labour politician, shadow Education Secretary and historian, Tristram Hunt, to point out that there is no requirement for any school to teach anything at all about Magna Carta. Even he, however, cannot quite bring himself to suggest that it should be made a prescribed part of the national curriculum for history. Instead, he is advocating a requirement for it to be included in ‘citizenship’ lessons.
Ofsted, in its new role as ‘enforcer’ of British values, has always been singularly untroubled by the undermining of these values by pupils’ lack of knowledge of our history. In the new national curriculum for history key landmarks and personalities, if they are mentioned at all, are specified as “Examples (non-statutory)” of what “could” be taught. So much for the requirement to “actively promote” British values!
A Channel 4 TV poll on the history of the monarchy showed that only one in ten 15- to 24-year-olds could connect King John to Magna Carta. Some thought that Magna Carta was the wife of former US president Jimmy Carter!
A distorted version of British values, however, does take centre stage when it comes to “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. Ofsted has leapt on these worthy aspirations to promote a distorted but politically correct agenda. In the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal it is ‘open season’ on religious faith and on common sense.
Firstly, we had Ofsted’s recent down-grading of Rasen Primary School in Lincolnshire because its pupils lacked direct face-to face experience of “the diverse make-up of modern Britain”. The 104 pupils at the school are 97 per cent white with very few from ethnic minority groups. They all speak English as their first language. This is no fault of the school. It simply reflects its rural catchment area. Parents of the schools described the Ofsted verdict as “ridiculous”, “vindictive” and “crackers”.
Now, an even more alarming display of Ofsted’s definition of “British values’ has surfaced. At Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, ten-year-olds were, it seems, interrogated about their knowledge of lesbian sex and trans-sexuality. Inspectors, also, asked primary aged girls if they knew what lesbians “did” and if they had any friends who felt that they were trapped in the “wrong body”. The school has made a formal complaint to Ofsted.
Nicky Morgan’s requirement for schools to “actively promote” so-called British values is turning into a predictable nightmare. As with so many well-intentioned initiatives, the educational establishment, the Blob, has seized control. For it, ‘British values’ does not mean providing pupils with knowledge of Magna Carta or of the fight for liberty or of the struggle for democracy. ‘British values’ is seen as another vehicle for promoting politically correct zealotry and ideology that, in its most recent manifestation in Sunderland, amounts to a form of ‘child abuse’.