All this talk of “traditional British values” begs the question of who is to decide what they are, writes Helen Bonnick.
There seemed an awful inevitability about the announcement of the higher education minister, Bill Rammell, that all secondary school pupils are to be taught “traditional British values”; and an incredible sense of dj vu.
As recently as 1998, the Crick Report made the teaching of citizenship a statutory requirement at key stages three and four – and indeed it had been in the national curriculum since 1990. The three core elements of social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy came from a concern across Europe about political apathy, social exclusion and racism and the consequent costs to society. Sounds familiar?
What then of the achievements of the past 10 to 15 years? Schools have incorporated elements of citizenship across the whole running of the school. Through the development of school councils, anti-bullying strategies, volunteering, twinning with schools across the globe, citizenship education has been seen to be a process (not just a subject) by which the whole school is transformed in its relationships and its learning. With an emphasis on identity, self-esteem and shared values, the citizenship curriculum has been seen as rooted in human rights legislation.
It seems bizarre then that we should be talking about instilling “core British values” at the same time as talk of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. It begs the question as to who is to decide what are the core values. And are these values to be taught as truth or is there room for debate? What happens if people disagree? Importantly, what is the purpose of education?
In the end, government diktats will come and go but good schools will continue to teach and to model the core values of respect, equality and empathy; and it is through the philosophy and ethos of the school that children and young people will learn to develop each other’s strengths and to live together in peace. Let’s not put all the blame on schools. The way individual teachers and the school system treat young people has a profound effect; but there are other influences on beliefs, attitudes and behaviour: the family, peers and, not least, the behaviour of those in power.
Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker.